That's why she sued: 7 employment law lessons from 'The Office'.

PositionNuts & Bolts

The pandemic gave Americans a lot of couch time, and many used it to revisit their favorite TV shows like NBC's "The Office."

HR professionals undoubtedly cringe when watching those reruns--and not just because of the abuse heaped on Dunder Mifflin's HR director, Toby. Throughout the show, Michael Scott and his team committed so many employment law blunders that would have triggered huge lawsuit verdicts in real life.

Here are a few good lessons that HR professionals and managers can learn from all that bad behavior:

  1. Confidentiality and privacy are HR 'musts.' Michael never figured that out. He publicly announced an employee's sexual orientation... read aloud from the company suggestion box. and commented on every aspect of employees' private lives.

    The lesson: Make sure managers and HR staff know to keep employees' private matters private.

  2. Don't confuse "boss" with "friend." Michael once said he wants his employees to think of him as "a friend first and a boss second, and probably an entertainer third." Sounds nice, but it's not a smart (or legally sound) management philosophy. Try firing a friend or telling your friend that his work has been of poor quality lately.

    The lesson: Good relations with employees are important, but managers need to recognize a professional line that should not be crossed.

  3. Comp & benefits can't be random. In one episode, Michael is tasked with choosing an employee benefits plan. When he decides that job is simply too boring, he asks Dwight to do it. That, as expected, leads to chaos, the leaking of personal information and lots of hurt feelings.

    The lesson: Take time to audit your pay and benefits to make sure workers are compensated fairly. Take careful note of employees' protected classes. Keep this info confidential.

  4. Documentation is everything. When Jan sued Dunder Mifflin for discrimination, Michael was forced to testify against his girlfriend. The episode included lawyers from both sides introducing lots of documents into evidence (including Michael's personal diary!).

    The lesson: In any employment law case--from discrimination to harassment to terminations--establishing who said what (and when) is critical. Make sure managers understand the importance of creating clear, accurate records of events when dealing with any key employment interaction (hiring, terminations, discipline, leave, etc.).

  5. Don't focus on the legal definition of harassment. From bringing exotic dancers into the workplace to...

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