The Office: Weekly Analysis & Contest

In my humble opinion The Office is the world's #1 employment law training aid. All you have to do is (1) watch it and (2) do the exact opposite of everything you see. To help enhance your viewing experience, each week I provide a critique of the action from an employment lawyer's perspective. We also conduct a weekly "Are You Smarter Than a Lawyer?" Contest. Anyone who leaves a comment below identifying a legal issue that I missed will win a valuable prize. This Week's Episode: PDA. The Plot: Michael makes everyone uncomfortable with his public displays of affection; Jim and Pam face complications after lunch; a treasure hunt is ruined by Andy. Quote of the Week: "Holly and I are like Romeo and Juliet and this office is like the dragon that kept them apart." My Analysis: Issue: Emotional Distress Description: Darryl clearly suffered severe emotional trauma when his co-workers mistakenly thought they were supposed to buy him a birthday card rather than a sympathy card after his grandmother passed away. They then compounded the problem by crowding his office, whooping it up and repeatedly giving him "birthday punches." Stanley also appeared to suffer emotional distress when Andy "accidentally" did his Sudoko. Risk: $$$ Issue: PDA Description: The episode was basically one humongous object lesson of why workplace romance is rarely a good idea. Virtually every employee engaged in some form of PDA (public displays of affection) that potentially constituted sexual harassment and/or inappropriate workplace conduct. Michael and HR "professional" Holly repeatedly cooed, cuddled, hugged, held hands, kissed and exchanged highly nauseating lovey-dovey talk despite protestations from several co-workers and instructions from Gabe to cease and desist. When they then engaged in PDNA (public displays of non-affection) instead, it got even more nauseating. There were several other inappropriate displays of affection, including: (1) Jim's and Pam's apparent on-premises romantic encounter; (2) Andy's and Erin's repeated flirtations; and (3) Gabe's and Erin's repeated flirtations, including Gabe blowing Erin a kiss. Risk: $$$$ Issue: Theft of Company Time Description: Once again, virtually no employees (other than Darryl, briefly) did any discernible work. Risk: $$ Issue: Drunkenness on Company Premises Description: Jim and Pam were visibly intoxicated after a "bottomless champagne" lunch, resulting in several instances of inappropriate and dangerous behavior. Among other things, they stumbled around the not-exactly-OSHA-compliant warehouse, falling down stairs and knocking things over. The company's repeated failure to discipline employees for similar prior condct could have led to siginficant liability if Jim and Pam injured themselves or anyone else. Risk: $$$$ Issue: How NOT To Conduct Harassment Training Description: Gabe put on what has to be the worst anti-harassment training session in the history of the universe. He started off by indicating that the company is "100% tolerant of workplace romance" (to excuse his dating of Erin). Throughout the course of the "training," Michael sat in Holly's lap and the two of them engaged in grossly inappropriate PDA (see above). Basically every participant in the training blurted out something inappropriate. Michael concluded the session by designating three locations on the premises that were officially approved for make-out sessions. Risk: $$$$$ Issue: Defamation Description: Dwight read off a list of his co-workers alleged to have engaged in inappropriate romantic activity on company property. In doing so, he could face potential defamation and/or invasion of privacy liability. Michael disparaged the company when he called it "a division of Taliban enterprises" as part of his protest of the company's anti-PDA policies. Risk: $$ Issue: Sexual Orientation Description: Several employees (most notably Michael and Kevin) made inappropriate comments about Oscar's sexual orientation. Given Oscar's previous suit on the same basis, another one could be coming soon. Risk: $$$$ Issue: Destruction of Property Description: Ryan defaced his office/closet by plastering glow-in-the-dark stars all over the ceiling and walls without permission. Risk: $ Issue: Bad HR Psychoanalysis Description: Gabe followed up his horrific anti-harassment training with an arguably worse counseling/investigatory session with Michael and Holly in which he made several highly inappropriate comments, interrogated them about possible drug use (arguably without reasonable suspicion) and admitted that he had used the drug ecstasy himself. Risk: $$$ Issue: Insubordination Description: Once again, Gabe repeatedly ordered employees to stop behaviors that violated company policy. Once again, everyone ignored him. His failure to take action will make it virtually impossible to discipline anyone on similar grounds in the future. Risk: $$$ Issue: Reservation Fraud Description: Dwight made Valentine's Day dinner reservations at various Scranton-area restaurants in an attempt to corner the market and force couples to have to call (and pay) him to get a table. Risk: $$$ Issue: Other Inappropriate Comments and Actions Description: Virtually every employee engaged in some form of behavior that could trigger legal liabliity. In addition to everything noted above: (1) Holly made multiple inappropriate comments about Michael's body; (2) Andy made potentially inappropriate comments about race; (3) Dwight made fun of speech impediments; (4) Kevin mimicked monkeys hurling their feces; and (5) the office security guard made an inappropriate gender-related comment. Risk: $$$$

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