Human side – 2004-03-10 – 2004-03-10

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor March 10, 2004

Beware of e-mail

It can be used against you

Maria Sanchez was stunned when informed by Maintenance Department Foreman Pete Carlson that she was being downgraded to Administrative Assistant Class II and assigned to another section. Ann Kramer, as spelled out in the same directive, was being upgraded from Class II to Class I and assigned to take over her job. A glaring example of race discrimination as Sanchez viewed the situation. Or something else. According to plant scuttlebutt, Kramer and Carlson were “seeing each other.”

Fortunately for Sanchez, she had friends in the department. “You don’t have to sit still for this,” Arlene Thompson told her.

“What can I do about it?”

Thompson had her own pet peeve regarding Carlson. “Leave it to me,” she told Sanchez.

Thompson called her aside that afternoon with evidence of e-mail messages in which Carlson had addressed Kramer as “Honey.” In one ill-fated transmission, he had referred to a Latino employee using derogatory terms. It made no difference that the employee wasn’t Sanchez. What did matter was the negative implication of the expression.

“What do you think I should do?” Sanchez asked her friend.

“Stand up for your rights,” Thompson advised.

That’s exactly what Sanchez did. She went to Carlson’s boss, Plant Engineer Marvin Graybill, with her evidence.

Question: In Graybill’s shoes what action, if any, would you take?

Graybill’s response : The plant engineer’s response fell far short of Kramer’s promotion and Sanchez’s demotion. That situation remained unchanged. What did result was an ultimatum to Carlson. “Any further evidence of racial slurs or discrimination on your part, and you will find yourself out on the street.”

Unqualified worker

Protect your right to fire him

It took three months for Maintenance Foreman Ed Kelly to realize that hiring Bill Klemmer was a mistake. Although Klemmer had squeezed through his probationary period, during the past few weeks his performance rating had declined from marginal to unsatisfactory.

The electrician didn’t take the bad news gracefully.

“What do you mean you’re letting me go? You can’t do that; it’s in violation of the contract.”

“You’ve got that wrong,” Kelly snapped back. “If an employee’s performance is unacceptable, it is management’s right to dismiss him.”

“I quit a good job to work here,” Klemmer persisted. “When I was hired the impression I got was that my job would be secure, that I could only be fired for good cause.”

“If unacceptable performance isn’t good cause, I don’t know what is.”

“Not according to the policy manual I received. It doesn’t specify what good cause is and doesn’t define acceptable work performance. I took the manual’s statement as a promise that my job would be secure.”

When Kelly disagreed, the worker threatened to grieve.

Question: Does Klemmer have a valid case to prevent his termination?

Durling’s decision : “Klemmer remains fired,” Plant Engineer Frank Durling ruled when informed of the electrician’s protest.

“It is important on the one hand that management take care to avoid any expectation of job security during the hiring process, either oral or verbal. It is also true that in the past any number of cases have been predicated upon statements in the policy manual or application form that were taken as promises. Precisely for this reason it is important that management protect its right to terminate employees who fail to measure up to performance standards.

“You might point out to Klemmer that this company has done just that by showing him the disclaimer in the manual that statements therein are not to be construed as promises or commitments, but are only included to indicate management preferences or for informational purposes.”

Can you test an employee before promoting him?

You have got to be kidding!” Unit Representative Charley Oates told Maintenance Department Foreman Al Lutz, slapping down a test packet of three or four pages on his desk.

“What’s the problem?” Lutz wanted to know.

“Joe Turner is up for promotion to Mechanic Grade I. He’s got six years experience and a good work record. He shouldn’t be required to take a test like this in order to qualify.”

“Six years experience as a Grade II mechanic doesn’t make him Grade I material,” Lutz replied. “I have to check him out to make sure he has the skills needed for the job.”

“Maybe so,” Oates conceded. “But an employee doesn’t need a college education to qualify as a Grade I mechanic.”

“What has that got to do with it?”

“Plenty. This test contains several questions that have nothing to do with Mechanic Grade I responsibilities.”

“For example?”

“Vocabulary questions for one thing; math questions for another.”

“Anyone with a high school diploma should be able to pass this test.”

“Joe doesn’t have a high school diploma. He dropped out. Nonetheless, he’s a well-qualified mechanic.”

Lutz shook his head. “Sorry, no dice.”

Question: How would you deal with this case?

Renfield’s resolution : Plant Engineer George Renfield summoned Lutz to his office. “Oates has a point,” he told the foreman. “The mechanic’s job requires little, if any, vocabulary knowledge, and no math skills beyond simple arithmetic. On the other hand, management does have a right to test an applicant’s competence. My suggestion is that you delete the vocabulary and math stuff from the test, and include questions that specifically apply to the job.”

Sponsor e-mail employee feedback?

This crazy world we live in gets crazier every day. “It’s important to know how employees think and feel about what’s going on in the company,” proclaimed General Manager G.M. at a staff meeting one day.

A discussion was held, and other executives agreed.

“So why not establish an Internet message board at which employees are encouraged to post questions and express their ideas, opinions, and gripes?” H.R., the human resources manager, suggested.

“Sounds like a good idea,” P.M., the company’s personnel manager, said thoughtfully. A statement he has been kicking himself for ever since.

The plant engineer looked skeptical. “I can see the advantages,” P.E. said, “but posting gripes on the Internet could lead to problems.”

“Maybe so,” G.M. decided, “but let’s give it a shot. If employees have complaints it will help us to know about them.”

A web site was set up, and the program put into effect. An unexpected flood of e-mail resulted. Five percent of the hits were useful ideas and 95% gripes. Most messages were either humorous or not very serious. But a few were embarrassing. One employee suggested a California-type election for “worst boss” be conducted. The response was significant. In a few cases, anonymous respondents cited names. This produced ill feelings, and in one instance, almost triggered a fistfight.

With regard to the Internet message board, it led the G.M. to make another pronouncement: “Dumbest thing we ever did.”

Question: What do you think? Is it a good or a dumb idea to encourage the e-mail expression of gripes?

Resolution : Several companies provide Internet gripe outlets for employees. Here, as a follow-up, anonymous response was discouraged as cowardly and in poor taste. Employees were also urged to bring valid and heartfelt complaints directly to the source of the problem, instead of airing them publicly. P.E. suggested, “Since some companies have successful programs that give employees Internet access for gripes to be aired (Intel and Walmart, for example), why not get in touch with these companies to find out how the program is handled?” Since P.M. had approved the idea, he was elected to follow through on this suggestion.

Can illness on vacation be converted to sick leave?

Psychologists agree that people need occasional breaks from work time to recharge their batteries and freshen their outlook. With that thought in mind Instrument Repairperson Mildred Brewer approached Maintenance Supervisor Andy Rudman upon her return from a week’s vacation.

“Hi, Mildred, how was your vacation?”

“It wasn’t a vacation. That’s why I’m here.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The second day I came down with a virus and was laid up the rest of the time. I’d like to have that time applied against my sick leave entitlement. I have a doctor’s note to back up my request.”

Rudman frowned uncertainly. “Were you confined to the hospital during this time?”

“No. I was confined to a sick bed at home. What does that have to do with it?”

“According to the labor agreement,” Rudman replied, “in cases of nonhospital disability you have to be laid up for at least a week.”

“That’s a rip-off,” Mildred said. “Since my vacation was automatically converted to sick leave, I’m entitled to sick leave time.”

“I’ll check it out and get back to you.”

Question: Should Mildred’s request be fulfilled?

Brogan’s decision : “Mark up the time to sick leave,” Plant Engineer Ralph Brogan said. “Every employee is entitled to his or her fair amount of vacation time as prescribed by the contract.”

Was he just doing his job or was he acting in an insubordinate manner?

Stockroom Attendant Jim Davis was approached one afternoon by Harold Temple, a sales manager. “Let me have one of those microtomic resectioning machines. I’ll return it in the morning.”

The machine in question was delicate and expensive equipment.

“Why do you need it?”

“That’s my business.”

Davis replied, “I’m sorry, sir, I’m not authorized to sign out that unit without my supervisor’s permission.”

The response irritated Temple. “Look, Davis, I’m in a hurry. Just give me the machine.”

The attendant persisted in his refusal. “I don’t want to get into trouble. I have to abide by the rules.”

Temple had a short fuse. “I’m not requesting the machine. I’m ordering it.”

When Davis persisted in his refusal, Temple stalked off angrily in search of Maintenance Supervisor Arnold Jaffe. The manager charged that Davis had refused a direct order from a superior. Minutes later, Jaffe appeared at the stockroom with the manager in tow.

“What’s going on here?”

“I’m trying to abide by the rules…”

“Forget the rules,” Temple exploded. “I want this man placed on suspension.”

“Yes sir.” Jaffe gave him the requested machine and filled out a form that suspended Davis for a week for insubordination.

When Davis returned to work following his suspension, he put in a claim for “a week’s pay unjustly withheld.”

Question: Is Davis entitled to be reimbursed for the week’s pay?

Delaney’s decision : “Reimburse him for the week,” Plant Engineer Phil Delaney instructed Jaffe. “The guy was only doing his job. There was no insubordination involved. The one who should be suspended is Temple.”