We may be living in the “golden age of television” but there is something comforting about grabbing the remote and binge-watching several episodes of your favorite sitcom. The Office is a perennial favorite for those of us at The Rankin Law Firm because it is always on or streaming, and it remains hilarious no matter how many times you have seen it.
The show’s relatability is what makes it great, but it also makes those of us in the employment law world cringe. There are many, many episodes where the characters’ activity is just so wrong you hope nobody in the real world gets any ideas. There are other times when what is happening on screen would be illegal if it happened in real life here in California.
That’s What She Said
Virtually every woman working at Dunder Mifflin could bring a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company based on Michael Scott’s ongoing behavior. He regularly speaks to the women about their looks and romantic relationships, distributes half-naked photos of a coworker, and frequently makes unwanted sexual jokes.
Michael Scott’s misdeeds go well beyond sexism. In the second episode of the whole series, an outside consultant is brought in to do some diversity training after Michael does an offensive impersonation of the comedian Chris Rock.
Michael thinks the training is ridiculous, so he creates his own. He has each member of the team draw a card with a race or ethnicity written on it, tape it to their forehead, then walk around the office interacting with their coworkers as if their coworker is of the race or ethnicity printed on their card.
This activity, in and of itself is so bad it could potentially be the basis of a lawsuit, but combined with other comments and actions from Michael, it shows a pattern of racial discrimination.
In the Season 9 episode “Moving On,” Andy Bernard attempts to fire one of the employees he supervises after learning his ex-girlfriend Erin (another employee!) has started dating him. After HR steps in, Andy hires a couple of people who previously dated his ex and her new boyfriend just to show them how terrible it is to work with your ex.
Hiring decisions that are based on romantic relationships are a big no-no. It would clearly be workplace retaliation for Andy to attempt to fire his ex-girlfriend, but attempting to fire her new boyfriend is almost as bad. This is one of the reasons why workplace romances, especially between supervisors and their employees, are risky.
In Season 8, Jim and Dwight team up to create a fake coworker who can earn commissions on their behalf. This is completely inappropriate, but it is done in response to a company policy that limits the sales commissions Jim and Dwight can rightfully claim. It is unclear if the policy limiting their commissions would be legal under California law, so it would be worth speaking to an experienced employment law attorney about a potential wage theft claim. Every hard-working employee deserves full and fair compensation.
Dwight’s Private Arsenal
Throughout the series, it is revealed that Dwight keeps a number of weapons hidden around the office. In one episode he even shoots Stanley with a tranquilizer dart. Workplace violence is not something that should not be taken lightly. Anyone who believes their workplace is unsafe should contact an attorney, and if the threat is immediate, the police.
The Road To Your Employment Rights Starts Here
Although The Office pretends to be a documentary, it is, thankfully, fiction. Unfortunately, employment discrimination, harassment, unsafe working conditions, wage theft, and retaliation are all too real.
If you are enduring a workplace situation that comes even close to being as bad as an episode of The Office, we hope you will give The Rankin Law Firm a call. Our experienced California employment law team is ready to hear your story, and help you figure out what your next steps should be.