Acting Koi

October 30, 2009 - by: Chris Butler 4 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: As to Dunder Mifflin, $500,000 (for potential hostile work environment, race discrimination/harassment, and/or intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress damages); as to Andy, $25,000 (for potential assault, battery, humiliation, and emotional distress damages); as to Michael, $300 (value of decapitated koi).

Eight seconds. That’s precisely how long Michael needed to both sexually and racially harass the multitudes. To set the stage, Michael emceed the Scranton branch’s office Halloween party, staffed by Scranton branch employees and attended by their friends and families, including numerous children (and it was principally for them). Unencumbered by restraint, Michael spared no opportunity to “gift” the audience with a sexually provocative costume (paying homage to Mr. Timberlake and S.N.L.). Aside from his perpetually poor judgment, Michael’s offensive attire alone could land Dunder Mifflin with a hostile work environment lawsuit, particularly given his supervisory role. When will he learn to be the example, instead of being made the example?

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He’s a Mother Lover

October 22, 2009 - by: Matt Scott 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: de minimus damage award (after spending $50,000 to “successfully” defend the lawsuit)

He rarely disappoints, and this week was no different. Michael Scott was in rare form in this week’s issue of The Office, “The Lover” (or should this episode have been titled “The Mother Lover” for all you SNL fans). Michael revealed to Jim that, since meeting her at Pam and Jim’s wedding, Michael has been engaged in a love affair with Pam’s mother. As Pam quickly learns, while it might be fun to office gossip when it involves someone else, when it involves you, not so much. (Oh, by the way, do you know anyone who would be excited to find out Michael was dating their mother? I don’t. Except, of course, Dwight.)

But it did give us one of the show’s best lines of all time: “Do not talk to me that way. I am your boss. And I may someday be your father.” Where’s Darth Vader when you need him? So to recap: Is it unlawful to sleep with the mother of one of your subordinates? Probably not. Is it a really bad idea? Oh yeah!

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Getting a Little (Maid of the) Misty

October 08, 2009 - by: Doug Hall 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0 for Dunder-Mifflin (consider the bullets dodged for now), but I’d love to be the plaintiffs’ lawyer representing those poor souls who got ice from the machine in which Kevin stuck his formerly Kleenex-boxed feet

I don’t normally cry at weddings, but I could see making an exception for the long-anticipated nuptials of “The Office” sweethearts Pam and Jim. Not because these characters found true love — they’re fictional after all. No, my tears were for the fact that the wedding takes the entire Office out of the office and on the road to Niagara Falls! (“Niagara Falls! Slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch…”  - it’s an old Three Stooges routine, ask your parents.) How is any self-respecting employment lawyer — or me for that matter — supposed to write an employment law blog about an episode that doesn’t involve work? Well, I shouldn’t have worried, Michael Scott et al. never fail to deliver!

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Might Doesn’t Make Right, Dwight

October 01, 2009 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS

This week’s episode — “The Promotion” — had nothing to do with advancement in the workplace. In fact, the only thing it promoted was how to get fired. When the episode ended, I identified five Scranton employees whom David Wallace should discharge if he wants to minimize potential liability:

Dwight. He opened the episode fantasizing about placing Jim in a “triangle choke hold.” Later on he disrupted the workplace with an impassioned attempt to enlist his coworkers to “drag [Jim] out of his office.” The Office is funny, but workplace violence … not so much. Dwight’s threats were even more egregious because they were unprovoked, and Dwight repeatedly targeted a single employee. Prudent employers take a zero-tolerance approach to workplace violence. An employer that retains an employee it knows has threatened coworkers is begging for costly litigation and bad press. Just about every company not named Dunder Mifflin would have let Dwight go that day.

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Impractical Jokes

May 21, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 0 COMMENTS

Time magazine is running a feature about The Office and NBC’s invitation for viewers to send in photos of hijinks in their own workspaces, like those often featured on the show. Some of the pranks featured on the show have been hilarious. From simple things like Jim enveloping Dwight’s stapler in Jello, to more complicated things like Jim putting coins in Dwight’s phone handset and then taking them out causing Dwight to hit himself in the head, you have to appreciate their creativity.

Some of the pranks featured in the Time magazine piece are equally creative. One picture showed an office filled with 1,700 balloons. Another picture showed a cubicle literally gift-wrapped from top to bottom. These pranks are awesome, to be sure. But they are also completely unproductive and not advisable from a legal standpoint.

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Oh Baby!

May 15, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000 (per Buffalo branch employee); $200,000 for various hostile work environment claims.

“Company Picnic,” the season’s final episode, was a good one. Unfortunately, that also means that Dunder Mifflin is on the hook for several claims from some of its employees.

One might think that the wrongful conduct took place at the volleyball tournament. And while the conduct of many Dunder Mifflin-ers –- especially management –- was out of line at the volleyball tournament, there wasn’t anything actionable that occurred there (assuming Phyllis and Pam weren’t actually injured).  The hostility, the near injuries, and the plain old dirtiness of Charles Minor and David Wallace sending Pam to the hospital just to get her out of the game . . . it was all not very nice, but none of it was enough to hold the company liable in court.

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A Really Hostile Environment

January 16, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 4 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $ 30,000

There is no question that Jim Halpert, acting manager at Dunder Mifflin Scranton while Michael Scott was away, did a terrible job of diffusing and/or preventing a fight on company property on “The Duel” episode of The Office. Fortunately, the fight between Dwight Schrute and Andy Bernard didn’t lead to any serious injury. Otherwise, we might be talking about more than $30,000 this week.

Both Dwight and Andy could make claims that the company should have intervened and stopped them from brawling. Realistically, neither of these dorks’ claims is going anywhere. No jury is giving Dwight’s big head and beet-stained teeth big money because Dunder Mifflin didn’t protect him from Andy’s 4 mph Prius attack. That said, companies can be held liable for fights between employees at work in some circumstances, so we’ll say $30,000 just to show that there’s something, although not much, to their claims.

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Let The Office Olympic Games Begin!

August 08, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

The world is fully in Olympics mode, including our friends in Scranton, who are surely reliving their own Games of the First Dunder-Mifflin Olympiad.

In the episode from the second season, Jim and Pam entertain themselves (while Dwight and Michael are away buying Michael’s condo) by throwing objects into Dwight’s coffee mug. They discover that others around the office have their own games, and the Dunder-Mifflin Olympiad is born.

Not surprisingly, this episode was based on the writers’ personal experience. Surely, we’ve all participated in our own office games of some sort, although hopefully we haven’t played a lot of Oscar’s and Kevin’s “hateball” (or Kevin’s “who can put the most M&Ms in their mouth” game, for totally different reasons, of course). And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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Michael Scott Lives in Provo

August 01, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Much like I wondered whether Santa was real as a kid, I often wonder if there is a real-life Michael Scott out there somewhere. This week, I think that I found the answer!

When sales took a slump for a Provo, Utah, company, a supervisor came up with the idea of “waterboarding” one of the salespeople to motivate the workforce. The supervisor — let’s just call him “Real-Life Michael” — had coworkers hold an employee down. Then, Real-Life Michael poured a gallon of water over the salesperson’s head and face. Real-Life Michael then told his workers that they should work as hard at making sales as their tortured coworker did at trying to breathe. It is Michael!

Of course, unlike in Scranton — where I don’t think they have a courthouse — the employee filed a lawsuit against the company. He is going to make some money.

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