Office Olympics

August 02, 2012 - by: Adam Klarfeld 0 COMMENTS
Adam Klarfeld

With the Olympics in full swing this summer, reruns of The Office have been replaced with reruns of the Olympics (OK, tape-delayed events, but you get the idea). I can only assume this means that every workplace in the entire world is now hosting its very own office-themed Olympics with events ranging from office-chair races to Flonkerton. (In Season 2, Episode 3, we learned that Flonkerton is (obviously) the Icelandic term for “Box of Paper Snowshoe Racing,” the national sport of “Icelandic paper companies.” The Scranton branch competed in Flonkerton as part of the first Dundler Mifflin Olympiad.)   

Naturally, and like most fun things at work, workplace-sponsored Olympics (and all extracurricular activities for that matter -– both on and off the premises) have associated legal risks. (Surprisingly, nobody from Dunder Mifflin seems to actually have been hurt in that episode.) If an employee is injured at your office’s Olympics, here are the general legal topics implicated:

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There Was Talk of Oatmeal

December 09, 2011 - by: Matt Rita 0 COMMENTS
Matt Rita

Litigation Value:  Surprisingly, despite the free-flowing shots and porcupine quills, the legal risks associated with the most recent Dunder Mifflin Sabre holiday party ultimately proved to be relatively low.  What “holiday” am I referring to?  Well, just ask Stanley.

If only more employees could be like Kevin — not wanting to put anyone out, while content to sate themselves with apple cinnamon and maple brown sugar (in one bowl, with whole milk).  But alas, at this time of year, many of us have watched co-workers (over)indulge other appetites.

In Pennsylvania, where our favorite paper company (occasionally) conducts business, Section 4-493 of the Liquor Code makes it unlawful to “permit any liquor or malt or brewed beverages to be . . . furnished or given, to any person visibly intoxicated.”  Long before Oscar relieved him behind the bar, Robert should have known that Erin and Meredith had reached (or exceeded) their respective limits.  But to the credit of both him and Andy, the company’s upper management — such as it is — saw to it that the most impaired team members made it home safely.  Call it a best practice.

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Bippity Boppity Give Darryl the Zoppity

Kristin Starnes Gray

Next on our list of possible candidates for Michael Scott’s recently vacated position is Darryl Philbin, also known as ”Mittah Rogers” (but only by Michael). Darryl has come a long way since we first met him in Season 1 as he watched Dwight suddenly emerge from a box in the warehouse. Here’s my list of pros and cons for Darryl as boss.

Pros

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Michael and Holly, Sitting in a Tree

April 08, 2011 - by: Jaclyn West 3 COMMENTS
Jaclyn West

Litigation Value: A narrow escape from Michael burning the office down (twice) and, as always, plenty of lost productivity while the employees held a garage sale, played “Dallas” and helped Michael propose to Holly.

Since last night’s “Office” was another rerun, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the “Garage Sale” episode. This, folks, was the big one. The epic proposal that we have all been waiting for. Now, I know I’ve given Holly a pretty hard time about her relationship choices. And I’m not saying, even now, that I approve of an HR rep dating within the office. But I’m also an “Office” fan and I’ve waited a long time for Michael to find some happiness. So I’m going to take off my employment lawyer hat for a moment and confess that I am giddy about Michael and Holly finally getting engaged.

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Re-Acting Koi

August 13, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 2 COMMENTS
Chris Butler

Additional (Hypothetical) Litigation Value: $225,000 to Michael Scott for workers’ compensation benefits and medical expenses.

Neck deep in an August hot enough to boil cement, and we’re dealt yet another repeat. In fact, I extensively covered this episode last October (see Acting Koi), and I’m unsure what else can be said of Michael Scott’s unrelenting tomfoolery. So, let’s modify the script …

Let’s assume that, instead of haphazardly falling into the koi pond,Koi Jim Halpert — the quintessential prankster — had playfully nudged Michael into the drink. Let’s further assume that Jim’s horseplay caused Michael to hurt himself (I’m thinking a well-deserved cracked skull). Would Michael’s head injury be covered by workers’ compensation? Likely, yes. Would Michael be able to then sue Jim for causing his injury? Likely, no.

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The Scranton Vampire Chronicles

Kristin Starnes Gray

Litigation Value: Settling various claims related to Dwight’s bat hunting = $30,000; replacing shredded textbook = $100; convincing your coworker you’re a vampire = priceless.

Given that a colleague of mine has already thoroughly covered the employment law issues in last night’s repeat, let’s rewind to one of my favorite episodes from Season 3 — Business School. This episode takes us back to the Dunder Mifflin days before Ryan Howard went corporate (and then back to temp), before the entire gang danced down the aisle, and obviously before Pam nursed someone else’s baby. In this ”oldie but a goody,” Michael Scott (armed only with candy bars and a boom box) faces a room full of hostile college students while the rest of the gang battles one pint-sized vampire bat. Is it any surprise that the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” directed this episode?

The episode begins with Michael’s delight at being invited to be a “visiting professor” during one of Ryan’s business school classes. What Michael doesn’t know is that Ryan’s sole motivation for the invitation is extra credit. Things quickly deteriorate as Michael pelts students with candy, shreds a student’s textbook, discovers Ryan’s grim prediction for Dunder Mifflin’s future, and ends his speech with a dramatic “SUCK ON THAT!” Something tells me the student in question won’t be content with simply replacing his missing textbook pages with life lessons. Instead of extra credit, Ryan ends up with a new seat in the annex with celebrity-crazed Kelly Kapoor as punishment for declaring that the company will be obsolete in 5-10 years. As Julie discussed in her original analysis of this episode, Dunder Mifflin probably won’t face any liability for Michael’s antics because Ryan did not engage in any protected activity giving rise to a retaliation claim.

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Sabre Rattled – Y’All Come Back Now

February 11, 2010 - by: Doug Hall 6 COMMENTS
Doug Hall

Litigation Value: $2,500 for Meredith’s workers’ comp claim (those paper cuts can sting!) and more grist for the mill for potential future claims.

Tonight’s episode has the Scranton office continuing to deal with Dunder Mifflin’s acquisition by Sabre International. This time, it is the arrival of Sabre’s colorful president, Jo Bennett, and her two rather large dogs. Much of the episode focuses on the duel between Michael and Jim, as Mrs. (not Ms.) Bennett decides there is no reason to have co-Regional Managers at the branch (which shows already that she is more astute than Dunder Mifflin’s prior management). What starts as a battle to retain the manager’s role ends up being a contest to return to sales, as they realize they can do much better financially under Sabre’s policies as a salesman. At the end of the day, Michael ends up back in the manager’s role while Jim ends up where he belongs, in sales, doing battle with Dwight.

Although the contest between Michael and Jim doesn’t involve potential liability to the company, it points out the issues that can arise when rank-and-file employees earn more than their managers, including a disincentive for the best employees to move into managerial roles. And Dwight and Ryan could be exposing themselves, if not the company, to possible claims arising out of their conversation with Nick the IT guy — Dwight’s false potentially defamatory statement that Jim is under criminal investigation for “molesting people via the Internet” and Ryan’s threat of physical violence if Nick doesn’t turn over Jim’s computer password.

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Classic Rewind

January 22, 2010 - by: Chris Butler 6 COMMENTS
Chris Butler

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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Getting a Little (Maid of the) Misty

October 08, 2009 - by: Doug Hall 2 COMMENTS
Doug Hall

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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Dueling Complaints

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

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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