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.

Road HouseThis week on HR Cinema, we’re going to look at one of my personal favorite movies from the 80s (possibly because TNT and USA played it 4 times a day when I was at a very impressionable age), Road House starring the one and only Patrick Swayze.  Just in case you missed this fantastic example of 80s cinema, here’s the IMDB summary:

When it becomes too violent at the Double Deuce road house, the club owner hires Dalton, a professional “cooler” (head bouncer) to clean it up. But Dalton’s early successes and budding romance with the local doctor enrages Wesley, the town crime boss. When Dalton continues to defy him, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation that will test Dalton’s limits and decide the fate of the town.

Be Nice

On Dalton’s first night at the Double Deuce, he sets out his rules, including “Be nice.”   He goes further and reminds them, “It’s the job, its nothing personal.”  Even when the angry patron calls someone a nasty name (that I cannot post here), Dalton says to be nice.  Sadly, I couldn’t embed the video of this scene due to the “colorful” language used.

Like Dalton says, it doesn’t hurt to be nice.  Whether you’re admonishing an employee for breaking a rule or terminating someone for behavior that goes above and beyond anything you’ve ever seen before, it doesn’t hurt to be nice.  First of all, you’re probably giving someone news that’s going to ruin his or her day, there’s no reason to be mean, condescending or rub salt into the wound.  Second, depending on how things play out, you may find yourself repeating anything you say during a deposition and trial.  You won’t lose anything by being nice, and you have everything to gain.

Movie takeaway:  Be nice to employees, even if they’re not being particularly nice to you.

Watchfulness is Key

Dalton catches the bartender, Pat, pocketing the money from every few shots and beers.  Dalton noticed it his first night on the job (of course, he did, he’s Dalton), but who knows how long it was going on prior to that. According to Dalton’s quick math, the skimming cost the Double Deuce $150 a night, which equates to more than $35,000 a year in losses.

Even small thefts can (and should) lead to terminations, depending upon the circumstances.  For example, if your employees are trusted to handle money, customer information or other sensitive data.  In fact, a recent case made headlines where a casino fired a new employee for stealing two plastic cups.  While a few plastic cups may seem trivial, it may show an employee’s underlying lack of trustworthiness.  And trust is always important between an employer and employee, because you can’t babysit employees at all times.  So while it may not directly hurt your bottom line that an employee is taking home a few K-cups each day, it should make you wonder what else they may be doing that you’re not aware of.

Movie takeaway: Theft, no matter how small, may be an indication that you can’t trust that employee, and might warrant termination.

Pain Don’t Hurt

Movie takeaway: If someone tells you that pain doesn’t hurt, you should back away slowly, avoid any sudden movements and try not to antagonize them.

ironmanHR: Cinema will be a new 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 case you can’t tell yet by my movie selection so far, I’m a little bit of a nerd.  And today is no different, because we’re going to talk about Iron Man.  Iron Man marked Marvel’s first foray into making movies, instead of just comic books.  The movie was an unbelievable success, spawning 2 sequels, a number of other Marvel comic character movies and the billion dollar Avengers movie.  For those of you who have trouble remembering back to 2008, here’s the IMDB summary:

When wealthy industrialist Tony Stark is forced to build an armored suit after a life-threatening incident, he ultimately decides to use its technology to fight against evil.

Make Sure the Right Hand Knows What the Left is Doing

In Iron Man, Obadiah Stane begins selling Stark Industries’ weaponry to dictators and terrorists, directly contradicting Stark Industries’ policy.  Of course, Tony Stark isn’t aware of this until he’s captured by some of the terrorists Stane is selling weapons to.  If he was aware, you would imagine that Obadiah would be fired and the weapons sales to the bad guys would be stopped. In fact, once Tony finds out about the sales, Stane locks Tony out of the company in order to continue selling. It’s possible that Tony could have been more hands-on with the company, or at least had measures in place to ensure that his policies were followed.

In your company, its unlikely that one of your executives is selling your product or service to terrorists, but you should always try to have a good idea about what is going on elsewhere in the company.  After all, as a business owner or human resources professional, you will be more successful if you know the company goals and what the other departments are attempting to accomplish.  Awareness of other departments will allow you to better anticipate needs for hiring and help you assign personnel for more effective and efficient performance. Additionally, being aware of other departments will let you know when rules and policies are being violated, because such violations won’t always be reported.

Movie takeaway: Knowing what is going on inside the company and in other departments will help you to accomplish your goals and protect the company.

Compartmentalize Confidential Information

Tony Stark sends Pepper Potts into Stark Industries’ headquarters to copy files from his computer, while he was locked out of the company.  While she was copying files that Tony, ostensibly, should have access to, particularly as the company’s owner, she stumbled onto a video implicating Obadiah Stane as the person responsible for Tony’s earlier capture.  It certainly seems foolish to allow Tony’s computer to access information to directly concerning his capture.

It can be equally foolish to allow every employee in your company access to every document and file on the company network.  Especially in larger companies, information on the company network should be compartmentalized with access granted only to those who need the information on a day-to-day basis, with temporary access given when an employee needs access for a short period of time.  Allowing every employee access to everything simply increases the likelihood that your confidential information will be taken when an employee leaves the company or simply decides to abscond with information that doesn’t belong to them.  Additionally, if confidential information is taken, it will be easier to find the culprit when only a smaller group has access.

Movie takeaway: Help keep confidential information confidential by compartmentalizing access, so theft of confidential information is less likely (and so you can’t be implicated in a worldwide plot to kill a billionaire playboy philanthropist).


A great deal has been written in the last week about whether you should monitor your employees’ social media activity. A lot of very smart folks fall on both sides of the debate, since it can be a rather murky issue involving a balancing act between protecting the company and respecting employees’ right to act as they wish in their time off work. Notice that I didn’t say employees’ privacy. Little, if anything, shared via social media is private, so monitoring social media can hardly be deemed an invasion of privacy.

So now I’ll offer my two cents on the subject: it probably isn’t worth it to actively monitor your employees’ social media accounts. Doing so would require a great deal of time and effort for only a small likelihood of a worthwhile result. And let’s face it, you’re probably already busy as it is, do you really need more on your plate?

Instead, just be prepared to take action if an employee posts something that could damage your business or reputation. Because the truth is, you’ll find out about it. Once you know about it, then you can decide on an appropriate response.

Monitoring doesn’t do much more than allow you to act a little bit quicker. After all, monitoring the account wouldn’t prevent an employee from saying or sharing something, it would only notify you if they did. Once the employee posts something, it will be seen and it will be cached, at which point it’s never truly gone anyway.

So maybe the biggest takeaway here is to make sure you hire employees you can trust to represent your business and your brand. Monitoring employees’ social media use probably isn’t worth the effort.

monstersincHR: Cinema will be a new 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.

Another one of Pixar’s gems, Monsters, Inc. may not necessarily strike you as a “workplace” movie, but its full of lessons for anyone paying attention, whether you’re 9 or 90.  For those of you that need a refresher, here’s the IMDB plot summary for Monsters, Inc.:

Monsters generate their city’s power by scaring children, but they are terribly afraid themselves of being contaminated by children, so when one enters Monstropolis, top scarer Sulley finds his world disrupted.

So, what can Monsters, Inc. teach you about avoiding problems in the workplace?

Workplace Romance

In the movie, Mike, the lovable one-eyed main character, is dating Celia, the snake-haired receptionist.  Of course, it doesn’t seem like much of a problem at first, because Mike and Celia are happy.  It doesn’t take long, though, for things to get a little ugly when Mike runs off during a romantic dinner and Celia gets picked up by the Child Detection Agency.

Unfortunately, workplace romances often start out fine, with no sense of the impending trouble they can cause when things go poorly.  Not only can a workplace romance lead to the possibility of ugly (see also: embarrassing, awkward) scenes as the former paramours argue/fight/try to kill each other in the office, but legal issues may arise.

In Monsters, Inc., Mike and Celia were merely co-workers in different departments, which presents the least likelihood for trouble.  However, trouble and liability issues multiply if the relationship is between a manager and subordinate.  Not only do you run the risk of alienating other workers, who will assume that the relationship lead to special treatment, but the subordinate may end up filing a sexual harassment lawsuit.  It is probably foolish to try to ban workplace relationships, because employees will just hide them.  However, you may be able to protect your business and limit liability by requiring employees to inform HR of a relationship and require each party to a romantic relationship to sign a waiver.  Additionally, any ugly scenes that arise should be dealt with and quickly quashed, to prevent escalation and show other employees that such behavior is not acceptable.

Movie takeaway:  Workplace relationships can cause ugly scenes (and possibly legal issues) and steps should be taken to limit both the in-office incidents and any liability.

Paying Employees for After-Hours Work

Randall, one of the **spoiler alert** bad guys, is initially witnessed working after the “Scare Floor” has been shut down for the day.  Sulley initially believes that Randall is simply trying to boost his numbers to catch Sulley and break the all-time scare record.  In reality, Randall is kidnapping children to use on a new scream-extracting machine.

While I would highly recommend that you immediately terminate an employee that is using workplace resources to kidnap children (and call 911), the simple fact that Randall is working after-hours is troubling.  The scarers, and their assistance, certainly appear to be blue-collar workers, somewhat akin to workers in a power plant, which means they are very likely non-exempt under the FLSA.  As a result, any time working beyond 40 hours per week (or 8 hours per day depending on your state) requires you to pay overtime at time-and-a-half.

Even the fact that it doesn’t appear that Monsters, Inc. condones the after-hours work, they could still be held liable.  It would be similar to an employee answering emails while off-the-clock or a grocery store employee cleaning up after clocking out.

In order to limit liability, it is important to have a policy requiring permission from employees to work overtime.  In addition, you will want to monitor your employees.  Ensure that they are not answering emails off-the-clock and be sure they are leaving the premises after the clock out.

Movie takeaway:  While off-the-clock work may not involve something as sinister as kidnapping, it could result in significant liability if employees work overtime and not properly compensated.

I hope you enjoyed this HR Cinema post.  Movie suggestions in the comments are greatly appreciated!

HR: Cinema will be 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.

For the uninitiated, yesterday was Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you), so I, like so many other Star Wars fans, spent part of my day watching Star Wars, specifically Episode IV: A New Hope.  I even managed to convert my 2 year old daughter into a brand-new Star Wars fan.  For those of you who do not know here’s the IMDB synopsis for A New Hope:

Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the Empire’s world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.

Now, onto the lessons that Star Wars: A New Hope can teach business-owners and HR professionals:

Respect Others’ Religious Beliefs

During a meeting of Imperial officers, one of the officers, Admiral Motti, mocks Darth Vader’s belief in the force.  In fact, he goes as far to call Vader’s beliefs “sorcerer’s ways,” and a “sad devotion to that ancient religion.”  Of course, Vader achieves the upper hand (see what I did there?), as he usually does: by using the Force to choke Admiral Motti.

Mocking another’s sincere religious beliefs, regardless of your feelings about the religion, is never a good idea.  Similarly, you should not allow other employees to make derogatory statements about another’s religion.  An employee only needs to have a sincerely held religious belief for Title VII to control, as Title VII’s definition of “religion” is very broad.  Per the EEOC’s website:

Title VII, religion includes not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. An employee’s belief or practice can be “religious” under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual’s belief or practice, or if few – or no – other people adhere to it.

Continuous mocking and derogatory comments about religion (or any other aspect of a protected class) could lead to a hostile work environment claim, which may be successful if the comments are sufficiently severe and pervasive.  Even if your employee doesn’t decide to take action during their employment, they may change their mind if you need to take adverse action at some later date.  Even if you’re legitimately demoting or terminating the employee, they may claim that the action was motivated by religious considerations, and may be able to put together a fairly good case depending on what was said about the employee’s religion.

Movie takeaway: Never speak negatively about an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs and don’t allow other employees to do so either.

Bullying in the Workplace Won’t Increase Productivity


Many of the most memorable scenes from the Star Wars movies involve Darth Vader using the Force to choke an Imperial officer that has displeased him in some way.  Vader obviously runs his operation with an iron fist and a short temper.  In short, he’s a workplace bully.  No one dares challenge him, because any challenge is met with violence.  Yet, despite Vader’s attempts to scare his subordinates into competence, they continue failing and he has to keep choking them.

Now, its unlikely a workplace bully is going to choke fellow employees (with the Force or without), but Vader’s behavior helps to highlight one of the biggest problems with workplace bullying: it not only fails to motivate employees, it is actually detrimental to productivity.  If your employees are too afraid of the consequences of making a mistake, they won’t be performing at their best level.  As a result, you won’t be seeing their best work.  So if you have a workplace bully, maybe its time to tell them to take it down a few notches, because bullying is probably hurting your business.

Movie takeaway: Workplace bullies don’t motivate, they cause fear and decrease productivity.

Protect Your Confidential Information


The “workforce” (i.e. Stormtroopers and other soldiers) on the Death Star is huge, and it has to be to operate such a large battlestation. Despite the heavy security, Luke, Han and Chewbacca were able to sneak around the Death Star, in disguise.  Their incognito wandering resulted in rescuing Princess Leia, which ultimately led them to deliver the secret Death Star schematics (showing its one fatal flaw) to the Rebellion.

If your business has an information it considers confidential or proprietary, you need to take the necessary steps to protect it.  Many, including myself, counsel businesses to utilize the proper countermeasures for computers: BYOD policies, computer passwords and firewalls.  However, physical security is just as important.  If your business is large, and has many employees who won’t necessarily recognize an outsider, you may need to use ID badges and require the badges to be swiped to enter certain areas.  After all, not every employee needs access to all areas. Additionally, ID badges would prevent most outsiders from accessing your business and could allow employees to recognize an intruder by their lack of a badge.  Requiring ID badge swiping also has the added bonus of tracking who entered a certain area and at what time.

Movie takeaway: Both physical and computer security are a must for protecting confidential and proprietary information.

I hope you enjoyed the first of many HR Cinema posts.  Movie suggestions in the comments are greatly appreciated!