A Tale of Two Repeats

April 02, 2010 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Very Little.  Destination Wedding = $25,000; Niagara Falls Ceremony after Escaping Wedding = $100; Diapering Angela’s Cat = Priceless.

Given that last night consisted of two repeats, two of my colleagues have already done a wonderful job of covering issues raised by the Dunder Mifflin gang’s antics last night. Although last night’s episodes did not give rise to much in the way of litigation value, here’s a rundown of my top 10 things not to do at the office (or anywhere else, for that matter).

  1. Offer to stick spicy food (or anything else) into a coworker’s rectum.
  2. Discuss a coworker’s nipples. On the other hand, I definitely agree with Michael that no coworkers should be stimulating Pam’s nipples at Dunder Mifflin.
  3. Offer to bring a nippleless shirt to the office. Why Meredith has a nippleless anything in the car is a mystery to me. Of course, it may be the newest craze from the JWow collection.
  4. Pretend to shoot coworkers, even with your finger. This is particularly true if you intend to simulate gruesome brain splatter.
  5. Openly discuss the fact that Stanley has two lovers and you don’t have any.
  6. Decide to sleep nude in two coworkers’ bed, even if you are secretly eradicating mold and remodeling their kitchen for free.
  7. Announce that a coworker must have needed an “afternoon delight” with his wife.
  8. Discuss the relative hotness of a coworker as she stands uncomfortably next to you.
  9. Spread a rumor that a coworker has an elephant heart.
  10. Negotiate a parenting contract with a former office flame, even if your biological clock is ticking so loudly you awaken to find yourself cradling a gourd on your beet farm.

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Classic Rewind

January 22, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: In the aggregate, $100 million; most of which is punitive damages

OK, so tonight’s episode – The Banker –- didn’t really bring us much new material, but it indeed highlighted five years of near-catastrophic employee-relations failures. As Dunder Mifflin verges on economic collapse, a potential investor dispatches its self-proclaimed “fact-checker” to conduct a due-diligence assessment of the company’s “H.R. liabilities.” While interviewing HR representative Toby Flenderson, the fact-checker poses a series of provocative questions that invoke Toby’s vivid recollection of why he so dearly hates his job. In essence, we rewind the tape a few years. Let’s take a look:

  • Racial/national origin harassment/discrimination: Michael Scott mocking Kelly Kapoor’s Indian heritage.
  • Inappropriate and/or sexually-suggestive language and innuendos: Michael’s skilled reliance on the phrase “that’s what she said” to transform seemingly innocuous comments into sexually charged double entendres; Michael’s lewd references to Stanley Hudson’s teenage daughter; Michael exposing himself to Pam; Meredith Palmer exposing herself to the entire office; and Michael kissing Phyllis Lapin to dissuade her from complaining to human resources about his sexually offensive language, and then immediately rewarding her graciousness with sexually offensive language.
  • Sexual harassment/sexual orientation harassment: Michael kissing the visibly-horrified Oscar  Martinez on the lips to illustrate his tolerance of same-sex relationships; again, Michael kissing Phyllis; and, yet again, Michael’s unbridled references to “that’s what she said.”
  • Age harassment/discrimination: Several mean-spirited references to Creed Bratton’s age and his “distinct old man smell.”
  • Workplace violence: Andy Bernard ramming his fist through the wall; Pam slapping Michael; Kelly slapping Michael; Jim Halpert slapping Dwight Schrute; Dwight punching Michael, and later pounding him in the face with a shoe; Phyllis hurling a wad of paper into Angela Martin’s face; and Oscar shoving Angela.
  • Potential workers’ compensation claims: Michael running down Meredith in the employee parking lot; Andy plunging from a transfer truck into an empty refrigerator box; and Michael ramming the warehouse forklift into a storage rack, causing a cascade of flying metal, boxes, and paper.
  • Health and safety violations: Dwight purposely igniting a trashcan paper fire to instigate an unscheduled fire “drill”; and, again, Michael ramming the warehouse forklift into the storage rack.
  • Property damage/waste of company resources: Michael and Dwight bouncing a watermelon from the office roof onto a parked car; several mutinous employees shoving paper, books, and supplies to the floor; an employee shattering a plate glass window with a toy-gun projectile; again, Michael overturning the storage rack; Jim disassembling Dwight’s desk and contents (classic) and enveloping them in holiday wrapping paper; and Jim encasing Dwight’s stapler in a Jell-O mold.
  • Invasion of privacy/HIPAA violations: Dwight demanding that each employee publicly identify his or her personal medical condition to determine its legitimacy.
  • Supervisor-subordinate romantic relationships/inappropriate public displays of affection: Dwight making out with Angela; Angela making out with Andy; Kelly making out with Ryan; Michael’s painfully inappropriate workplace relationship with his boss, Jan (and discussing his repeated vasectomies before the entire office); and Jim’s and Pam’s eternal office romance, despite Jim’s supervisory role (OK, we turn a blind eye to this because we really like them).
  • Hostile work environment/miscellaneous inappropriate and outrageous behavior: All of the above, and too many to mention.

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Back to Business

April 30, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0

Since Troy is away on business, I’m guest-blogging again. And what a week to do so –- there’s a lot to talk about from the “Casual Friday” episode.

Although many HR folks can appreciate HR director Toby Flenderson’s dilemma dealing with employees taking casual Friday too far, there wasn’t a lot in terms of litigation value with everything that was happening. Arguably, Meredith Palmer flashing everyone for what seemed like an eternity could lead to a hostile work environment claim. But Toby did step in and rectify the situation pretty quickly, which would help prevent a claim. He also dealt with Angela Martin’s complaint about Oscar Martinez pretty well –- if you don’t like Oscar’s sandals, don’t look at his feet.

Actually, Angela’s comment about Oscar looking like he just got off the boat could have been a pretty good start to a hostile work environment claim, but she didn’t say that in front of Oscar, so even that wouldn’t end up costing Dunder Mifflin anything.

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The Taming of the Schrute

February 26, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $50,000

The last time we wrote about the Crime Aid episode of The Office, we advised that Dunder Mifflin might not be on the hook for any potential judgments for anything that happened in this episode. But on further review, I’m not so sure that was right. It’s entirely possible that a jury could find Dunder Mifflin responsible for Dwight Schrute’s continued antics that culminated this week with him letting the air out of her tires (completely unnecessary and the funniest part of the episode).

After all, Dwight is part of management, and it’s not like this was the first time (or second time, or third time…) when his conduct has been grossly out of line. Plus, it’s one thing to put a garbage bag over Meredith’s head and assault her -– Meredith isn’t a sympathetic victim. When you start messing with Phyllis, you might upset a jury. And Bob Vance.

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A Comeback Story

February 02, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Employment law attorney Troy Foster examines the “Stress Relief” episode of The Office, which aired after the Super Bowl. He finds that Dundler Mifflin could be liable to Stanley for the stress Michael and Dwight cause him, to Meredith for Michael’s boorish jokes, and to Oscar for Michael’s weekly homophobic and racist comments

Litigation Value: $615,000 Total

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The Accountants

January 05, 2009 - by: Dominic Verstegen 1 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $15,000

In our last review of The Office webisodes, we tune into the first websiode, “The Accountants.” In the episode, Oscar, Angela, and Kevin interview everyone in the office to track down $3,000 missing from the books. At times, the interviews become a bit inappropriate, like when the accountants get on Michael’s computer without his knowledge. While that has some litigation potential, what caught my attention in terms of liability for the company was when the accountants more or less accused Meredith of stealing the money.

As our Employment Law Post colleague John Phillips discussed way back in 2008, accusing an employee of theft is serious stuff. Defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and some other claims may be appropriate under the right circumstances.

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Categories: Meredith Palmer

Booze, Porn Addiction, and Interventions: What a Holiday Party

December 12, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $1,000,000

The folks at Dunder Mifflin must have felt like giving because they were essentially writing checks on the “Moroccan Christmas” episode of The Office. As always, there was plenty of inappropriate conduct going on this week, but rarely does it rise to this level.

Michael served excessive amounts of alcohol to Meredith, causing her to get drunk and light herself on fire ($); then, he led an intervention about her alcoholism — at work ($$); and then, he basically kidnapped her and physically assaulted her as he tried to falsely imprison her at the rehabilitation center ($$$).

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Where’s the Beef?

October 10, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Surprisingly, maybe $0

Maybe this is just a reflection on me and my days as an HR Director, but I didn’t see much that would really nail Dunder Mifflin this week. Sure, Meredith has been having an affair with a vendor to get discounts for the company. But it didn’t come out that management suggested, encouraged, or even knew about it. When they found out, Holly pressed on and investigated and found that Meredith really enjoys her steak. Now, Dunder Mifflin should have probably counseled Meredith against it, and maybe changed vendors; but termination would have been risky. So, good job. What am I saying?

When faced with the possibility of terminating Meredith, Michael’s initial reaction was “hell no, she’s family.” However, it seems that he came to the realization that he works in an office — and he’s going to have to make tough decisions about people that he’s developed close, personal relationships with at work. (OK, I sure hope that Michael stops coming to realizations and learning! Ugh!)

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Michael Scott and the Popularity Contest at The Office

August 14, 2008 - by: Troy Foster 1 COMMENTS

There is no question that Michael Scott wants all his employees at The Office to like him. He even fessed up to it in the episode where he hit Meredith with his car. Well, sort of — Michael said, “I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised.”

The problem with this character trait in the workplace is that it can lead to favoritism, inequitable treatment, and in Michael’s case, just bad decision-making. Whether he’s wanting to hang out with the cool kids or stopping work altogether so the office can do any number of nonwork-related activities (the fun run, the basketball game, the Survivor games, etc.), Michael is always getting into trouble because of his need to be liked.

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Fun Run

September 28, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 6 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: Approximately $450,000 (depends on how much Meredith’s medical bills are)

It is good to be back and last night’s episode was a great start for a promising season!

When a manager runs over an employee with a company car on company property, it’s time to contact the finance department about setting aside a pot of money to pay the large verdict that will eventually be awarded against the company. Especially where, as is the case here, the accident may not be covered by workers’ compensation. Add to that Michael’s admission to his boss that the accident was caused by his “negligence,” and Meredith has the beginnings of a nice little lawsuit. Maybe this would be the time for Dunder Mifflin’s attorneys to remind Michael of my favorite saying: “If you can’t be good, then, for the love of God, just be quiet.”

Speaking of God, we generally recommend that our clients refrain from calling a staff meeting for the express purpose of inquiring about their employees’ religious beliefs. And we really try to discourage managers from suggesting that the staff perform animal sacrifices to some creature with the body of a walrus and the head of a meerkat. Suffice it to say that what Michael calls an ‘investigation” into whether his branch is cursed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission calls “evidence” of religious discrimination.

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