Double Trouble

November 06, 2009 - by: Jaclyn West 5 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: up to $5,000-7,500 to settle Erin’s sexual harassment claim; $2,000 for sexual harassment training (again); up to $10,000 to settle with Michael for failing to protect him from Pam’s slap … and Pam might be spending some of her own money on defending against Michael’s battery claim.

This week on “The Office,” we saw our favorite Scranton residents engaged in their usual bad behavior. Dwight seemed to actually be on fairly good behavior, but of course we soon learned that he was only nice to his coworkers so that they would “owe him,” and he could later cash in the favor to have Jim fired. Did anyone not see that coming? Still, there’s no law against bringing bagels to work! No, what concerned me about the episode were the interactions between Ryan and Erin, and between Pam and Michael.

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Dueling Complaints

September 25, 2009 - by: Jody Ward-Rannow 7 COMMENTS

LITIGATION VALUE:  $50,000 (in litigation costs on Darryl’s claims); damages continuing to pile up on Oscar’s claims.

In tonight’s episode, “The Meeting,” we watched as Michael interfered with Jim’s attempt to obtain a promotion and falsified documents in Jim’s personnel file (clearly a problem, but not the most interesting problem in this episode). We also watched as Toby and Dwight conducted a stakeout of Darryl’s house to investigate the workers’ compensation claim Darryl filed after he “fell off a ladder” in the warehouse.

This is “The Office,” so we knew the stakeout was a bad idea the moment Dwight suggested it, and Dwight and Toby did not disappoint. The stakeout resulted in Toby and Dwight making vulgar and inappropriate statements about Darryl’s sister. Later, we learned that Darryl lied in his workers’ compensation forms about how he was injured. Dwight threatened to file a complaint with corporate about Darryl’s falsified workers’ compensation forms. Darryl, in turn, threatened to file a sexual harassment complaint with corporate on behalf of his sister. Both men filed complaints, and Toby gets to do a lot of paperwork.

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Office Scuttlebutt

September 18, 2009 - by: Matt Rita 2 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $100,000

A new season of The Office is upon us!  Although Michael Scott is hardly a man for all seasons (and unlikely to be confused with Thomas More, or any other saint), in last night’s premiere he provided us with yet another object lesson on employment law.  This time the principle involved was employee privacy, or rather the lack thereof. In Michael’s zeal to shed his “third wheel” status, he set out to spread gossip about virtually everyone at Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch — other than himself, of course.  His rumors had nothing to do with company matters and everything to do with the personal lives of his staff members. For example, Michael would find it difficult to explain how the paper business has anything to do with Toby’s alleged virginity, Kelly’s supposed eating disorder, Creed’s asthmatic scuba diving, or the imaginary person inside of Kevin “working [him] with controls.”

The main focus of the rampant “scuttlebutt” was Stanley’s extra-marital relationship with a woman who had been his rehab nurse. Although an employee’s off-duty sexual conduct is a private matter, Michael saw fit to make himself “an equal part of it” — much as he did with Pam’s not-so-secret pregnancy. By disseminating such information to co-workers, Michael may have committed the tort of invasion of privacy.

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The Envelope, Please

June 04, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 3 COMMENTS

Litigation cost: $0 – $50,000

Even though NBC is taking a break from The Office this week, we aren’t. The latest webisode, “Blackmail,” may be short but it packs a potential punch for Dunder Mifflin.

Creed wreaks quiet havoc by gathering his colleagues’ best-kept secrets and using them to extort favors or a paltry $6 from each of them. Nonetheless, it’s blackmail. So far, even though Creed appears to be violating the law, Dunder Mifflin can probably skate by without liability since there is no indication that anyone in a supervisory position had reason to know or should have known about the nefarious plot unfolding in the workplace. And, Creed was not acting within the scope of his duties.

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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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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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Hot or Not?

January 23, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 5 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $0

In the Prince Family Paper episode of The Office, the employees of Dunder Mifflin Scranton act inappropriately and potentially create liability for the company on two different fronts. But fortunately, as seems to be the case quite often this season, no one does anything to definitely create liability for the company. That doesn’t mean we approve of their conduct, though, as literally everyone in the office was in on the shenanigans.

First, let’s deal with Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute. Like in the 8th grade, Michael and Dwight’s spy mission to Prince Family Paper was inappropriate, awkward, and just felt wrong. However, as legitimate competitors, Dunder Mifflin is entitled to compete with Prince Family Paper, even if they’re slimy about it. And the customer list Michael and Dwight got from Mr. Prince could have been a trade secret –- if he hadn’t just given it to Michael so freely. So, at the end of the day, Michael’s and Dwight’s behavior might not have been ethical, but it was probably legal.

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And the Winner Is …

January 09, 2009 - by: Troy Foster 2 COMMENTS

Litigation Value: $0.
The last time The Surplus episode of The Office aired, we talked about Dunder Mifflin’s good behavior (relatively speaking). In the spirit of award season –- specifically the Golden Globes, which are on this Sunday –- let’s give some awards to folks for their exemplary behavior during the episode.

Best Actor – Oscar, for compromising on his demand for a new copier for the larger goal of office harmony. And it doesn’t hurt that he was the only employee dressed like someone from Hollywood. Was that a lavender shirt and a khaki suit coat?

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It’s a Setup

November 21, 2008 - by: Dominic Verstegen 1 COMMENTS

Litigation value: $500,000 to Toby; maybe a couple of bucks to Pam.

Welcome back Toby to The Office! For your trouble, how about a sizable money judgment courtesy of Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute, and the good folks at Dunder Mifflin! Invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault . . . the list goes on and on. You’d think with all this action, Toby’s facial expression would have changed at some point during the episode. Alas, it’s not in his repertoire.

It’s been a while since we’ve had an episode containing such blatant improper behavior — and clear liability on behalf of the company. Whether it was Michael threatening Toby, Michael setting up Toby for a crime, or even Ryan and Kelly just making out in front of Toby (that really explicit, lippy making out, like in Top Gun — nasty), Toby endured a lifetime’s worth of emotional distress in just one workday.

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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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