By now, if you haven’t heard about Donald Trump’s statements on Muslims and his plan to prevent Muslims from entering the country, as well as the vehement support he is receiving from an astonishing number of people, you may be living under a rock. I think you may know where this is going, but bear with me for a moment.

I won’t be shy about this, I will not back down from it and I want this to be clear: Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric disgusts me. It disgusts me as a person, as an American, and as a freedom-loving individual. There is no need to use hyperbole here, as some have chosen to do. People are scared and they are clinging to whoever and whatever makes them feel safe.

Given the widespread nature of Trump’s message, it is bound to permeate your workplace. In some it will simply be whispered about, whether in support or opposition. In others, there will be more spirited discussion. Make no mistake about it, danger lies in both situations.

Regardless of Trump’s rhetoric, making statements that could be construed as anti-Muslim or discriminatory in nature could land your company in serious hot water. While you do not necessarily have to forbid your employees from discussing Trump (and in fact, such a ban would likely be an exercise in futility), you may wish to remind your employees of your anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy and ask them to exercise good judgment when discussing sensitive subjects in the workplace.

Also, remember that out of work statements made on social media can give rise to a hostile work environment claim, so it may be time to dust off your social media policy and remind your employees that your anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies apply to social media as well.

Unlike Trump, you should use good judgment in approaching this and other sensitive subjects. Don’t approach race, national, religion, sex, or other factors with anger and fear; rather be inclusive and welcoming to prevent these issues before they arise.

medicalleaverequestImagine that your company has 40 employees, one of whom is subject to hospitalization for a medical condition and requires surgery. He is out of work for several weeks and in his absence, the company realizes that it gets along fine without him. As a result, on his return to work, he is called into a meeting by HR and terminated.

Those of you familiar with the FMLA, know that this particular company would not be subject to its requirements. However, that changes if the company chooses to include FMLA language in its employee handbook.

An employee may be entitled to the protections of the FMLA if the employer publishes a policy providing FMLA leave, the employee reasonably relies upon the policy and then the employee is disciplined for their reliance. This is referred to as an equitable estoppel claim, because the employee is asking the court to prevent the company from taking an unfair action.

In a recent Pennsylvania federal court case, a similar situation occurred, with the company terminating the employee upon his return from work, despite the company’s FMLA policy in the handbook. The court, however, declined to offer the employee FMLA protection because he failed to prove that he relied upon the policy. He did not decide to undergo surgery or take leave because he thought he was protected, he did it simply to improve his health. In fact, he admitted that he did not receive the employee handbook or read the FMLA policy.

So what can you take away from this case?

First, if you fall under the minimum employee threshold for the FMLA (50 employees within 75 miles of one another), you may certainly include a medical leave policy, but do so with the knowledge of its administrative difficulties as well as the limitations it will place upon you.

Second, even though this company escaped liability, you shouldn’t count on the same. If you place a medical leave policy in your handbook, make sure you adhere to it and administer it in an equal manner for all employees. Otherwise, your employee (and their attorney) may learn from this case and I’ll be writing about your company…

Use this case as a lesson, and review your FMLA policy now (preferably with legal counsel’s assistance) to determine whether you need one, how to implement it and what, if any, limitations it places upon your company.

jury-duty-clip-art-746549As some of those who follow me on Twitter know, I had jury duty in September. Like most people, it wasn’t something I was looking forward to (and I even tried to get out of it on the basis that no one would pick a lawyer for a jury). Well, it turns out that a district attorney and a public defender will pick a lawyer for a jury, and I ended up on a jury for a criminal trial.

I decided to use the entire experience for my (and your) benefit, and see what I could learn from the experience. And it was certainly an eye-opening experience. Here’s what I learned:

Jurors Aren’t Always Completely Truthful

For those of you not familiar, in many cases, jurors are asked to fill out a questionnaire upon arrival on their first day. The questionnaire asks for information regarding age, occupation, spouse’s age, spouse’s occupation, etc. It also asks questions about a juror’s ability to be fair and impartial. For example, the criminal questionnaire I completed asked whether I could believe that the defendant was innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution.

Then later, jurors go through voir dire. Voir dire is the period, prior to selecting the jury, where the judge and attorneys are presented an opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions. Attorneys use voir dire to determine if any potential jurors have biases or personal connections to someone involved with the case, that would prevent them from being fair and impartial.

Unfortunately, it seemed like at least some of the jurors either did not read or did not understand the questions. During jury selection, breaks and even during deliberations, fellow jurors made statements that, if made on the jury questionnaire, would see them struck from the jury. Similarly, standing up in front of a group of approximately 40 to 50 strangers and admitting that you have a bias (whether it be based on race, religion, occupation or anything else) is not easy to do. While some judges will allow jurors to discuss these issues out of earshot of the rest of the jury pool, for the most part a potential juror is expected to express these biases in front of the group. I believe this results in some jurors failing to disclose biases, which may significantly impact their ability to render a fair and impartial verdict.

Jurors Don’t Understand the Law

Despite numerous and painstaking attempts to explain the law, including a written charge sheet that includes the elements that must be proven, confusion reigns. The law is complicated and nuanced, which is why lawyers need to go through extra schooling and spend years learning before they can be considered competent. Jurors, however, get some explanation from each party (which can be conflicting) and then a long soliloquy from the judge going into greater detail.

Once the jury is left to deliberate, they may ask questions about the law, but they are essentially left to their own devices. In other words, while they are charged with interpreting the facts, they often end up interpreting the law as well, whether it is through confusion, misunderstanding, deliberate bias or something else entirely.

My Point (Finally)

In short, juries are fickle and unpredictable. Even if you painstakingly pick a jury, you will have no idea how they will end up. A jury trial is a fantastic way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

So what should you take away from my jury duty experience? Don’t put your company in a position where they have to put the case in front of a jury. Hire counsel to help you prevent problems before they start and keep them informed of any problems that do crop up, because dealing with the problem quickly is often more cost-effective and eliminates the crap shoot of a jury trial.

US Department of LaborOn June 30, 2015, the Department of Labor announced new proposed overtime rules aimed at expanding the number of employees eligible for overtime pay and decreasing the number of employees that qualify for an exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is important to note that these are merely proposed rules, and have not taken effect yet. There will be a 60 day period in which the public will submit comments to the DOL. After that comment period it will take until 2016 for the proposed rules to go into effect.

Under the current rules, in order to be exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements, an employee must make more than $455 per week, which equates to $23,660 per year. The proposed rule seeks to increase the minimum to meet the so-called “white-collar exemptions” to $921 per week, equating to $47,892 per year. Going forward the minimum an employee may earn to remain exempt will be set at the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for all full-time salaried employees.

Additionally, the current rules allow for an exemption from minimum wage and overtime laws for employees earning $100,000 per year, which is also known as the “highly compensated employee” exemption. The proposed rule will increase the minimum amount for the exemption to $122,148 per year, which will be tied to the 90th percentile of weekly earnings for all full-time salaried employees.

Not only will the proposed rule will ensure that the minimums for both the white-collar and highly compensated employee exemptions increase, it set them to fluctuate based on the appropriate percentile of weekly earnings for all full-time salaried employees.

And if that wasn’t enough, the DOL is looking for comments on whether it should change the test for determining whether an employee’s “primary duty” is performing exempt job duties and responsibilities. Presently, courts use a multi-factor test that is applied (or mis-applied) on a case-by-case basis. However, the DOL is proposing a more quantifiable test, like setting a specific percentage of time an employee must spend of their day or week performing exempt duties.

So the real question is: what do you do now?

You can, if you choose, do nothing for the moment. As I said before, these are proposed rules and are not currently in effect. As a result, you won’t get yourself in any hot water, as long as you are following the current overtime and minimum wage rules.

If you would like to get more proactive, you can look at your current employees and determine if any who are currently exempt would become non-exempt under the new rules. Providing raises to bring the employees above the white collar or highly compensated employee minimums would ensure they remain exempt (provided they spend an appropriate percentage of their time on exempt duties and responsibilities). Alternatively, you could cut costs by adopting a policy forbidding overtime work without permission, however, this could have detrimental effects on your productivity and should not be done lightly.

No matter what your choice, the proposed DOL rules are a great reason to conduct a self-audit. You (and/or your attorney) should review employee job descriptions, actual duties and classifications to ensure that you are currently in compliance and to see what, if any, changes will need to be made under the proposed rules.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court released its opinion in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. The case involved the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bringing a religious discrimination lawsuit against the national retailer, under Title VII.

Samantha Elauf, a 17-year-old Muslim, applied for a position at an Abercrombie store. During her interview, she wore a headscarf. The manager interviewing Elauf gave her high marks under Abercrombie’s rating system, but expressed concern that Elauf’s headscarf might conflict with Abercrombie’s “Look Policy.” The “Look Policy” specifically prohibited employees from wearing “caps,” a term which is not defined. Even though the manager informed the district manager that she believed Elauf wore the headscarf for religious reasons, the district manager concluded that the headscarf violated the “Look Policy” and directed the manager not to hire Elauf.

As many of you already know, Title VII forbids discrimination on the basis of religion. Discrimination under Title VII can be described as either disparate treatment, which is intentional discrimination, and disparate impact, which is an action that has a disproportionate impact on a protected class.

In this case, Abercrombie argued that an applicant can’t establish a claim for disparate treatment if the employer have “actual knowledge” of the applicant’s need for an accommodation. In a very short opinion, the Supreme Court disagreed with eight justices in the majority.

The major holding of the case is fairly straightforward:

To prevail in a disparate-treatment claim, an applicant need show only that his need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need.

The Court manages to clarify things even further:

The rule for disparate-treatment claims based on a failure to accommodate a religious practice is straightforward: An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.

So now, the important part, how do you avoid becoming like Abercrombie? First, use common sense. If it appears that an applicant or employee needs a religious accommodation, begin a dialogue and find out.

Second, take a look at your policies and see which ones might conflict with religious beliefs. For example, policies requiring work on Saturday or Sunday, or dress codes may cause potential issues. If you’re aware of the potential religious conflicts, you can be more conscious of when to begin the dialogue.

Finally, train your hiring personnel and managers on properly addressing religious beliefs and accommodations. Training is always an excellent way to reduce your liability and ensure that the people in your organization are aware of what they may or may not say and do with regard to religion (and any other protected class).

So there you have it folks, to make sure you don’t run afoul of the EEOC like Abercrombie: use your head, review policies and train your employees.


HR Cinema is an ongoing feature here at The Employer’s Lawyer.  It combines my love of movies with my passion for human resources and employment law.  Please feel free to suggest movies in the comments and I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.

It’s that time of year again, May 4th also known as Star Wars Day! And since I did a post about “A New Hope” last year, I thought it was only appropriate to move onto “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Empire has always been my favorite of the original trilogy, between the appearance of Lando, Luke’s training with Yoda, and the “Luke, I am your father” reveal, there’s just so much to love! For the three people out there who have never seen Empire, here’s the IMDB description:

After the rebels have been brutally overpowered by the Empire on their newly established base, Luke Skywalker takes advanced Jedi training with Master Yoda, while his friends are pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke.

Now, onto the real reason you’re here, what can you learn from Empire?

Scruffy-Looking Nerf Herder

Oh, Han and Leia, they’re the ultimate dysfunctional couple. Certainly in the beginning they have what could best be described as a love-hate relationship. Its clear they both have feelings for one another, but they also particularly enjoy a dialogue that tends to be far from kind. Leia calls Han a “stuck-up, scruff-looking, Nerf-herder.” And Han constantly refers to Leia as “your worship” or “your highness” in a tone that suggests he is not affording her the respect she is used to.

When you’re the Rebel Alliance valiantly trying to fight off the evil Empire, a relationship between two of your leaders could certainly be trouble if it impacts their ability to perform their jobs. On the plus side, it seems likely that the whole war with the Empire made it unlikely that anyone would file any sexual harassment or discrimination claims based on Han and Leia’s behavior. Now, obviously Han and Leia’s relationship didn’t affect the Rebel Alliance too much, since they eventually defeat the Empire (I feel pretty safe not putting a spoiler alert on that one, and if that was a spoiler, shame on you…).

I’m guessing that your business is not in a war with the Empire (if you are, please contact me, I’ve always wanted to fly an X-Wing), so a workplace romance, whether dysfunctional or not, may cause you some difficulties. It bears noting that Leia is, ostensibly, Han’s superior, so that creates an added issue. When superiors date their subordinates, you’re almost begging for the other subordinates to start complaining about favorable treatment. And a superior-subordinate relationship opens the door to a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, where the subordinate claims that the superior promised them some benefit or benefits in return for performing sexual favors.

Even if your office romance is between equals, it can still cause problems. Sexual harassment claims can be brought by other employees who feel the couple’s behavior is inappropriate and makes them uncomfortable. Even if lawsuits are not a danger, then you still need to think about the lost productivity when a couple is in a fight or worse, breaks up. Chances are, neither of them will be happy and neither of them will be performing at their optimal level.

Finally, the other danger with workplace relationships: the love triangle. We all know Han and Leia had a thing for one another, but then there was that (in hindsight awful) kiss between Leia and Luke. Han was clearly jealous, Luke was smug and Leia was right in the middle. Now you’re guaranteed to have at least one angry or upset employee, and quite possible you have three employees that unproductive.

Movie takeaway: Romantic relationships belong outside of the office, and even if you don’t end up getting sued, there’s a good chance your employees’ productivity will decrease.

Help You, I Can

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, being nice is an under-rated and conspicuously absent trait at times. Now, as Supreme Court Justice Scalia is fond of saying, the law is not a civility code. So there’s no statutory requirement for you to be nice, but just think how much better work, and the world, would be if more people were just nice.

When Luke crashes on Degobah, he is startled by a short, old alien, using a cane and wielding the strangest syntax anyone’s ever heard. He appears simple, foolish and of no threat to anyone. Luke, being headstrong, pushes and pushes this alien to help him find a “great warrior” Master Yoda. Of course, we all know now that the alien is Yoda and he’s testing Luke’s patience. Luke, however, doesn’t realize it until Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks to Yoda, at which point Luke begins begging Yoda to train him. Luke’s impatience and outright rudeness of Yoda is a difficult first impression to rehabilitate.

We can all apply this lesson to our work, and everyday, lives. No matter what a person’s position within your company (or in the restaurant you dine in or the hotel you stay in), they deserve, at the very least, some kindness. Sometimes you’ll find that you will benefit from showing someone some kindness, and other times you’ll just make someone’s day.

Movie takeaway: Be nice to everyone, no matter how unimportant they may appear.

Do or Do Not, There is No Try

I had to include this one, of course. Its simple and correct. Commit to doing something and believe you can do it, and you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish. And may the Force be with you…



HR Cinema is an ongoing feature here at The Employer’s Lawyer.  It combines my love of movies with my passion for human resources and employment law.  Please feel free to suggest movies in the comments and I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.

Well, we’ve already established that I’m a nerd and a big fan of comic book movies, so it was only a matter of time until I saw Guardians of the Galaxy and turned it into a blog post.  For those of you that haven’t seen it, stop reading and go see it right now (just leave work, it’s okay, I won’t tell), because not only is it an excellent movie, but there will be spoilers ahead.

Here’s the summary, from IMDB, just in case you haven’t seen one of the millions of trailers:

After stealing a mysterious orb in the far reaches of outer space, Peter Quill is now the main target of a manhunt led by the villain known as Ronan the Accuser. To help fight Ronan and his team and save the galaxy from his power, Quill creates a team known as the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to save the world.

Okay, so besides being one of my favorite movies this year, what can Guardians of the Galaxy teach us about the workplace?

What They Say (Part I)

RocketRocket is one of the of the ragtag group that calls themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy and he’s fairly hard to miss, since he’s a sarcastic, talking raccoon.  Throughout the beginning of the movie, Rocket is referred to as “vermin” and a number of other derogatory names.  It becomes clear, fairly quickly, that despite his hard (yet fluffy) exterior, Rocket is hurt by the name-calling.  Upset and angry, Rocket lashes out at the rest of his team. Unbeknownst to the others, Rocket couldn’t help that he was experimented on, and turned into a talking raccoon.

In the workplace, it is important to make it clear that speech that is discriminatory or demeaning to fellow employees will not be tolerated.  Until his outburst and confession regarding the effect of the derogatory names, Rocket didn’t truly feel like he was part of the team.  Once the team stopped referring to him by derogatory names, he was willing to risk his life to save them.  If employees are alienating another employee, or group of employees, you’re bound to run into problems.

First, you are at risk for a lawsuit based on discrimination.  Current case law has made it clear that everyone is in a protected class, and with state laws generally providing more protection than federal laws, it is easier and easier to bring a discrimination suit.  While an employee’s derogatory speech will not immediately give rise to liability, your company’s failure to properly address the derogatory speech will almost certainly place you on the losing end of a lawsuit.

In addition, the simple fact that an employee or group of employees feels alienated may have detrimental effects on your business.  Many studies have shown that bullied or alienated employees are significantly less productive.

Movie Takeaway:  You should have policies prohibiting discriminatory behavior, as well as provide training on acceptable and unacceptable behavior, or you could find yourself on the losing end of a lawsuit and with unproductive employees.

What They Say (Part II)

gamoraAnother of the Guardians, Gamora, is something of a wildcard.  Initially, she’s dispatched by the film’s bad guy, Ronan, to obtain the mysterious orb that Star Lord has stolen.  We quickly find out that she took the assignment in order to betray Ronan, and sell the orb herself, to ensure that Ronan can’t get it.  However, no one knows Gamora’s true intentions, particularly the other inmates when she’s imprisoned.  Many of them talk about how she is Ronan’s unthinking and unfeeling henchwoman, and acting only to assist Ronan, which obviously hurts her credibility as a potential hero.

Similarly, its easy for rumor and innuendo to get out of control in the workplace, leading to damaged reputations and careers.  As many of us know, workplaces can be worse than high schools when it comes to rumors.  Rumors also have another name: defamation.  Defamation is limited to only speech or writings that are false and published to third-parties, but quite frankly, that’s exactly what rumors are.

While not something that often comes up in the workplace, human resources or employment law, defamation is a very real possibility.

Employers also need to cognizant of what supervisors and other management personnel say about employees to third-parties, whether inside or outside the company.  Additionally, employers should decline to provide references  to former employees, to reduce the chances of being sued for defamation if they provide a negative reference.  It is perfectly acceptable to provide the employee’s start and end date, as well as job title and final salary, when asked for a reference.

Statements, particularly those that are written, could come back to haunt your company if an employee or former employee brings a defamation suit.  Even if you win in the end, defending such a suit could lead to significant attorney’s fees.

Movie Takeaway:  Consider policies that prohibit spreading rumors about others and decline to provide references to former employees.

A hat-tip to Kate Bischoff for her suggestion of the movie and her help in writing this post! If you’re not following her on Twitter, you should be!


HR Cinema is an ongoing feature here at The Employer’s Lawyer.  It combines my love of movies with my passion for human resources and employment law.  Please feel free to suggest movies in the comments and I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.

In my mind, Ocean’s 11 is one of the coolest movies ever, with great lines, and an amazing cast. It also breaks my rule that remakes aren’t as good as the original, because this one blows the Rat Pack’s version out of the water.  Here’s what IMDB has to say:

Danny Ocean wants to score the biggest heist in history. He combines an eleven member team, including Frank Catton, Rusty Ryan and Linus Caldwell. Their target? The Bellagio, the Mirage and the MGM Grand. All casinos owned by Terry Benedict. It’s not going to be easy, as they plan to get in secretly and out with $150 million.

So besides the fact that Ocean’s 11 is a pretty great movie, why should you watch it? Well, you might just learn a few things.

Pick Your Team Well

eleven (9)

If there’s one thing you take away from this movie, it is that choosing your team is incredibly important.  And, not only do you need to choose your team well, but you must choose with specific roles in mind.

Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan spend the first half hour of the movie choosing their team.  Each team member has a specific job to do, and they’re chosen for their ability to perform that job.  Ocean and Ryan know some of their team, from prior jobs, sort of like employee referrals, and the others they know of by reputation, even going so far as watching Yen perform.

While it’s generally not possible to choose employees with the same specificity and care that Ocean uses (unless of course you’re robbing a casino, then be very choosey), you can certainly take precautions with hiring.  References are useful, particularly if you ask more than the usual, basic questions about the potential employee’s work history.  Employee referral programs can also be helpful, particularly if you’re offering a bonus that escalates based on the amount of time the new employee remains with the company.  Utilize the resources that you have to make the best out of your candidate search, and don’t be afraid to get creative.

Movie takeaway: Be careful, like Danny Ocean, and make sure you’re hiring folks with the skills for their specific roles

No Security Is Perfect

Danny Ocean

The casino vault that Ocean’s crew wants to rob is extremely secure.  Unbelievably secure, in fact.  Ocean tells them that the vault’s security rivals that of a nuclear missile silo.  And yet, they manage to break in, steal the money and escape.

No matter how good your physical and computer security, there may be holes.  Every day, hackers and other ne’er-do-wells find ways to infiltrate computer systems, whether it is Windows or the credit card system at P.F. Chang’s.  Ensuring that operating systems are kept up-to-date, by installing the latest updates and keeping up with the latest in IT, whether by hiring staff or retaining a consultant, can help keep your business out of trouble.

Physical security is even more important, because lapses in physical security can endanger not only privileged information, but also your employees’ safety as well.  Larger employers, in particular, tend to be more vulnerable to a breach of security, simply because more employees means that strange faces aren’t uncommon.  Regardless of size, front-desk personnel or a security guard, and locks (whether old-fashioned key or electronic keycard) are good basic first-steps.  Establishing protocols for limiting access and removal of privileged information is important, when applicable, so that if information is released or goes missing, it is easier to determine the culprit.

Movie takeaway: Just because your security seems up to the task, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vigilant and aware that people are always working to get around it.


HR Cinema is an ongoing feature here at The Employer’s Lawyer.  It combines my love of movies with my passion for human resources and employment law.  Please feel free to suggest movies in the comments and I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.

Casablanca is viewed by many as one of the greatest movies of all time, and it is certainly among my favorite movies.  It is hard to argue with Humphrey Bogart in his prime, especially as a cynical nightclub owner, simultaneously wooing Ingrid Bergman and sticking it to the Nazis.  Here’s what IMDB has to say:

Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II, an American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

Admittedly, that description is quite vague, and there’s so much more to the story. And while I highly recommend you watch Casablanca just because it is a fantastic movie (and if you haven’t seen the movie before, you should stop now, watch it and come back because I’m about to spoil the ending), there is an important lesson we can learn.

Do the Right Thing


Even though Rick loves Elsa and wants her to stay with him, he knows that keeping her, even if though she wants to, would be wrong.  She and Rick only had a relationship, prior to the events of the movie, because she believed her husband, Laszlo, was dead.  So, in the end, rather than run off with Elsa (and let’s face it, he easily could have), he convinces Elsa to get on the plane with Laszlo and sticks around to ensure they get away safely.

It’s doubtful any of us will find ourselves in the position of saving a former flame from Nazis, but we will often face choices where it would be easier or more beneficial personally to act in a way that’s harmful to another. In the end, doing the wrong thing tends to come back to haunt you, with the GM scandal from a few months ago immediately coming to mind.

You may think it’s foolish or naive of me to believe that one should do the right thing whenever possible. And you’re well within your rights to think that, but I want to wake up each morning, look at myself in the mirror, and like who I see.

RalphHR: Cinema is an ongoing feature here at The Employer’s Lawyer.  It combines my love of movies with my passion for human resources and employment law.  Please feel free to suggest movies in the comments and I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.

This week, we’re doing another animated movie: Wreck-It Ralph.  As the father of a two-year-old, I watch a lot of animated fare.  I’ve seen Wreck-It Ralph a few times, and I really enjoyed it.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the IMDB summary:

A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

So what can you learn from this Disney movie about video game characters?

Even the Most Unpopular Roles are Important

One of the central themes in Wreck-It Ralph is Ralph’s unhappiness with being the “bad guy” for 30 years.  Every time a gamer pops in a quarter, Ralph must break windows on his game’s building and then, after he is defeated by Fix-It Felix, he’s thrown off the building.  To make matters worse, the other game occupants don’t like Ralph, because he’s the “bad guy.”  They don’t understand that he’s an important part of the game, after all, once he leaves, the game is “Out of Order.”

We’re all familiar with “that guy” or “that girl” in our company.  They’re the one that are always telling us what we can’t do.  Maybe its someone from accounting that says you can’t do something because it will cost too much or won’t fit in the budget.  Or maybe its someone from the legal department or *ahem* outside counsel, who tells you that doing something would be legally risky. It’s important to remember that everyone in your organization has a role to play, even if you don’t like the end result.  If every department could spend as much as they want or there was no one to ensure that legal risk was properly managed, you may not have a job to return to.  Most people don’t like to be the one telling others “no,” but they’re probably doing it for a good reason, not a personal one.

Movie takeaway:  Even unpopular roles can be important to the survival of an organization.

Be Careful Climbing the Ladder

In the game Sugar Rush, a sugary snack-themed racing game, one racer, Vanellope, is deemed a “glitch” and constantly put down by the other racers.  In fact, she’s not even permitted to race.  Thanks to some help from Ralph, Vanellope realizes that if she simply finishes a race, the game will reboot and she will be restored to her rightful place in the game.  What no one realizes, except for the bad guy, is Vanellope is actually Sugar Rush’s rightful ruler.  Once the other racers realize Vanellope’s status, they beg her to forgive them for treating her so poorly.

Every organization has a corporate ladder.  Sometimes that ladder only has a few rungs, for a small business, and in others the number of rungs can’t even be counted.  While it may be tempting at some point to throw someone else under the bus or treat a subordinate poorly as you move up the ladder, it’s important to remember that people have long memories, particularly for those who have wronged them.  I know I won’t be forgetting those who treated me poorly any time soon.  Unfortunately for you, the person you mistreated on the way up may pass you at some point, and then you may find yourself on the receiving end of some unfortunate treatment, if you still have a job, that is.

Similarly, if your organization is large enough, you may not always realize which folks wield a great deal of power within the organization.  It would be unfortunate if you were rude to someone who happened to be the VP of a different department and then reported your behavior to your supervisor, or made your life more difficult in some other way.

Movie takeaway:  You never know the effects of your behavior until well down the line, so focus on treating people right and the effects will be positive, rather than treating people poorly and hoping that it doesn’t hurt you down the line.