Human Side – 2005-10-01

By Raymond Dreyfack, Contributing Editor October 1, 2005

Effective hiring practices saves trouble down the line

“It’s recruitment time and the stakes are high. So states HR Matters, published by Personnel Policy Service, Inc. The report goes on to cite an industry rule of thumb that asserts hiring the wrong person can be expected to cost three times the person’s annual salary during the course of employment.

The trick in recruiting is to bend over backwards to ensure that the person you too hastily hire doesn’t slowly drag you to court some time in the future.

“I can’t get this point across too firmly,” plant engineer Joe Hadley told maintenance foreman Chuck McDonald one bright sunny Monday morning in October. The circumstance of Hadley’s lecture was the recurring personnel problems the maintenance department had experienced the last few months. Most recently it was the foreman’s agita over his failure to dump Carl Rostov, a carelessly hired mechanic who skated on the edge of incompetence.

McDonald’s efforts had repeatedly been throttled by unit representative Mike Horsham who pointed out, reasonably enough, that since Rostov’s marginal performance had been tolerated more than four years, there was no justification to suddenly declare him incompetent.

So despite his excessive absence, uncooperative attitude, and irritating defiance, McDonald was stuck with the guy.

QUESTION: Experience proves the longer you tolerate a dud, the tougher it is to get rid of him. What to do about Rostov?

HADLEY’S RESPONSE : “Think back if you can,” Hadley urged McDonald. “Had Rostov’s nature and character been thoroughly investigated, would you have picked him for the job?”

The foreman shifted uncomfortably. He knew the answer all too well: Hire in haste, repent in leisure. He had been trying for years to block out the memory. Rostov had been hired at the height of the busy season. He had settled for him because another body was badly needed.

Hadley smiled faintly at the foreman’s discomfiture. “It’s a thought to take with you. No matter how crowded the schedule, one can never be too busy to hire with thoughtful probing and care.”

The 3-day rule makes sense

Twelve workers were laid off during the slump period, among them welder grade II Amos Moss.

When bleak days grew brighter and fortune smiled at the plant with a batch of new orders, management decided it was time for a recall. Moss and six other workers received the good news by telephone.

Maintenance supervisor Alex Gonzales specified the day the recalls were due back to work. He also instructed the employees to notify him of their intention to return. He received positive notification from all of the recalls but Moss; who failed to report to work on the day specified. Not having been informed of Moss’s intention to return, Gonzales selected another man in his place. Two days later Moss showed up. When he found no time card in the rack he made a beeline for his boss’s desk to inquire why.

Gonzales said, “I recalled another man to replace you. You never informed me of your intention to return to work. On top of that, you didn’t call or come in on the day specified.”

“I couldn’t help it,” Moss said, “I had business to attend to.”

“Sorry,” Gonzales replied, “you had every opportunity to do so.”

Moss persisted that he was “being screwed out of the job” and threatened to sue.

QUESTION: Can the company be forced to put Moss back on the payroll?

NADLER’S RESPONSE: “The guy’s out of luck,” Plant Engineer George Nadler told Gonzales. “If he still threatens to sue, refer him to Clause 542 in the Manual which defines an employee’s loss of seniority if he fails to inform his employer of his intention to report to work within three days. A handy clause to have on tap.”

Family leave: How lenient is too lenient?

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers to take job-protected, unpaid time off to care for themselves or seriously ill family members. When to grant a worker’s request for leave is a question supervisors must face, especially when the seriousness of the alleged illness is in doubt or the motivation behind the request is questionable. Too many members of the work force who understand the system know how to take advantage of it.

Did electrician George Foreman fit into this group, maintenance supervisor Greg Branch wondered? As head of this operation he was in charge of day-to-day maintenance and more. In an operation as small as theirs, every man was essential.

Foreman’s 69-year-old mother, the electrician told him anxiously, had a severe head cold. He needed his requested “week or two off” to take care of her. When she was similarly ill a few years ago, he explained, the cold had turned into the flu, which in turn became pneumonia.

“I can’t chance that happening again,” Foreman told his boss.

Branch blew out his cheeks. “Let me think about it. “I’ll get back to you later.”

His first move was to take up the matter with Andrew Chin who among other things handled the small plant’s PE responsibilities.

QUESTION: Considering the foreman’s pressing need for the electrician, what should his answer be?

CHIN’S DECISION : “Allow him the leave,” Chin instructed Branch after being cued in on Foreman’s request.

Branch frowned. “As of today the personnel roster stands at 47 employees. We’re not legally required to grant that leave. The Act only covers operations that employ 50 or more.”

“No matter how badly you need him,” Chin replied, “his absence isn’t going to bankrupt the company. Hire a part-timer to fill in. Look at it this way: If George had to come in instead of staying home with his mom, he’d be busy worrying about her instead of paying attention to his job. On top of that, his morale would be seriously impaired.”

Does babysitting qualify for funeral leave?

At this plant as in most others a death in the immediate family qualifies an employee for paid funeral leave. In the case of junior welder Jeff Cushner the bad news came by telephone on a bleak Tuesday morning. His father-in-law had just passed away. Jeff hurried home to comfort his wife Bea.

Bea and her dad had been very close. A neighbor had been kind enough to baby-sit the boys, five and seven, so that she and Jeff could attend the funeral. Fortunately, Bea’s brother Tom possessed the presence of mind to take care of the funeral and post-funeral arrangements.

Jeff returned to work three days later and filled out the form that was required for receipt of funeral pay. Moments after distribution of the weekly pay check Jeff made a beeline for his boss’s desk.

“I was only paid for one day’s funeral leave,” he protested to maintenance supervisor Harry Karsh.

“That’s right,” Karsh replied, “the day of the funeral.”

“That’s a rip-off, I’m entitled to three days.”

“Not according to the contract. You told me yourself that Bea’s brother handled the funeral arrangements. Funeral leave is provided to compensate the bereaved for his grieving and to take care of the necessary chores that relate to the death of the loved one.”

“In my case,” Jeff persisted, “those chores included taking care of the house and looking after the kids. Bea was too upset to do it.”

QUESTION: Is Jeff entitled to funeral pay for fulfilling the role of baby sitter?

FINELLI’S DECISION : “Give Jeff the full three days’ funeral pay,” Plant Engineer Moe Finelli instructed Karsh. “No stipulation in the labor agreement states the specific duties the grieving employee must perform. The way I see it baby sitting the kids and handling household chores rate as high in importance as the funeral arrangements or anything else.”

Suspending exempt employees may be the only answer

The recent flurry of age and sex discrimination law suits — along with some of the publicized penalties imposed — made CEO Donald Hammer sit up and take notice (all names have been changed). A recent harassment complaint by Mae Bauman, a tool room attendant in the plant engineering department, had made him lose sleep at night. That case’s resolution was too close for comfort.

Hammer discussed his concern with human relations manager Craig Marshall and plant engineer Sherman Gross.

Gross pursed his brow thoughtfully. “Don’t the Department of Labor’s new regulations deal with this problem?”

“They sure do,” Marshall replied.

Bauman’s complaint charged project supervisor Boris Brickman, an exempt employee, with persistent sexual harassment (propositions, unwelcome embraces, rear end pats, etc.) despite continuing protestations. Even though Brickman’s work was valued, he was warned that his behavior was jeopardizing his job. He sloughed off the warning, protesting at the time that he was just kidding around, trying to be friendly. He accused Bauman of being a prude.

That was two weeks ago. Yesterday afternoon Bauman complained of harassment again and threatened a grievance.

“What do you suggest?” Hammer looked expectantly at Marshall and Gross.

QUESTION: What action do you think is appropriate?

MARSHALL’S SOLUTION : “Talking to the guy apparently wasn’t enough. I’d suggest an unpaid suspension of three or four days. If that doesn’t get the message across, we have no choice but to dump him.”

“He’s an exempt employee,” Gross pointed out. “Can we do that?”

“Under the new DOL regulations, I believe we can. But each case has to stand on its own merit. I’d check with our lawyer to make sure.”

“Good idea,” Hammer said, and picked up the phone.

Sick on vacation: Can it be ascribed to sick leave?

Thoughtful contract negotiations result in successful management-employee relations thereafter. Some issues are straightforward and easy to resolve. Others are complex with tricky ramifications to ponder. The unfortunate occurrence of an employee who falls ill while on vacation fits into this later category.

When a worker falls ill on vacation should the days or weeks of his or her illness be chalked up to sick leave? As maintenance supervisor Larch Coleman would agree, it can be a tough question to answer.

His call was as tough as the question. Sympathizing with stockroom attendant Alice Pierce, he turned down her sick leave request.

His reasoning was simple and made some kind of sense. “If the time you were ill were ascribed to sick leave, it would be an invitation to a host of employees in the future to shoot for the same break. We’d get dozens of calls from people seeking to extend their vacation time: Bad back, sore throat, caught a bug, you name it.”

“I see your point,” Pierce conceded, “but the labor agreement states if an employee on vacation is sick for a week, sick leave will apply. I have a doctor’s note to confirm I was laid up for six days.”

“Six days isn’t a week.”

“It’s more than a week; my work week is only five days.”

“I’ll check it out,” Coleman said.

QUESTION: Should Pierce’s sick time be converted to sick leave?

DEUTCH’S RESPONSE : “Charge the six days to sick leave,” Plant Engineer Mark Deutch instructed the supervisor. “The purpose of that clause is to grant the employee consideration in the event of serious illness. Six days, medically confirmed, is serious enough, and it qualifies as a week under the agreement.”