Bah! Humbug! An employment law Christmas Carol

With some help from Charles Dickens.

Marlie was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of her burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Marlie was as dead as a door-nail.

At 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve, it was time to call it a night. “You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?” Scrooge said to his Chief Financial Officer, Cratch Bobbit.

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. Tomorrow is a Monday. It should be a day of business. Bah! Humbug! Well, be here all the earlier the next morning.

After arriving at his dark, sparsely furnished home in London, Ohio, Scrooge had his usual bowl of gruel while sitting in front of his fireplace, warmed from the burning of the stick he had used to threaten some little children who were singing Christmas carols on his front steps.


But suddenly, Marlie appeared before him. She was transparent, so that Scrooge, observing her, could see her scrunchie-wrapped ponytail right through her head.

“How now!” said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

“In life, I was your Human Resources Manager, Marlie Jacobs. Seven years ago, you fired me, telling me that I was adding to your headcount and was redundant. Redundant! I was your only HR Manager! I died of a broken heart. But enough about me. You will be haunted by Three Spirits. Expect the first to-morrow, when the bell tolls One.

The Ghost of HR Past

Marlie’s ghost bothered Scrooge exceedingly. Suddenly, he found himself face-to-face with an unearthly visitor. “Are you the spirit whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Scrooge.

“I am!”

“Who, and what are you?”

“I am the Ghost of HR Past.”

“Long past?”

“No. Your past.”

Uh-oh, thought Scrooge.

“Rise! And fly with me!” said the Ghost.

They flew to the other side of London, passed through a wall, and stood at the entrance to a small office, its roof covered with snow. “Good Heaven!” said Scrooge, clasping his hands together as he looked about him. “This was my first office. I had fewer than 15 employees back then. None of the laws applied to me! It was glorious!”

“Let us see another Christmas!” said the Ghost.

They were now in the busy thoroughfares of London, and entered a seven-story building. When they got off the elevator and walked into the seventh-floor suite, Scrooge saw a middle-aged version of himself at a desk. On the other side was a very youthful Marlie Jacobs. “Our business has been terribly successful, Ms. Jacobs. The downside is that we now have to comply with so many employment laws to which I am not accustomed. My CFO, Cratch Bobbit, recommended that I hire a Human Resources Manager to ensure that we remain in compliance. How soon can you start?”

“Let us see another Christmas!” said the Ghost.

They were in the same suite, but it was a year later. “Yo ho, my boys!” said Scrooge. “No more work to-night. Christmas Eve.” In came a DJ, and there were dances, and more dances, and mince pies, and an appletini fountain. Scrooge, after thoroughly enjoying too many appletinis to count, grabbed his receptionist, Mrs. Fezziwig, and gave her a bear hug and a big wet kiss on the lips.

Marlie tapped him on the shoulder. “Mr. Scrooge, please don’t do that. That could be sexual harassment.”

“Don’t be silly, Marlie, this is a party.”

“It doesn’t matter, sir. If the sexual advance is unwelcome to the recipient, and if it's severe or pervasive, then it’s sexual harassment. Plus, as CEO, you need to set an example for your team.”

Scrooge kissed her. “Marlie, you are a wet blanket, but I love you anyway.” Then, turning to the revelers, Scrooge shouted, “Who wants more appletinis? Par-taaaaaay!”

“Let us see another Christmas!” said the Ghost.

Now they were in the office of the attorney for ES Corp. “Ebenezer, sign here, and you can send the check for one million dollars to my office. I will see that the funds are disbursed to Mrs. Fezziwig and to the other four ladies who sued your firm for creating a hostile work environment.”

“Well, at least Marlie didn't sue me," Scrooge said dejectedly. "I will never have fun again.”

“Good,” the attorney replied.

The Ghost of HR Present

A strange voice called Scrooge by his name and bade him enter. He obeyed.

“I am the Ghost of HR Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me, and touch my robe!”

The Ghost took him to the house of Cratch Bobbit and his family. It was Christmas morning. “I still can’t believe you missed our Christmas Eve dinner last night, Cratch!” Mrs. Bobbit was saying. “Oh, don’t give me your excuses – I know you dance to the tune of that workaholic, Scrooge. Why do you put up with him?”

My dear, the children, Christmas Day. At least I got today off.”

“Big deal. He’s making you go in at the crack of dawn tomorrow, isn’t he? Don’t bother answering. I know.”

“It’s all right, really.” Cratch absent-mindedly pulled his iPhone out of his pocket.

“ARE YOU CHECKING WORK-RELATED EMAILS RIGHT NOW?! On Christmas Day!? I tell you, Cratch, I have had it! It’s Scrooge or me!”

“God bless us, every one,” said their son, Tiny Tim.

“And that reminds me, he didn’t even give you time off when Tiny Tim was in the hospital,” Ms. Bobbit continued. “Hasn’t he ever heard of the Family and Medical Leave Act?”

“Dear, he fired our HR Manager, may she rest in peace, so probably not.”

“Mummy and Daddy, please don’t argue,” said Tim, with tears in his eyes.

"Enough with that 'Mummy' stuff, Tim!" Mrs. Bobbit snapped. "We live in Ohio."

The Ghost of HR Future

The third Spirit was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.

“I am in the presence of HR Yet to Come?” said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

Scrooge and the Ghost entered a courtroom. An older version of Cratch Bobbit was on the left with a man who looked like an attorney. An older version of Scrooge was on the right with the attorney for ES Corp. A bailiff shouted, “All rise!” and a judge entered the room and took her seat.

“We are here for Bobbit, et al. v. ES Corp. This is a collective action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Court has previously found that, although Mr. Bobbit was treated as an FLSA-exempt executive, he does not qualify for that exemption because he was not paid the salary threshold of $100,000.*

*Dearest Readers, don’t panic! The current salary threshold is $684 a week ($35,568 annualized), and it is expected to increase "only" to somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000 sometime in 2024.

The judge went on, "And because he is non-exempt, I find that ES Corp. has not paid Mr. Bobbit for all hours worked, including one zillion hours of overtime. As for the members of his collective action – all treated as exempt administrative or executive employees but paid below the salary threshold, ES Corp. is liable to them as well. Moreover, the Court finds that all of the violations were willful and thus that Mr. Bobbit and the members of the collective action are entitled to recover back pay for a period of three years before the suit was filed, and to recover liquidated damages and attorneys' fees.”


Future Scrooge began to weep. “I’m finished! ES Corp. is finished!” His attorney shrugged. “If you ask me, you were penny-wise and pound-foolish to fire your HR manager . . .”

Future Cratch stopped at Scrooge’s table on his way out of the courtroom. “Forgive me, Mr. Scrooge. I bear you no ill will. This lawsuit was my wife’s idea.”

Watching this gruesome scene, Present Scrooge knelt in front of the Ghost and tried to clutch its ankles, which was impossible because it was a ghost. “It’s not too late for me to change! I will change! You’ll see! I’ll be a different employer from now on! Please! I beg of you! Give me a chance! Please!”

Then he woke up in his own bed.


Scrooge was better than his word. Since Marlie was dead, he hired a new HR Manager and faithfully followed all of her instructions. That spring, for the first time, ES Corp. was listed in “Top 20 Places to Work in London.”

The next year, on the recommendation of the new HR Manager, Scrooge allowed his employees to work from home two days a week. ES Corp. rose to the “Top 10 Places to Work in London.” 

Scrooge gave his loyal CFO, Cratch Bobbit, a $200,000-a-year salary increase, flexible hours, and FMLA leave every time Tiny Tim got sick (which, frankly, didn't happen much any more now that Cratch could afford preventive health care, so it was a win-win). All of this made Mrs. Bobbit very happy. She even started telling Cratch how lucky he was to work for a fine gentleman like Ebenezer Scrooge.

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

A quick Christmas Carol Quiz

Which Christmas Carol movie is the Greatest Of All Time?

A. The 1938 version, starring Reginald Owen.

B.  The 1951 version, starring Alistair Sim.

C. The 1962 version, starring Mr. Magoo.

D. The 1984 version, starring George C. Scott.

E. The 1988 version, starring Bill Murray.

F. The 2000 version, starring Vanessa Williams.

ANSWER: B is the GOAT, no question! You can watch it here.

I hope you enjoyed our little story and mini-quiz. And, with that, we'll be signing off for what's left of this year. We wish you all a very happy holiday season, and an even better 2024!

Image Credits: Picture of Scrooge with Ghost of Christmas Future from the movie Scrooge (1951) from flickr, Creative Commons license, by Insomnia Cured Here. Christmas tree in forest from Wikimedia Commons.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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