Can a worker's seniority be taken away?

When Pipefitter Grade I Pete Harshorn requested a 3-wk leave of absence to tour the United States with his family, it was denied on the grounds that he couldn't be spared.


When Pipefitter Grade I Pete Harshorn requested a 3-wk leave of absence to tour the United States with his family, it was denied on the grounds that he couldn't be spared. Moreover, Maintenance Foreman Bob Greenley explained, acceding could touch off a rash of similar requests, which would open up a can of worms.

Permission or not, Harshorn took the time off. He reasoned he was very employable. If he was fired, he'd have no trouble finding another job.

When he returned from his unauthorized leave, Greenley told him, "You're a valuable employee, and I'd hate to lose you. On the other hand, management can't allow people to take unauthorized privileges. If you decide to return to work you'll be fired for the infraction, then rehired."

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning you'll lose your seniority which will date from the time of rehire."

"No way!" Harshorn replied.

"Suit yourself."

Harshorn made several calls. He was correct about his employability, but hadn't realized the wage offers would be so much less than what he was earning. Swallowing his pride, he called Greenley and accepted his terms.

"Smart decision," his boss replied.

That wasn't the end of it. A month after returning to work, Harshorn challenged management's right to deprive him of his seniority.

Question&BD: Do you think Harshorn's challenge will stand up?

Plant engineer's verdict: When Greenley brought his boss up to date on Harshorn's threat, Plant Engineer Al Pinyero supported the punitive action imposed on the pipefitter.

"He might conceivably have a case," he said, "if he could demonstrate that his unauthorized leave was for good cause -- illness-connected, for example, or to take care of a family emergency. But I don't think a self-authorized vacation qualifies in this regard. In my view, the break in seniority is warranted. In fact, valued employee or not, I think we might have been better advised to terminate him."

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