Human Side – 2004-01-10 – 2004-01-10

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor January 10, 2004

Applicant turndown

Is hearing impairment valid reason?

When Administrative Assistant Jenny Rudin opted for early retirement at age 57, it left Maintenance Supervisor Harold Griffin in a bind. Rudin was a quick study and a lady of diversified skills. She had been employed at a host of clerical tasks most of her life. She not only possessed whatever experience was needed for the job, but new challenges didn’t faze her. Griffin shook his head dolefully. Rudin would be a tough asset to replace.

A long line of applicants appeared. But not one came close to matching Rudin’s capability or attitude until Marge Drimmer popped in one day.

Mrs. Drimmer, a pleasant woman with intelligent sparkling eyes, was in her early 40s. Her background included a number of clerical jobs, most recently in a manufacturing company that was moving its plant to another state. She had worked in both maintenance and production departments and submitted what looked like excellent references.

Griffin asked Drimmer to wait in the reception room and checked her references by telephone. They held up well.

Griffin called the applicant back inside and raised the question of wages. After a bit of back and forth bickering, they agreed on a figure.

The supervisor smiled. “In that case, welcome to our family.”

Drimmer moistened her lips and shifted edgily in her chair. “There’s just one thing,” she said.

“What’s that?”

“I’m hard of hearing. I’ll need a desk that’s removed from the general noise of the plant, and I’ll require a hearing-impaired telephone.”

Question : Will this special accommodation disqualify the applicant?

Geller’s decision : Plant Engineer Joe Geller’s response was short and sweet when the applicant’s needs were described. “No problem. We’ll work it out. Grab her before she gets away.”

Firing a worker

Can a past lie be used?

Maintenance Foreman Frank Fillipini had to admit he had done some dumb things in his time, but one of his dumbest was to hire Electrician Grade II Charley Brogan. The second dumbest was not to have fired him long ago. His marginal performance was just part of it. What griped Fillipini most was the guy’s attitude. Not only was Brogan the most uncooperative man in the department, he was the most defiant as well.

With a tough union to contend with there wasn’t much Fillipini could do with him. An employee couldn’t be forced to work overtime. And Brogan wasn’t motivated to play ball. They both knew there was no way he would ever be put in for a merit increase or raise.

The foreman racked his brain. He had to come up with some way to dump this dud. If he could only find it.

One day he had an idea. Fillipini took a stroll to the personnel office.

“Let me take a look at Charley Brogan’s file,” he asked Personnel Supervisor Ann Perkins. “I don’t mean his current file. I mean the record from the time he was hired, about 8 yr ago.”

Fillipini sat down at a desk and pulled out Brogan’s employment application.

His spirits rose a few levels. Brogan’s application specified a college degree. From the way he talks and writes, the supervisor thought, if that guy has a college degree I’m a rocket scientist. In fact, I doubt if he even has a high school degree.

Fillipini had a good memory. He recalled the “after-acquired evidence theory” that referred to misinformation entered on a job application. Whether disclosed weeks, months, or years later, it was a harsh offense.

He confronted the dud himself. “Charley, from which school specifically did you get your college degree?”

“The college of hard knocks.”

Question : Has the foreman finally found his dream solution?

Talbot’s verdict : “Good try, Frank,” Plant Engineer Paul Talbot told Fillipini, “but you’ll have to give Brogan the gate on stronger evidence than that.” “I don’t see why. He misrepresented himself when he applied for a job.”

“That may be so. But for the lie to be used against him it would have to relate to his job. Your best bet would be to nail him on performance if you can. That shouldn’t be too hard.”

Must you pay him for the time?

When Maintenance Utility Worker Jim Asnew was injured while painting ceiling trim from a scaffolding, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration sent an inspector to investigate. Two days later, a Review Board official subpoenaed Art Regan, a coworker of Asnew’s, to testify at a hearing before the Review Commission.

On the day before the hearing Regan notified Maintenance Supervisor Ed Dunlop that he wouldn’t be in.

Following the hearing the company received a citation and fine. Regan didn’t bother to report on the hearing, but he did make a beeline for his boss’s desk when payday rolled around.

“I didn’t get paid for the day I testified at that hearing,” he griped.

“You got paid for testifying.”

“Yeah, a witness fee. A fraction of my regular earnings.”

“You’re lucky you got anything after testifying against the company.”

“I told the truth. Did you expect me to lie?”

Dunlop shrugged and walked away.

Question : Adverse testimony or not, must the employee be paid?

Tallman’s decision : “Pay Asnew the difference between the witness fee and his regular pay,” Plant Engineer George Tallman mandated. “Whether his testimony was adverse or supportive is beside the point.”

Pregnant job applicant

The maintenance department’s clerical overload was getting out of hand. Payroll audits, freight bill checking, inventory of selected supplies, and most backlogged of all, file maintenance. Two innovations were needed to upgrade the system: 1. Delivery of a faster and more sophisticated computer was scheduled four months hence. A special training program was also set up to qualify employees to operate the equipment.

2. Administrative Assistant Peggy Grady shouldered too heavy a workload. A second assistant would have to be hired. An ad had been placed.

A half dozen applicants were interviewed by Maintenance Supervisor Peter Kaufman before one showed up who appeared to fill the bill. Eileen Morris had prior experience doing clerical work for a Midwest manufacturing company. When her husband was transferred East she resigned her job.

Starting salary was discussed and agreed on without undue hassle.

“All that remains now,” Kaufman told the applicant, “is standard routine with regard to your reference check. I’ll call you as soon as this comes through.”

He even went so far as to introduce Morris to Grady, the woman with whom she would be working. The women shook hands.

Grady appeared ill at ease. “May I see you a moment, Mr. Kaufman?”

Kaufman asked the applicant to wait outside. When the door closed behind her, he asked, “What is it?”

“Unless I’m very much mistaken, Mrs. Morris is four or five months pregnant.”

The supervisor frowned. “She does seem a bit heavy.”

With the new computer and a training class scheduled, the need for Morris to take a leave in the midst of it all could disrupt the program.

Question : In Kaufman’s place, how would you deal with this possibility?

Kaufman’s action : The one thing he could not do, Kaufman realized, was to discuss the pregnancy issue during the interview. This was verboten. But since the new hire’s absence in the months ahead would have an adverse effect on departmental goals, what he could ask was the following: “Mrs. Morris, is there any reason you might require a leave of absence during the next six months or so?”

Her flushed face was answer enough.

Put your money where your mouth is

A New England manufacturing plant had a much-publicized policy of caring and compassionate human relations. One day Alice Daly, a maintenance department clerical employee, decided to put it to the test.

Daly, a recently widowed mother of a 5-yr-old and 2-yr-old, approached Tom Riggs, her supervisor, with an urgent request.

“My mom has been taking care of the kids while I work,” she said, “but it’s getting to be too much for her. She needs some time off.”

“How can I help?”

“I spend a lot of time on the job checking job tickets and freight bills. I can do that work just as well at home. If I could work at home one day a week, I’d be able to spell my mom, and I’d be just as productive.”

Riggs frowned. “That’s an unusual arrangement. I don’t want to set any precedents.”

“I don’t see why it would be setting a precedent. I thought flexible scheduling ties in with the company’s human relations policy.”

“Let me think about it,” Riggs replied.

That afternoon he presented Daly with a form to fill out. It included a section that required her to explain how approving her request would benefit the company.

She completed the form and returned it to Riggs. As to how it would benefit the company, she honestly replied that while she didn’t know how the company would gain, it would solve her problem, and in no way would the company be hurt.

When Riggs said that wasn’t enough to warrant his approval, Daly decided to go over his head.

Question : Is Daly’s appeal for a workday at home a request that deserves the supervisor’s okay?

Burnside’s verdict : Plant Engineer Bob Burnside summoned Riggs to his office. “Tell Daly it’s okay for her to work at home one day a week to relieve her mom of the burden of caring for her children.

“We go out of our way to publicize our caring and considerate employee relations policy. It’s your job as a representative of management to help the company put its money where its mouth is.”

Striking the boss

Not only is taking a whack at your boss a sure-fire way to flunk out on the job, in virtually any company you could name it’s a sure-fire way to get fired. Unless…

In an Atlanta manufacturing plant, an argument between Maintenance Foreman Lennie Lederman and Carpenter Grade II Harry Risner heated up to the point where not only unprintable cusswords but blows were exchanged.

Risner wound up with a bloody nose.

Lederman wound up with a termination notice.

“Get your pay from Personnel,” the foreman ordered, “and good riddance.”

“You’re not getting rid of me that easy,” Risner groused.

“That’s what you think.”

Lederman found out what his antagonist had in mind when he returned to his desk with Tom Tolken, his unit representative, in tow.

“You can’t fire this guy,” Tolken protested.

“You’re dreaming. He socked me in the nose. Take a look at Clause 136B in the policy manual. Fighting in the plant is justification for dismissal. Striking a supervisor is double justification.”

“Not in this case,” Tolken insisted.

“What do you mean by that?”

I’ll give you a one-word explanation: Provocation. Lederman didn’t sock you out of the clear blue. You provoked him into doing it.”

Question : Will the dismissal stick?

Romboldt’s verdict : After reviewing the case, Plant Engineer Chuck Romboldt instructed Risner to withdraw the termination and replace it with a two-week suspension.