Watch Your Mouth

September 17, 2010 - by: Matt Scott 2 COMMENTS
Matt Scott

workplace privacyForgive me for repeating myself, but The Office was a repeat last night. Thankfully it was the last repeat before next week’s season premier, Thursday, Sept. 23 on NBC.

Moving on. This was the episode where Jo sought to uncover who blew the whistle on Sabre’s faulty explosive printers. There really didn’t seem to be any federal employment laws implicated in this episode, but virtually every state in the country has some whistleblower protections in place for employees who report corporate wrongdoing. Some are created by statute, others are created by the courts (common law causes of action). What applies to you depends on the state in which you live.

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The Michael Scott School of Business

July 09, 2010 - by: Jaclyn West 5 COMMENTS
Jaclyn West

Litigation Value: An education on management from the master (of disaster) … priceless.

The Office didn’t air in my little corner of the world last night, and I’m currently battling symptoms of withdrawal. So I decided to take a little walk down memory lane and relive some of my favorite lessons from Season 6. Remember, back in Season 2, when Michael gave Ryan the benefit of his many years of management experience through a series of cliches? What lessons would Michael share with us from this season?

Gossip: Michael divulges Stanley’s secret — he’s having an affair! — to the entire office. Feeling guilty, Michael makes up false rumors about everyone in the office, telling the office that Kelly has an eating disorder, Andy is homosexual, and Pam is pregnant. Turns out, Pam really is pregnant. Lesson learned: Talk is cheap … for Michael, anyway. Maybe not so much for Dunder Mifflin.

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Blowing the Whistle

May 06, 2010 - by: Jody Ward-Rannow 0 COMMENTS
Jody Ward-Rannow

Litigation Value: $50,000 for the office meeting Michael called to discuss his sex life with his employees.

In this week’s episode of The Office, we saw two storylines, both of which provide interesting employment law issues: Michael’s quest to find out if Donna is cheating on him and Darryl’s attempt to play a prank on Andy that turns out to resemble a whistleblower complaint.

Michael is concerned that his new girlfriend, Donna, is cheating on him because he thinks she is too good-looking for him. So, in classic Michael fashion, he holds an office meeting to ask everyone what they think. Of course, Michael cannot resist telling the office how much sex he is having with Donna. This meeting is an obvious problem in the office. Michael, the boss, forced his subordinates to listen to him talk about his sex life. If any person in that room was offended, Michael will have a sexual harassment complaint on his hands. This type of sexual harassment requires that the harassment was “severe and pervasive” so as to create a hostile work environment. The meeting shown in the episode likely wasn’t severe enough to create a hostile work environment (and most employees actually seemed to participate willingly), but if Michael continued his banter throughout the day, then the employees could have a claim.

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Kevin’s Loan

December 23, 2008 - by: Dominic Verstegen 1 COMMENTS
Dominic Verstegen

Litigation Value: $0

It’s week 2 of our review of The Office webisodes. This time, we watched “Kevin’s Loan.” In this particularly hilarious webisode, it is revealed that Kevin has a gambling debt. He devises a scheme to pay off his debt by getting a loan to open up a mobile ice cream business. Unfortunately, there are some problems with his plan, although not with the name of one of his flavors — Fudge the Magic Dragon. Kevin enlists the help of Darryl from the warehouse, and hilarity ensues.

From a liability perspective, the main problem I see is that Kevin walks the line of committing fraud. Of course, since Dunder Mifflin isn’t in on the act with him, the company is in pretty good shape. One issue that is worth examining is: What should Oscar and Darryl have done when they became aware of what Kevin was doing on company time?

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Business School

February 15, 2007 - by: Julie Elgar 4 COMMENTS
Julie Elgar

LITIGATION VALUE: $30,000 (But it could have been much higher)

“Business is always personal” is probably not the best motto for a manager. It could lead them to act impulsively. Like, say, moving an employee’s desk from the front of the office to an “annex” inhabited by the employee’s chatty, fashion-crazed, quasi (ex?) girlfriend as a punishment for suggesting that the company could someday go out of business. But … would it be illegal? Maybe. Or at least it would be if Ryan’s speech could be considered a protected activity under Sarbanes-Oxley, the anti-discrimination laws, or some type of state whistleblower statute. Because Ryan’s speech (well, the part of it we could hear) probably did not implicate any of these statutes, Dunder Mifflin will likely dodge a bullet.

On the other hand, if Ryan had complained of discrimination and Michael had reacted the same way, then the Company would be looking at significant exposure. In a discrimination case, a manager’s actions do not necessarily have to be related to the workplace to land a company in hot water. Rather, an employer’s action need only be “materially adverse” to start the ball rolling. Telling an employee’s business school classmates that he has never made a sale and publicly berating him could do it. And I’m pretty sure that most guys would find being saddled with Kelly to meet this standard!

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Categories: Ryan Howard / Whistleblowing