Human Side – 2003-11-01 – 2003-11-01

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor November 1, 2003

Regular out sick

Can management pick sub?

Was it a virus, or what? Maintenance Supervisor Oscar Coleman had no idea. But whatever the problem, what he did know was that Group Leader Ernie Stollen’s absence was causing him problems.

Coleman called Ernie at home and spoke with his wife. “What’s the story, Edna?”

She sighed. “I wish I knew, Oscar. The doctor just left. Ernie’s still running a temperature. The doctor can’t say. He could be out another week, or a month.”

“Thanks. Tell him to take it easy and not worry. Give him my best for a speedy recovery.”

In the meantime, Coleman mused, I need to cover his job, and I have to do it by yesterday or sooner.

Who’s the best man he could pick to cover for Ernie until he returned? Good question and not simple to answer. The supervisor scanned down the department’s personnel roster. From a seniority standpoint, he decided Bill McNab should get the nod for a transfer. From a job effectiveness standpoint, his preference leaned to Charley Davis.

Davis it was. As expected Charley was happy with the boosted status and increased pay. He was consequently gung ho and then some when assigned the group leader’s job.

No less expected by Coleman was a visit from McNab, who made no effort to disguise his disgruntlement.

“I should have gotten that transfer,” he griped. “Doesn’t seniority mean anything around here?”

“It means something, but not everything,” Coleman replied. “Charley’s the best man for the job.”

“Oh yeah! We’ll see about that.”

Question : Does McNab have a valid gripe because of his seniority?

Berman’s verdict : “Charley’s transfer holds,” Plant Engineer Harry Berman ruled, when McNab’s gripe was called to his attention. “If Bill wants to grieve, tell him to be my guest. At the same time, refer him to the clause in the labor agreement that states, ‘When a temporary job vacancy exists due to an extended illness or for any other reason, management shall have a right to fill the vacancy in any manner it deems advisable.’ A handy clause to have on hand.”

Unhappy with new position

Can he get his old job back?

Sometimes a promotion leads to misery once a worker realizes what the position truly entails.

When Assistant Maintenance Supervisor Sam Lane opted for early retirement, the department was buzzing for days that turned into weeks. Who would Pete Cagney select to step into his shoes? When long-time Setup Man Ben Cramer was told by his boss that the job was his if he wanted it, he felt like doing a handspring.

And who could blame him? For one thing, there was the extra money. For another, there was the status. His wife, Sally, was almost tearful when he broke the news.

“I’m proud of you, Ben.”

The glow of success lasted all of three months. After that it started to fade.

It wasn’t that Ben couldn’t handle the job. He did reasonably well. The problem was it didn’t take him long to define the responsibility gap that existed between line and supervisory employees. Ben was basically a conscientious guy. What bothered him was his increasing discomfort with the new burdens heaped on his shoulders. The extra income was fine, but the extra work and time commitment weren’t worth it.

Ben used to think of himself as “one of the boys.” “But that no longer holds true,” he told Sally, “when you become management.”

“Do you enjoy being a supervisor?”

His lips tightened. “I hate it.”

She frowned. “If you hate it that much, get your old job back.”

Question : Should Ben’s boss reinstate him in his old job?

Pete’s response : “I’m sorry to hear how you feel,” Pete said. “And I couldn’t agree with you more. No one should stay at a job they don’t like if they can help it. Unfortunately, the man I hired to replace you is working out very well. I can’t fire him, and there’s no room in the T.O. for another setup man.” It took Ben more than three months to find another job.

Don’t simply grant leave

A common mistake managers make as applied to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to HR Matters E Tips , published by Personnel Policy Service, Inc., “is their failure to notify an employee that a leave is specifically covered by the FMLA.” As a result, the leave is not in conformity with the 12-week allotment provided by FMLA. Unfortunately, Maintenance Supervisor Steve Grimshaw had to find this out the hard way.

When Supply Room Attendant Alice Fineman injured her back on a bad fall on the ice, she was advised by her doctor to “take a few weeks off” to give herself a chance to heal properly. The next day, she put in a request to her boss for four weeks of leave in order to recuperate.

This was readily granted.

Fineman returned to work four weeks later in good shape and resumed her regular duties. So far so good.

That seemed to be the end of the incident until the summer rolled around. In June, Fineman informed Grimshaw that she was pregnant and asked for her 12 weeks of protected leave under FMLA.

“Let me get back to you,” Grimshaw said.

He did that afternoon. “The leave’s no problem,” he told her. “But just as I thought, you’re entitled to only eight weeks not 12.”

“How do you figure that?”

“You already received four weeks leave in January when you injured your back. Twelve minus four equals eight.”

“No way,” Fineman said. “I was never notified that the leave was covered under FMLA. It doesn’t apply.”

Grimshaw said he would check it out.

Question : Does Fineman know her law, or does she?

Byrne’s response : “Alice apparently did her homework,” Plant Engineer Frank Byrne informed Grimshaw. “She’s protected for the full 12 weeks. She should have been notified of the coverage when she was out with the back injury.”

How much training should she get?

Utility Worker Emma Ryan at 150 lb was big, tough, and ambitious. So when an opening for Merchandise Handler was posted, historically a man’s job, she was the first of three candidates to apply. And the only woman.

Merchandise Handler was a demanding grind, more so physically than mentally. But it did require an orderly mind to keep priorities straight. It also entailed the lifting of heavy cartons and the hustling of heavy wooden crates.

The plant employed four merchandise handlers, all male and muscular. Ordinarily, it would never have occurred to Maintenance Supervisor Nick Norris to consider a female for the job. But in this case two factors influenced him. First, neither of the men who applied struck him as being conscientious and reliable. Second, Ryan had a good work record, and appeared to be physically qualified. In an arm wrestling contest, she could probably take on half the guys in the plant.

“Okay, Emma,” he told her, “the job is yours if you score well in the three-day training period.”

Emma was thrilled. “No problem.”

It was a problem. After little more than a day into her training period, it became obvious to Norris that he had picked the wrong candidate. So rather than prolong the ordeal, he gave Emma the bad news before the end of the second day.

She immediately protested. “I know I can handle the job. I’m entitled to my full three days of training just like the men get.”

When Norris didn’t agree, Emma threatened to grieve.

Question : If Emma follows through with her threat how do you rate her chances of winning the grievance?

Delgado’s decision : “Give Emma another shot at the job with the full training period,” Plant Engineer Matt Delgado said. “Any other course of action would put the company at risk on the grounds of discrimination.”

Bumping down to a lower-ranking job

When the economic conditions turn sour, management’s first thought turns to shaving the payroll. It was thus no surprise in a New England manufacturing plant when a layoff announcement was posted.

Nor was it a surprise to Maintenance Foreman Jack Jablonski when Instrument Mechanic Ed Beckerman approached his desk to ask if he could bump down to a lower-ranking job. In Maintenance, three workers had been marked for layoff. Beckerman’s name headed the list.

“What do you want to bump down to?”

“Ordinary mechanic, if that’s the best I can get. The job market is tough. Taking a pay cut is better than getting no pay at all.”

“Let me see what I can do.”

The next day, Beckerman’s boss came back to him with the good news. “I can bump you down to Mechanic Grade II.”

“That’s great. Thanks a lot.”

The employee’s appreciation quickly faded, however, the day he received his first paycheck as an ordinary mechanic.

“How come I received the bottom rate of pay that mechanic calls for?” he wanted to know.

“Because you’re a new man at the job. New men get the starting rate.”

“That’s a rip-off. Since I was bumped down from a higher-ranked job, I’m entitled to receive the top rate.”

Jablonski shook his head. “I don’t make the rules, pal, just enforce them.”

“We’ll see about that,” Beckerman groused.

Question : Do you think Beckerman is entitled to more than the starting rate?

Bogle’s verdict : Plant Engineer Fred Bogle backed the foreman’s decision. “It’s the only fair way to compensate him,” he told Jablonski. “Bumped down or not, Beckerman is still a new man in that unit. Were he to receive the higher rate, he would earn more than employees who have been for months or years on the job. It would disrupt the wage setup and trigger widespread disgruntlement.”

Ready for action: Whose call is it?

When Maintenance Department Welder George Leonard’s mitral valve went kerplunk, he suffered a serious heart attack and had to have the valve replaced.

A heart valve replacement, especially a mitral valve replacement, is more complicated than an operation to relieve tennis elbow. So when, after more than two months, Leonard’s doctor told him he felt he thought he was sufficiently recovered to return to work, his patient’s relief was heartfelt. More than money was involved; the poor guy was climbing the walls.

Leonard’s boss, Maintenance Foreman Drew Prescott, was pleased to hear the good news the Monday morning he reported back to work.

“There’s only one formality necessary,” he said. “You’ll have to be checked out by the company medic.”

“I don’t see why,” George groused. “No one knows my condition better than my family doctor.”

Prescott shrugged. “Maybe so, but that’s the law of the land.”

When Leonard visited Dr. Rudin, the company doctor, he countered the diagnosis of Leonard’s personal physician.

“I would recommend another four weeks of rest and rehab before approving your return to the job.”

“That’s a lousy deal,” Leonard protested. “My doc says I’m okay. There’s no reason I can’t work.”

Question : Should the company doctor’s verdict prevail over that of Leonard’s personal physician?

Murdock’s response : “We’ll have to go along with the company doc,” Plant Engineer Milton Murdock told Leonard. “I sympathize with the way you feel, and I also respect your own doctor’s opinion. But while he may know your body better than Dr. Rudin, the company doc is more familiar with the physical stresses and requirements of the job. Disappointing as it may be to have to sweat out another four weeks, it’s the safest course of action.”

Do right thing, but don’t go overboard

No question about it: The men and women who fight and sacrifice to serve their country deserve every possible consideration when their tour of duty is done.

“We aren’t doing enough for our returning GI’s,” Executive Vice President Don Chester declared in a talk before the plant’s managers and supervisors. “I want you guys to keep this in mind when dealing with veterans.”

Nods of agreement registered throughout his audience.

Plant Manager Al Stern took Chester’s concern to heart. He approached the VP with a proposal to set up a special training program for returning veterans.

Chester liked the idea and complimented Stern for his initiative. “Let’s toss it up and see how it lands.”

Present at the meeting were several of the company’s top brass.

Question : What do you think of the plant manager’s idea. If you were at that meeting, what comment if any would you make?

Measured response : “Sounds like a good idea,” the president said.

Plant Engineer Ed Ruskin wasn’t so sure. “Would the training program you have in mind be available to all employees?” he asked Stern. “Or would it be confined exclusively to returning vets?”

“Vets only,” Stern replied. “Making the offer plant-wide would be prohibitively expensive.”

“That’s what I figured. From the standpoint of good intentions, I think it’s a great idea. From a labor relations and legal standpoint, I tend to have second thoughts.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Human Relations Vice President Doris Landon piped up. “Excluding non-veterans could leave us wide open to charges of discrimination. This is a good example of how good intentions can often go astray. I would vote against the idea.”

Review rules periodically

Senator Byrd, a strict adherer to the rulebook, was once criticized in the press. “He makes the trains run on time, but the cars are all empty.”

Presumably, work rules in office and plant are set with a clear purpose in mind. But as the English theologian Robert Burton once wrote, “No rule is so general which admits not some exception.”

Carpenter Grade II Harry Deavon, who had signed up as a reservist, cursed his bad luck when a recent call to military reserve duty conflicted with his assignment to Saturday overtime work.

“I can really use the extra cash,” he confided to his boss, Maintenance Supervisor George Carson.

“Can’t you get out of it?” Carson asked.

“No way. When duty calls duty calls.”

Deavon returned to work a few days later and checked the plant bulletin board. He found to his dismay that his name was included on a list of employees who had rejected overtime work, a no-no that would also appear in his personnel file. On top of that, his name had been switched to the bottom of the overtime eligibility list.

“That’s a rip-off,” Deavon complained. “It’s not fair to penalize an employee who loses out because he’s serving his country.”

Carson shrugged. “I don’t make the rules, just enforce them.”

Deavon decided to grieve.

Question : Do you agree with the reservist’s claim that he had been ripped off?

Green’s verdict : “Take Harry off the reject list,” Plant Engineer Phil Green instructed Carson, “and restore his name to the top of the eligibility list. A rule is no better than the purpose it serves. I’m sure the purpose of the rule you applied in this case wasn’t to penalize a reservist serving his country.”