Human Side – 2004-04-08

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor April 8, 2004

Supervisory instinct and experience

Are they enough to shorten a trial period?

The company’s lab and production departments used several complex and unusual instruments for measurement and other purposes.

When an opening for Instrument Specialist Trainee occurred, Maintenance Manager Jack Kaufeld searched the roster long and hard for a viable candidate. His search assured him of only one thing: Selecting the right person would be a difficult choice to make. Should he go outside to fill the vacancy, or give one of his own people a chance?

Since management encouraged promotion from within, Kaufeld decided to give Mechanic Grade I Bill Axelrod, the most promising candidate, a shot at the job. Axelrod responded enthusiastically to the news and replied, “No problem,” when informed there would be a 60-day trial period.

The trial period started March 15. By the last week in April it became apparent to Kaufeld that he had picked the wrong man. Axelrod worked hard and tried conscientiously to master the intricacies of the job, but the manager decided there was no way he would fill the bill.

On April 25 he broke the bad news to Axelrod that he would be downgraded to his former job.

“That’s not fair,” Axelrod protested. “I’m beginning to get this stuff. I’m supposed to have a 60-day trial period. There’s still more than two weeks to go.”

The manager shook his head. “There’d be no point in wasting your time or the company’s and further delaying the department’s need to get a qualified man under way on the job. I decided to bring someone in from outside.”

“I’m still entitled to my complete trial period,” Axelrod persisted.

“Sorry, Bill. I have to rely on my instinct and experience.”

Question : Is Kaufeld justified in cutting short the trial period?

Gelman’s decision : “Let him complete his trial period,” Plant Engineer Arnold Gelman instructed Kaufeld. “The agreement specifies 60 days, and there is no precedence to justify cutting a trial period short. You never know. Maybe he is beginning to catch on as he says.”

Union bulletin board

Can it be used for propaganda purposes?

A handful of workers were going all out in trying to pressure management for increased pay and better working conditions. Shop Steward Gary Crowell was especially militant in attempting to influence the executive committee to yield to union demands. As ill will between employees and management became increasingly heated, Crowell came up with a brainstorm. He typed up a notice that read as follows and posted it on the union bulletin board:

This company’s wage level is well below that of competitive organizations in both this area and out of state. On top of that, workers are treated unfairly in other respects as well. As a result, employee turnover has been increasing. Experience proves that where employee dissatisfaction is rampant, the quality of work performance falls short. This is bad news for customers, stockholders, and the community alike. We thus appeal to management, and to all that have a stake in this organization, to take corrective action as quickly as possible.

Respectfully submitted , The Workforce

When Personnel Director George Falko saw the notice he blew a fuse and immediately tore it down.

Confronting Crowell he fumed, “What the heck do you think you’re doing? Customers pass by this bulletin board every day, not to mention other important visitors.”

Crowell, equally abrasive, replied, “There’s nothing in the contract that says we need management’s permission to post a notice to the union bulletin board.”

Question : Can Crowell be forced to abstain from posting the notice?

Attorney’s response : Falko summoned Labor Attorney Ann Etri to his aid. She supported the manager’s stand. “Crowell’s notice has nothing to do with either plant operations or union activities. Since its intention is to be harmful to the company from a public relations standpoint, and in this way intimidate management, you have every right to object to the posting.”

Can an ex-group leader bump back to his old job?

Joe Brick, a group leader in the maintenance department, had an excellent work record. One day three years ago Maintenance Manager Frank Middleton approached him with the news that a foreman’s job was about to open up.

“It’s yours if you want it.”

Brick gave it some thought. He was already in the top bargaining unit classification and could get no further advancement without leaving the unit.

“Sounds good,” he told Middleton. “But what if it doesn’t work out for one reason or another. Can I get my group leader job back?”

“I don’t see why not. You can always bump back to your old job so long as it still exists.”

Brick accepted the job and did well at it for more than two years. Then at some point the company started to have financial reverses. Orders slacked off, employees were laid off, cost-cutting measures were initiated. When the situation went from bad to worse, management decided that Brick’s foreman job could be eliminated.

He made a beeline for Middleton’s desk.

“It looks like I have no choice,” he said, “I’ll take my old job back.”

Middleton looked uncomfortable. “No can do,” he replied. “The group leader job no longer exists.”

Brick said darkly, “That’s not what you told me when I decided to accept the foreman’s job.”

Middleton shrugged. “I said bumping back would be no problem if the job was still open. I can’t help it that the company came on bad times.”

Brick refused to settle for that answer and threatened to sue.

Question : Must Brick be bumped back down to group leader?

Greene’s verdict : “He’s out of luck,” Plant Engineer Harold Greene told Middleton when advised of Brick’s intention. “His demand is unreasonable. We can’t manufacture a job for him when it no longer exists.”

Is ‘pretty safe’ safe enough?

When the company was fined by the Occupational and Safety Health Agency for violation of safety regulations Plant Manager George Bisset called a meeting to ensure employees that rules would be strictly enforced in the future.

A few weeks later, 15 minutes before quitting time, Al Geralsky, a welder, was caught by Maintenance Supervisor Chuck Nelson walking through a hazardous part of the plant without his safety helmet on.

“You asked for it, pal,” Nelson said. “You just earned yourself a three-day suspension.”

“You have got to be kidding,” Geralsky replied. “The shift’s almost over. I had the helmet on all day. I just took it off for a few minutes while on my way to the john to wash up.”

“That excuse won’t hold water. The plant is still operating. The next shift is about to take over.”

Geralsky insisted he was innocent of a violation.

The supervisor shook his head. “You were passing through a hazardous area. There are signs all over the place cautioning employees to wear safety equipment. The suspension holds.”

Geralsky threatened to grieve.

Question : Do you think the suspension is justified?

Bennet’s decision : “The suspension stands,” Plant Engineer Ed Bennet ruled when advised of the welder’s gripe. “A safety rule has no room for compromise. Whether Geralsky’s helmet was off for a few minutes or longer is beside the point. It takes only a second or two for an employee to be injured, or for an OSHA inspector to show up and find the plant in violation.”

When must “eyes only” information be revealed?

Maintenance Department Mechanic Grade II, Pedro Servito filed a discrimination charge against the company.

He believed management was prejudiced against Latinos in its hiring and promotion practices. For one thing, a disproportionate number of minority employees were on the work force. For another, he could pinpoint mechanics with no better seniority or performance record than his own who had been advanced from Grade II to Grade I status within the past year or so. In each case his complaint had been sloughed off by Maintenance Foreman Clay Brewer on one pretext or another.

Servito felt he was being shafted. What’s more Maria Mazzarana agreed with him. Maria, who worked in the front office, sympathized with his grievance. She informed him off the record that the company had an ‘eyes only’ memo that spelled out its hiring and promotion policy.

“If you could get hold of it,” she told Servito, “it could help win your case. But you can’t reveal that I told you about it. It would cost me my job.”

Servito promised to withhold her name.

The case was pending. How could he get hold of that file? He asked Ben Jenkins, his shop steward, for advice.

“You’re sure the file exists?”


Servito approached Brewer with Jenkins in tow. “I want to see that ‘eyes only’ hiring policy memo,” he told the foreman. “I need it for my case.”

Brewer didn’t deny that the memo existed. “For your information,” he said, ” ‘eyes only’ refers to management’s eyes not yours. When did you become a manager?”

Jenkins cut in. “In a discrimination suit the grievant is entitled to documentation related to the subject of his suit, ‘eyes only’ or not.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Question : Must management comply with Servito’s request?

Bremmer’s response : Plant Engineer Walt Bremmer told Brewer, “I don’t think the memo will prove discrimination on the part of this company. But Servito is entitled to see it. It would hurt our case more than it would help to withhold it.”

Is threatening a supervisor cause for dismissal?

Maintenance Mechanic Charley Rose was an aggressively loud and rambunctious individual, the kind of employee who considered it a triumph if he could put one over on the boss.

One day while on a rush assignment in Production, Maintenance Supervisor Bill Frist called and asked to talk to him. Following a three-minute wait he was informed Rose wasn’t around. Fifteen minutes later he called again with the same result. Frist decided to walk over there for a look-see. Rose was nowhere in sight.

Frist asked a production worker, “Have you seen Rose?”

“Not for a while.”

Frist checked the restroom. It was empty. He returned to Frist’s workstation and waited, growing angrier by the second. Ten minutes later the mechanic finally appeared. More than 30 minutes had elapsed since his first call. How much longer than that he had been absent Frist didn’t know.

“Where the heck have you been?” he demanded.

“Call of nature,” Rose replied innocently.

“I checked the men’s room.”

“So I stopped off at the water cooler. Big deal.”

He was lying and Frist let him know that he knew.

“Are you calling me a liar?” Rose challenged belligerently.

“Figure it out for yourself. You were on a rush job. I’m suspending you for three days for being absent from your workstation an excessive amount of time. I’ve had it with you, Rose. Next time you won’t get off so easy.”

“I’ve had it with you, too,” the worker snapped back. He thrust an angry finger into Frist’s chest. “One of these days I’m going to get you outside this plant and beat you up.”

“That does it!” Frist’s rage was barely controlled. “You’re out of here.” Minutes later he handed Rose a dismissal notice for threatening a supervisor. The mechanic threatened to sue.

Questions : Is Rose’s termination justified? Will it hold?

Brogan’s decision : Plant Engineer Mark Brogan summoned Frist to his office. “Bill, you’ll have to replace that termination notice with a warning notice. The labor agreement contains a ‘just cause’ discharge provision requiring that at least one warning be issued prior to termination for serious infractions. But keep your eye on this character. Sooner or later you’ll find just cause to get rid of him.”

Is termination incentive a viable option?

Sometimes terminating an undesirable worker isn’t as simple as it may seem. This applies doubly if the person on the chopping block is a supervisor.

While Head Setup Man George Shane was technically competent, the four employees he supervised found him hard to work with and a generally disruptive influence.

One day an angry flare-up triggered by Shane almost turned into a fistfight. This resulted in Maintenance Supervisor Bob Kreisler being called on the carpet by his boss, Plant Engineer Vincent Borelli.

“What’s going on there?” Borelli wanted to know. “Are you supervising a working plant or a bunch of thugs?”

Kreisler lowered his eyes. “I’ll look into it, sir.”

“You’d better.”

In a huddle with Jim Held, his assistant, they agreed that Shane’s exit was long overdue.

Held asked, “How do you get rid of a dud like Shane? He’s a section leader and an eight-year veteran.”

“I was thinking about an incentive agreement.”

“What’s that?”

“You offer the employee a lump-sum settlement, with no mark on his record that will hinder him from finding another job. I’ll check it out with Borelli.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Held said. “Anything to get rid of that dud.”

Kreisler worked it out with the plant engineer and sat down with Shane to discuss the plan.

“Sounds like a lousy deal to me,” Shane grumbled.

But when he heard the settlement proposed he had second thoughts. “Give me a week or so to think about it.”

Ten days later Shane told Kreisler he would accept the incentive deal. By the end of the week he was gone. Good riddance. Kreisler and Held shook hands.

However, before much time had elapsed the news came through that Shane was suing the company because he had been “intimidated” into going along with the incentive deal. It was either that, he said, or getting fired with no cash at all.

Question : How would you rate Shane’s chances of winning?

Borelli’s response : “He can sue all he wants,” the plant engineer told Kreisler. “His chances of winning are nil. For one thing, he was given ample time to consider the offer and can cite no evidence of intimidation or pressure of any kind. It’s well worth what we shelled out to get rid of him.”

Does employee have a right to go home?

Electrician Grade II Jeff Myers had worked two days on a wiring job in the lab when Maintenance Foreman Lou Gorson instructed him to “hold off on what he was doing” because the lab director had decided that “changes had to be worked out.”

The time was 11 a.m.

“When will you know about the changes?” Myers asked.

“Probably not until tomorrow.”

“No problem. I’ll punch out and go home.”

“Not so fast,” Gorson replied. “I’ve got some breakers I want repaired.”

Myers had repaired breakers in the past and was familiar with the work. Nonetheless he balked.

“Repairing breakers isn’t in my regular job description. I’d prefer to take off.”

This response didn’t sit well with the supervisor. “Pal, when it’s a question of my preference or yours, mine has the preference. Get to work on those breakers.”

Myers refused and punched out. The next day he was served with a three-day suspension that brought him to the foreman’s desk with the unit shop representative in tow.

“You can’t compel an employee to perform work outside his normal classification.”

Gorson disagreed.

Question : Can Myers make the discipline stick?

Blackman’s verdict : When Plant Engineer Arthur Blackman was brought up to date on the situation, he told Myers that, “Precedence in this plant indicates that when employees ask to clock out after being requested to chip in on tasks outside their classification, sometimes permission is granted and sometimes denied. It depends on the departmental need at the time. Under the circumstances, I think the suspension is definitely justified.”

Can pregnancy ever be considered a dischargeable offense?

When Jane Lewis opted for early retirement, Peggy Conrad was hired to fill the key spot of Stock-room Attendant in the maintenance department.

At the employment interview, before finalizing Conrad’s acceptance, she was asked if she knew of anything that might interrupt or interfere with her long-term performance. Her reply was negative.

Lewis gave the company three weeks notice, time that would be used to good advantage to train Conrad and familiarize her with the stock. It appeared as if everything was falling into place.

After less than a month passed Conrad approached Maintenance Supervisor Fred Adams’s desk and informed him she was pregnant. Within a month or so, she would require a six to eight week disability leave of absence.

Adams blew out his cheeks. “That puts me in a spot. I’ll think about it and get back to you.”

That afternoon Adams told Conrad he was sorry but he couldn’t sustain an absence at a key job for that length of time. He offered to ask around to see if there was another job somewhere she couldn’t fill.

“At the same rate of pay?”

“I can’t guarantee that.”

Conrad refused the offer, informing Adams that firing her for pregnancy was a discriminatory act, and she would sue.

Question : Do you think Conrad can be terminated under the circumstances, or would it be a discriminatory act against her?

Pinsky’s verdict : When presented with the situation Plant Engineer Leo Pinsky told Adams that the discharge stands. “For one thing, Conrad concealed her pregnancy during her job interview. For another, discrimination can’t be proven. She is being discharged for a legitimate business reason.”