That's What She Said

Whoa Nellie!

Litigation Value: None, though as a practical matter, Dunder Mifflin may have to make good on all those raises Nellie promised.

As tonight’s episode is a rerun, I thought I’d go back and review the March 15th episode (“Get the Girl”) that we managed to miss somehow. (For a recap of tonight’s repeat, “Mrs. California,” check out Kristin Gray’s excellent post from when it first aired —

Two plots run throughout this episode: Andy’s impetuous decision to drive to Florida to try to convince Erin to return to Scranton with him, and the shocking revelation that Nellie has been hired at the branch — and how she takes advantage of Andy’s absence to stage a coup and take his job. The first plot, though interesting for those of us who want the show to reach some sort of resolution about Andy and Erin already, has no obvious employment law liability issues. Erin no longer works for Dunder Mifflin, plus she’s sweet on Andy, so no risk of a sexual harassment claim against the company there.

However, Andy’s unexplained absence in his pursuit of love (including lying about being sick and refusing to answer numerous phone calls to determine where he is) leaves the door wide open for Nellie to waltz in and lay claim to his manager’s position. You have to hand it to Nellie, despite her mishandling of the Sabre retail store concept, despite her own admitted lack of qualifications and skills, she manages to take advantage of an inexplicably weak and nonplussed Robert California and insert herself into the manager’s role. Clever — psychotic, but clever. With Robert unwilling or unable to put his foot down, all that’s left for Nellie to cement her position is to bribe the rest of the branch by giving them “performance” reviews, followed by substantial raises. Even when this is brought to his attention, Robert doesn’t put a stop to it, instead explaining his lack of action to Jim by citing Nellie’s relationship with Jo Bennett (and by sharing weird and inappropriate metaphors).  Not surprisingly, chaos ensues, with Dwight attempting to take Darryl’s office by force. And we can expect the chaos to increase exponentially when Andy returns to find Nellie in his seat.

Although no employment liability arises from their actions, everyone in a management position — Robert, Andy and Nellie — covers themselves in dishonor. Andy’s decision to abandon his job without explanation or leaving anyone in charge shows that perhaps he wasn’t the right choice for the branch, or any other management position. Robert’s failure to lead, by not establishing clearly who is in charge and what Nellie’s role and scope of authority are, leads to confusion among the employees. Nellie’s silent coup and effort to garner employee support via bribery (and by having the office turn on Jim by threatening everyone else’s increases if he doesn’t play ball) are not effective ways to manage in the short-term or the long-term.

The episode shows the importance of being clear and communicating well in the workplace. Nellie wasn’t told what her role at Scranton would be, so she stole Andy’s job. The rest of the branch (with the except of HR manager “Tony” Flenderson) didn’t know that Nellie was joining or what her position would be, so they were willing to believe she could give them all raises. When it became clear what Nellie was doing, Robert didn’t step in and put a stop to it, leading to further confusion.  When lines of authority are communicated promptly and clearly, everyone benefits. And ticking time bombs like Nellie don’t have the chance to blow up.