Human Side – 2003-07-14 – 2003-07-14

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor July 14, 2003

Summoned by OSHA to testify

Must they be paid for time lost?

When Jonas Quinn, a painter in the maintenance department, sustained serious injuries following a fall from a scaffolding, Harold Falk, an inspector from the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, was brought in to investigate.

During the course of his probe a question arose about the proper condition and maintenance of the scaffolding. After interviewing two employees, Falk cited the company for being in violation of safety standards.

Management contested the citation and two workers, Adam Rifkin and Donald Henderson, were subpoenaed to appear at the hearing. Maintenance Supervisor Chuck Nettle had been notified in advance that the men would be absent from work that day to attend.

When payday rolled around the following Tuesday, Rifkin and Henderson appeared at Nettle’s desk.

“What’s the problem?”

Henderson acted as spokesman. “We weren’t paid for last Wednesday.”

“That was the day of the hearing. You guys were absent from work.”

“We were subpoenaed to appear. That doesn’t mean we should lose a day’s pay.”

“You didn’t lose a day’s pay. You received a witness fee.”

“Big deal! That came to less than half a day’s pay.”

Nettle shrugged. “All I know is no work, no pay.”

“We’re entitled to the pay,” Henderson persisted. “Please check it out.”

The supervisor agreed to do so.

Question : Should the men be paid for the day?

Cheskin’s decision : “Give those guys the difference between a day’s pay and the money they got for their service as witnesses,” Plant Engineer Murray Cheskin ruled. “The time they spent off the job was on company business. They shouldn’t have to lose out as a result.”

Jury duty

Should an employee profit from it?

Jury duty is a civic service, and both employers and employees are expected to comply. That doesn’t mean compliance should result in a freebee for the worker.

When maintenance department electrician George Kramer received a jury duty summons, he was thrilled at the prospect of getting out of a week’s work.

His boss didn’t share his delight. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time,” he groused. “We have a backlog of work six stories high.”

Kramer said sympathetically, “I can’t back out of jury duty. It’s a civic responsibility.”

“I guess you’re right,” Foreman Reynolds muttered.

Kramer was gone for five days. When he returned to work he turned in his jury duty record to the payroll department and found he had been paid peanuts for the week of his service.

“I’ve been ripped off,” he complained.

“Not so,” the paymaster replied. “You were dismissed early from jury duty on four of the five days. You were paid the difference between what your weekly wage would have been and what you received from the court.”

Kramer stalked off and registered his gripe with his boss.

“You’re lucky you weren’t fired,” Reynolds replied. “You were dismissed early four of those five days. You knew the department was backlogged. If you had any sense of responsibility you would have returned to work on those days.”

Kramer refused to give up. “The law says an employee who does jury duty has to be paid.”

Question : Should Kramer receive his full pay?

Kahn’s verdict : “No way!” Plant Engineer Harold Kahn told Reynolds. He pulled out the labor agreement and read a section of Clause 796 to the foreman. “If excused from jury duty within a reasonable time by the court, employees are required to report back to work.”

Is lower-ranked job better than nothing?

When times turn tough, managers turn to ways and means to reduce overhead. More often than not the result is a layoff announcement.

When 59-yr-old Equipment Mechanic John Rolfe got the bad news his first thought was that because of his age and the state of the local economy a new job would be hard to find. His second thought was: How can I keep from being laid off?

“What are my bumping rights?” he asked Maintenance Supervisor Nick Norman.

Norman wasn’t happy with the question but he leveled with Rolfe. “With your seniority you can bump down to Service Mechanic. It was lower ranked and lower paying, but Rolfe figured it was better than nothing.

The paperwork was put through, and Rolfe replaced Tim Torkin, a service mechanic with less seniority. Torkin was a well-rated employee. Norman would be sorry to lose him. But such were the vicissitudes of life.

Rolfe started his new job the following Monday. By the time three weeks had passed the supervisor was convinced the guy would be unable to hack it.

“Sorry, John, I’m going to have to let you go.”

Rolfe was stunned. “I don’t get it. This is a lower-ranking job than what I had.”

Norman shrugged. “Lower ranking doesn’t mean that you’re qualified.”

“We’ll see about that,” Rolf groused.

Question : Is Norman within his rights to fire Rolfe for his inability to handle the lower-ranking job he was bumped to?

Liebman’s verdict : “Rolfe stays fired,” Plant Engineer Bob Liebman ruled when given the case to decide. “An employee who is bumped into another job is entitled to a brief period of orientation to familiarize him with it. But that doesn’t imply a long training period. He’s expected to have the experience and skill needed to handle the job competently. Failing that, he must be terminated.”

Laying off a senior and keeping a junior

It was a cold blustery day in this northern Wisconsin manufacturing plant. A couple of inches of snow covered the ground outside of Building II, and the flakes were starting to fall again.

Mechanic Grade I Alan Westphal was doing a maintenance job on an automatic screw machine when his boss, Maintenance Foreman Larry Leventhal, approached.

“Put on your snowshoes, Alan, I’m transferring you to Building IV.”

“Thanks a lot, pal. What’s the story?”

“It begins with a capital E. An emergency situation developed on new grinders. Your skills are urgently needed.”

“Ykkhh! That’s a 20-minute trek in what promises to be subzero weather.”

“Can’t be helped,” Leventhal said.

“Things are tough all over. I hear they’re coming out with a new layoff list.”

Westphal switched to Building IV from his regular job in Building II. In the meantime Ed Spritz, a junior mechanic, was assigned to cover his regular job.

The Building IV work continued for four days. On the fourth day an order cancellation occurred that made the mechanic’s services no longer necessary. On the same day the layoff list was published and Westphal’s name was on it. This triggered a quick visit to his boss’s desk.

“How come I’m laid off and Spritz is still working?”

Spritz was his junior replacement with three years less seniority.

“C’est la vie,” Leventhal said. “The layoff is temporary. It won’t last more than two or three days. It would be too much of a hassle to reshuffle the work force to transfer you back to Building II. The labor agreement says management doesn’t have to abide by seniority when a temporary layoff is announced.”

Westphal refused to settle for this explanation.

Question : Should Westphal be transferred back to his regular job and the junior man laid off?

Burnside’s decision : “It’s a tough break for Westphal,” Plant Engineer Ralph Burnside ruled. “But the layoff-out-of-seniority clause is clear. Reshuffling the workforce would be too much of a hassle. The contract hasn’t been violated.”

Military service: Is company obligated?

Senior Engineer Bernard Lowe was a specialist in technological aspects of his profession that were of particular interest to Army ordinance. At age 48 he could not be drafted to serve, but he was offered a captain’s rating if he volunteered to sign on. After discussion with his family and considerable soul-searching Lowe decided to sign up.

Lowe was a key man in the Plant Engineering Department. When he broke the news to his boss, Chief Engineer Bill Randolph was devastated. “I can’t spare you, Bernie. Your absence will put the department in a bind.”

Lowe replied, “I considered that and I’m sorry. But this is a critical time. Uncle Sam needs me too. Hopefully, my services won’t be required for too long.”

“A lot of good that does me.”

To make sure he was covered, Lowe requested a three-year leave of absence.

“There’s no way I can approve that,” Randolph replied.

“You have no choice,” Lowe said.

Question : Is Lowe correct in his assertion? Does the company have to give him the leave of absence requested?

Lundy’s verdict : Plant Engineer Jeff Lundy’s response to the request was swift and decisive. “Number one, give Bernie the leave. Number two, thank him for his patriotic sacrifice. It might also interest you to know that under USERRA, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a company, regardless of size, must grant a leave of absence of up to five years to any employee who leaves his job to enlist in a uniformed service. That applies whether his stint in the military is voluntary or involuntary.”

Refusing to rehire due to heart problem

A dozen production and maintenance employees were laid off due to a business decline. When a rash of new orders came in most of the workers were recalled subject to approval following a physical examination.

Warehouseman Gerald Busch was stunned when after a physical his recall form was marked REJECTED.

“What’s the problem?” he complained to Joe Villani, his supervisor.

“The doctor reports you have a leaky heart valve. He feels that working as a warehouseman endangers your health.”

“That’s nonsense,” Busch protested.

Villani was sympathetic but told Busch he couldn’t counteract the doctor’s orders.

Question : Do you think the warehouseman should be rehired?

Waldman’s decision : When Plant Engineer Ed Waldman was brought up to date on the case, he supported the doctor’s decision. “Warehouseman in this plant is a heavy-duty job that creates strain on the heart. That he worked for years without injury is no indication that he could continue to do so years in the future. Job recall denied. If you can find an opening with less taxing work you might check that out to determine if it’s suitable.”

Personal leave: Check for abuse

Leave of absence requests were not welcomed in a thriving New England plant. But employees were allowed three paid personal leave days for “obligations that could not be fulfilled during regular working hours.” Personal time off, the company’s policy manual specified, “is not to be construed to be extended vacation days.”

Out of respect for individual privacy workers were not required to spell out the reasons for their requests.

One day Mechanic First Grade Jack Trayner, a maintenance department group leader, asked for and was granted a personal leave day for the following Monday. The department was backlogged with work, but Maintenance Supervisor Harry Reiner didn’t question the request.

To say Trayner was an avid baseball fan would be understating the case. Monday was Opening Day, and it got back to Reiner that the purpose of Trayner’s personal leave was to attend the game.

On Tuesday when the mechanic returned to work, his boss called him to account. “I heard via the grapevine that you were at the game yesterday.”

Trayner’s face flushed. “So what? It was a personal leave day.”

“The purpose of personal leave isn’t to grant a holiday or vacation,” Reiner said angrily. “You knew how loaded we were. What you did was unconscionable.”

Question : Should Trayner be paid for the day?

Delman’s response : When Plant Engineer Greg Delman was informed of the incident, he echoed Reiner’s reaction. “Not only should he be docked for the day,” he instructed the supervisor, “a warning notice should be issued and included in his personnel file. It’s bad enough when a regular rank-and-filer shows disregard for his responsibility. When a supervisor does it, it is doubly offensive.”

Is carelessness a disciplinary problem?

Darn it!” Maintenance Foreman Dan Glover slapped down the work folder on his desk. Mike Kudlow had done it again. The 63-yr-old Grade I carpenter had either misread the instruction sheet in constructing the assigned jig, or was just plain careless. Glover had lost count of the mistakes Kudlow had made in recent months. He summoned the carpenter to his desk.

“Mike, I don’t like to do it, but I have no choice. I’m going to have to let you go.”

He pointed out Kudlow’s latest mistake. The carpenter had no excuses.

“Sorry, Mike, you ran out of last chances.”

The carpenter slumped away in search of Bert Alboum, his unit representative.

Alboum didn’t deny Glover’s claim regarding Kudlow’s excessive mistakes. Instead, he called the supervisor’s attention to the carpenter’s spotless work record over several years. “The guy deserves a break,” he maintained.

Question : Is discharge too harsh a penalty?

Denker’s decision : Plant Engineer Carl Denker reviewed the carpenter’s performance over the long years of his employment. “The man is 63 years old,” he told Glover. “He’ll be retiring in two years. His record has been better than average until recently. He doesn’t deserve to be fired. Reduce his status to Grade II and let him hang on to his job until he retires with dignity.”

Adding assignments to job description

Stockroom Attendant Al Pistrillo’s job was a breeze. He filled requisitions for tools and supplies, kept track of inventory, and wrote up purchase orders when stock ran short. Al allowed himself occasional break periods. He kept a magazine on hand to fill in time.

Maintenance Department clerical employee Sylvia Sieger was jealous. Sylvia was up to her neck in work. She was never up to date despite overtime.

“It’s not fair,” Sylvia complained to Maintenance Foreman Charley Griffin. “I bust a gut every day while Al Pistrillo leads a life of leisure.”

Griffin sat down with Sylvia and reviewed her workload. One of her clerical tasks was the posting of time records in a logbook. Another was the filing of maintenance utilization documents.

“Some of this stuff can be handled in his spare time by Pistrillo,” Griffin said.

When approached, Pistrillo protested. “No way! My job description doesn’t call for that.”

Question : Is Pistrillo within his rights protesting the assignments?

Koslowski’s verdict : “Assign Pistrillo the clerical tasks,” Plant Engineer Noah Koslowski ruled. “It is management’s responsibility to cut costs on the one hand and equalize the workload on the other. No restriction in the labor agreement prohibits a supervisor from adding tasks to an employee with spare time on his hands.”