So I was watching Office Space the other day and in it there's a character named Milton who's constantly being abused by his employer.

Basically, he's never told he's been laid off and although he is no longer receiving paychecks he's still coming into work. When he inquires about his paychecks he's constantly being directed to someone else.

Watching this movie kinda makes me wonder what recourse one would have if that happened in real life. Would filing an OSHA complaint be appropriate if you had gone for a sufficiently long amount of time without being paid and for the abuse he was subjected to? Is this something I should be concerned about happening to me in the real world?

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    I updated your question to bring it more in line with what our site is about. Asking about regulations tends to draw flags from some of our pickier users but it really was not required for what you are wanting to know. Mar 24, 2015 at 13:41

3 Answers 3


Lets address the important question first:

Is this something I should be concerned about happening to me in the real world?


If a company is going to lay you off they are not going to let you return to work. There is too much risk in it for them not the least being your making the poor decision to damage the company through your internal actions. For this reason when a company lays you off they remove your access to the location and are not going to allow you to continue working.

When you are laid off(or any permanent termination type) there is a lot of paperwork that the company needs to fill out to comply with the law. If they do not fill it out then you are not terminated. If they stop paying you anyway then you can sue them and not only get back pay but damages that result from their failure to pay you. For that reason it is incredibly unlikely that it will happen at a company that is solvent. It does happen at companies that are on the brink of going under but that is a different question.

If the company did all that paperwork and still let you continue to work then it would still owe you for that time that you worked. Of course if you do this in hiding and during off hours they can fight it but if you were in a position like Milton where you work everyday like normal and the company just lets you continue then they have agreed to keep you on. They would need to do all new paperwork to terminate you if they allow you to work. So, No you do not need to worry about this happening to you.

If it happens to you anyway then you would need to get a lawyer, preferably one that is knowledgeable in employment law. Lawyers that handle workmen's compensation claims usually will handle these cases as well or at least be able to refer you to someone who can help you.


Milton is a character who is pathologically incapable of speaking up for himself. It follows that he would have been unable to make a case to the department of labor (or OSHA or whatever). His only "recourse" was to burn down the building and in a brilliant moment of poetic justice, opportunistically pick up the money skimmed by protagonists, skip town and live happily ever after.

From the point of view of "The Workplace" the interesting thing to think about is not what would a "Milton" do if this happened in real life, but rather to consider what Initech, Lumberg and the Bob's could have have done differently in regards to Milton. Perhaps there's a price to pay for treating the meek badly? I think that's the whole point of the Milton sub-plot in Office Space.

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    This is a great answer for a "movie analysis" Stack Exchange but has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the actual question presented here. Mar 24, 2015 at 23:41
  • @ChrisHayes, I am simply saying that it is pointless to explore what would Milton have done in real life. The question is misdirected. In real life, a "Milton" would have simply spoke up to his manager, HR, a lawyer, or department of labor. Or perhaps, Initech management would have noticed Milton came to work the day after being fired. Whatever the case, it is better to analyze a film on the film's terms (or suspend disbelief).
    – teego1967
    Mar 25, 2015 at 9:57

What does OSHA have to do with your paycheck, given that the initials OSHA expand to Occupation Safety & Health Administration? I suggest that you review their website and get yourself acquainted with their mission. Having said that, if for whatever reason, your employer is not paying you for work that you performed as an employee, contact the Department of Labor of your state as soon as you are not comfortable with the delay in you being paid - the worst that happens is that the Department of Labor of your state tells you to wait a bit longer. Then it swings into action and starts quizzing your employer, assuming that your employer has not vanished into parts unknown.

An employer who lays you off and neglects to tell you they have laid you off is essentially preventing you from collecting your unemployment benefits - That's material for a tough conversation with the Department of Labor of your state.

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    OSHA may object to having someone work in the basement where there is a large sign behind him that reads "Danger High Voltage" youtube.com/watch?v=ZkYLcG5Nmbw
    – user8365
    Mar 24, 2015 at 14:01
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    In many places including many in the USA, you have to be given notice that you will be dismissed. No notice, no dismissal. I would suspect that even in "right to work" places in the USA, you still must be given notice (even when it is zero days), and as long as nobody tells you you are fired, you aren't.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 24, 2015 at 14:05
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    @gnasher729 I had an employer who put my colleagues and me on furlough rather than lay us off. Looking back, I should have arranged a hot date between him and the Department of Labor of our state. I keep saying that friendship is friendship and business is business, but I don't always follow my own rules. Mar 24, 2015 at 14:12
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    OSHA might also get involved when Lumbergh asked him to get a can of pesticide and take care of the roach problem downstairs in Storage B.
    – Blrfl
    Mar 24, 2015 at 19:00
  • Furloughs are not against the law otherwise every US federal agency broke the law when most of its employees went on unpaid furloughs
    – Donald
    Mar 27, 2015 at 23:04

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