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What Vince Vaughn teaches us about the workplace

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Last week, some members of the Rubin Thomlinson team watched “The Internship”, where the comedic duo of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson moved on from crashing weddings to crashing Google’s summer internship program.

The film begins with a pair of outdated salesmen (Vaughn and Wilson) losing their jobs when their employer closes its doors. Instead of transitioning to another “safe” job, the duo strike out to become the next Google employees by successfully completing the company’s internship program.  Other than providing a glimpse into the Google community, with its seemingly endless supply of free food; slides (instead of stairs) to connect floors; and nap pods; the film also offers a glimpse into the issues connected to the changing workplace.

1.       The elusive job

There’s a moment in the film where the best and brightest young minds of the Google internship program comment on how living the “American Dream” (i.e. a permanent job secured immediately after school) has become just that – a dream. They comment on the elusiveness of permanent positions, and the “hoop-jumping” that many young candidates need to go through to secure such positions. One of these hoops is an internship program.  While these programs may help a young employee get a foothold in the workplace, and gain experience in their chosen fields, there are important employment law implications that should be addressed by both employees and employers, including minimum wage and overtime payments. For instance, the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) provides that, even if labeled as an “intern”, as long as a person is performing work for another person or company, that person would generally be deemed to be an employee, and entitled to at least the minimum wage.

While an internship may be an attractive option for employers trying to assess the “fit” of candidates, it is imperative that they pay for the services they receive from interns – including paying for overtime hours (or providing time off in lieu) – in order to abide by the ESA.

2.       The reliance on technology and social media

Throughout their internship, Vaughn and Owen are teamed with a band of cynical Millenials whose dominance over technology and social media make the duo’s archaic methods even more apparent.  Tasked with creating a new app, Vaughn can’t even get the lingo correct – referring constantly to “online” as “on the line.” As Vaughn and Owen attempt to “update” themselves, the viewer can see just how far technology has come in the last decade, and just how much the workplace has come to rely on it. This exponential growth and reliance on technology promises to continue, requiring employees to constantly upgrade their knowledge and skills to remain effective.

On the other hand, employees need to recognize that the fluid integration of technology into the workplace requires them to update their policies to contemplate the use and/or misuse of technology and social media platforms, as well as the ownership of the products of technology and social media accounts both throughout and after the employment relationship. However, employers should not assume that all of their employees are tech-savvy, and should instead be aware of and address any generational gaps that may exist through training.

Finally, employers will need to address whether hours spent on emails, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, will constitute “work” for the purpose of compensation (and overtime).

3.       The value of people

Despite the reliance on technology, the value of human interaction is still centre-stage both in the film, and in workplaces. Indeed, Vaughn and Owen prove in the film that technological savvy does not replace the value of people skills. On this point, the film reminds employers that employees do not become obsolete as a result of technology. In other words, social media and other technological platforms remain just that – one of (many) platforms to communicate with clients and customers. Ultimately, the people behind the platforms are still needed to communicate directly (face-to-face) with one another and the public. As a result, the value of people should not be underestimated or threatened at either the physical or virtual workplace through incivility or other occupational health and safety concerns.  Indeed, as a recent study found, poor treatment in the workplace can have a detrimental effect on businesses. The study found that nearly everybody who experiences workplace incivility responds in a negative way, either by overtly retaliating against the aggressor or taking out their frustration on customers.  Employees who experience incivility also become less creative, and are less inclined to put in their best efforts for their employer.

Similarly, employees should remain cognizant that they are representatives of their employer, regardless of whether their interaction occurs in person or through monitors and screens. As such, employees should remember Vince Vaughn’s phrase, and recognize that they put their and their employer’s reputation “on the line” even if their activity (and misconduct) is online.

Parisa Nikfarjam