Human side – 2005-01-10

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor January 10, 2005

Cash or check

Can management switch how you’re paid?

As far back as most employees could recall, they had received their compensation in cash.

When Plant Engineer Sam Lipsky voiced the opinion that the policy of paying wages in cash was behind the times, the general manager agreed. A notice was posted on the bulletin board that effective the following month, employees would receive their wages by check.

The announcement was greeted by a storm of protest. Unit Representative Mark Bluestein appeared at Maintenance Foreman Tony Gambino’s desk to voice his objection.

Echoing the feelings of the workforce, Gambino claimed that the long-established cash payment policy was as much a protected benefit as the coffee break or parking privilege.

Bluestein disagreed. “Nothing in the labor agreement states that cash payment of wages is sacrosanct.”

“You can’t ignore precedence,” Gambino insisted.

“Not true,” Bluestein replied. “Every time progress is made, precedence is ignored.

Gambino threatened to grieve.

Question : Can the switch from cash to check be unilaterally implemented?

Lipsky’s decision : “The change to checks holds firm,” the plant engineer ruled. “The intent of this change is not to inconvenience employees but to make the payment procedure more efficient and economical. It is management’s right, indeed its obligation, to implement changes that will make the company more competitive and profitable.”


How sacrosanct are ones you set?

Robert Burton, a 19th century cleric and philosopher, wrote that No rule should be so general as to admit of no exception.

It’s an interesting observation and in wide dispute among executives and supervisors in the nation’s offices and plants.

A recent Human Side case discussed employees who got into a passionately philosophical argument that turned into a brawl in which injury took place. Despite a rule that prohibited in plant fighting with a consequence of dismissal, the case was resolved with a lesser penalty.

Gerald Verbeek of Verbeek Management Services wrote Human Side that he felt the decision “sent the wrong message.” He pointed out that “a rule should be followed or changed.” His judgment is hard to dispute. Yet it provokes further thought. I thanked Mr. Verbeek for his letter but agreed with Burton that “no rule should be so rigid as to block out all exceptions.”

I pointed out that in some cases other factors might apply: emotional considerations, behavioral and performance records of individuals involved, length of service, corporate training investment, an employee’s value to the company, and more.

Should a corporate rule be inviolate? It’s a good topic for debate. It called to mind a case some years ago at a liquor wholesaler. An employee (call him Charley) was caught sneaking out a bottle of scotch at quitting time. Despite the rule of termination for theft, Charley was forgiven and awarded a lesser punishment.

Question : Are there circumstances where such response might be justified?

Management’s rationale : Charley was a veteran employee with long-time training and experience. He possessed unique capabilities of special value to the company. He displayed remorse and begged for another chance. Management felt his absence would be a great loss to the company.

I wasn’t involved in this case but feel the company was wrong. I think Charley should have been fired, but there are many who would agree with the decision. The case could be debated at length. My intention here is not to do that, but to point out that gray areas often exist. Sometimes resolution must not be based solely on the rule, but on what is most fair, reasonable, and beneficial under the circumstances involved.

Management limited in making policy changes

The company had for years resisted human relations and personnel department suggestions to initiate a drug testing policy. But following an unpleasant incident that involved an employee’s brush with the law in response to a drug violation, General Manager Floyd Balkin called a high-level meeting. The next day a bulletin board notice announced that drug testing would be conducted.

Employee response ranged from annoyance and indifference to anger and indignation.

“If management doesn’t trust us,” huffed a carpenter, “how can they expect us to trust them?”

Another worker declared, “It’s an invasion of privacy.”

Other employees felt the policy change was justified. “The company has to protect its image and interests,” a machine operator stated.

The objectors out-numbered the employees who were sympathetic to management’s viewpoint.

“You can’t make a change like that unilaterally,” a bargaining unit representative declared.

When Personnel Manager Edith Mellin disagreed, the official threatened to grieve.

Question : Is management within its rights to initiate the drug testing policy?

Attorney’s opinion : Ellen Prentice, the company’s labor attorney, assured management that a clause in the labor agreement adequately covered the policy change. It read, “Management reserves the right to make unilateral changes at any time. This helps ensure,” she added, “that the handbook will not be interpreted as a contract.”

As Personnel Policy Service’s HR Matters E-Tips points out, in such situations “you are still best advised to give as much advance notice as possible. This is good employee relations, especially when implementing a controversial new policy…”

Note: It has been stated before, and cannot be repeated too often, that where legal considerations are involved in a case, the safest course is to consult an attorney.

Is lack of morality grounds for dismissal?

Everyone in the plant was talking about Mary Ann’s pregnancy. Everyone but Mary Ann. The stockroom attendant’s obviously impending motherhood was of particular interest because she was unmarried.

Some things can be deferred for just so long. One day when it appeared that Mary Ann might have to be rushed at any moment to the hospital, she approached Maintenance Supervisor Pat Norman and requested a form so that she could apply for a maternity leave.

Her boss, an old time stickler for “proper behavior,” replied nervously, “I’ll check it out and get back to you.”

The next day he informed the attendant that her request had been denied.

“I don’t get it,” Mary Ann replied.

“I reviewed your record,” Norman said. “I think you’ll be happier some place else.”

“What’s wrong with my record?” Mary Ann snapped indignantly.

“There’s no point in discussing it; the decision’s already been made.”

Mary Ann had no intention to sit still for what she considered to be a clear case of discrimination. She made a beeline for Plant Engineer George Markson’s office.

Question : In the plant engineer’s shoes what action would you take?

PE’s verdict : Markson summoned Norman to his office.

“On what grounds are you terminating Mary Ann?”

The supervisor replied through tight lips. “Customers visit the plant. Corporate image is important to this company. The idea of an unwed mother…”

“Is none of your business,” Markson interrupted, “but discrimination based on sex, or your personal definition of morality, is very much this company’s business. Give the woman her leave.”

Mandating physical for recalled employee

Mechanic Grade II John Wilson, 64, after more than three months on layoff, heard via the grapevine that a recall notice had been mailed to other laid off employees, some with less seniority than himself.

Wilson showed up at the plant next day and took the short route to Maintenance Foreman Steve Adler’s desk.

“How come I wasn’t called back?” he demanded. “I have better seniority than most of those other guys.”

“I checked the list carefully,” Adler replied, “and talked to a couple of guys who know you. From what I hear, you were hospitalized with a back problem after being laid off. I assumed you had tossed in the sponge long ago.”

“Well, that was a wrong assumption. This letter from my doctor states I’m perfectly fit to work full time.”

He handed the letter to Adler who scanned it briefly.

“That’s good news,” the foreman replied. “You can have back your old job, but you’ll have to check into the medical office first and get scheduled for a physical examination.”

“No way!” Wilson protested. “My doctor’s letter should cover me. He’s been treating me for years and knows my condition better than anyone else.”

Adler shook his head. “The physical exam is a must. It’s a company rule.”

Question : Can the mechanic be forced to undergo the exam?

Dorfman’s decision : “Wilson can be reinstated to his old job,” Plant Engineer Fred Dorfman ruled, “but he can’t bypass the exam. The labor agreement states that any employee recalled after a layoff of 90 days or more must receive clearance from the Medical Office before reporting to work.”

Let employees know risk in accepting promotion

When an opening for Instrument Repairman was posted, Mechanic First Grade Harry Lucowski was one of the first to apply.

Along with two other applicants, he was given a test by Maintenance Supervisor George Boroni.

No applicant’s results were awe inspiring, but Lucowski’s rated a shade better than the others.

He was given a shot at the job. “But keep in mind,” Boroni cautioned the mechanic, “some of those instruments you’ll have to work on are pretty complex. It will be a far cry from what you’ve been accustomed to.”

“No problem,” Lucowski said. “I’m a fast learner.”

“I hope so. You can start the new job on Monday. There will be a 30-day trial period.”

“Great!” the mechanic replied.

Unfortunately, Lucowski had overestimated his ability to pick up new skills and procedures. By the time the third week of probation rolled around, Boroni decided there was no way he would make it.

At week’s end he broke the bad news to the mechanic who had no choice but to agree with his verdict.

He shook his head sadly. “If I have to go back to being a coolie, so be it.”

“That’s the right attitude to take,” Boroni said. “Starting Monday you’ll be assigned to a Mechanic Grade II classification.”

“Grade II! Hey, that’s a mistake. I was Grade I before I tried out for Instrument Repairman.”

“I know,” the foreman replied. “But Grade I’s all filled up just now. The next best thing is Grade II. When Grade I opens up again you’ll be first on the list.”

Lucowski protested his reassignment and threatened a grievance.

Question : Can the mechanic win reinstatement to his Grade I job?

Freeman’s verdict : When informed of Lucowski’s protest, Plant Engineer Carl Freeman Instructed Boroni to show the employee Clause 152 B in the labor agreement. This read, “…if an employee on probation is unable to qualify for his newly assigned job, he will be returned to his former job, or to one as near as possible to his previous status and compensation as can be arranged at the time.”

Moonlighting problems

Project Leader Ralph Hammer posed the question to Chief Engineer Joe Turner, “What should we do about Arnold?” Arnold Duckoff was a young engineer whose work performance had been sliding of late.

Skimming down a recently submitted progress report, Turner frowned,

“I’m not surprised. The guy looks like a zombie lately.”

“I think we both know why,” Hammer said. “It’s the extra job he’s been working. Four hours when he’s finished here.”

“I’m not sure we can force him to discontinue the moonlighting,” Turner said. “In some states employers are restricted from prohibiting second jobs, and this is one of them. Arnold’s a smart guy. At least he should be smart enough to figure out how much extra work he can tolerate and its effect on his job performance and health.”

Hammer nodded. “I already discussed this with him. He’s trying to earn enough money for a down payment on a house.”

Question : How would you deal with this?

PE’s response : Plant Engineer Roy Weiss told the chief, “I’d rather not make moonlighting the issue, not without consulting an attorney. I’d let him know flat out that his performance slide is putting his job here in jeopardy. He should be smart enough to eliminate or cut down the extra work and bring his work up to standard. You might point out it might make more sense to wait a while longer, or take out a loan, to get that down payment he’s after, than to jeopardize his job and health by stretching himself too thin.”