Human Side of Engineering – 2001-05-01

Does excused absence invalidate holiday pay? President's Day fell on a Monday. During that weekend, Milton Resnick's uncle Harry passed away. The funeral was on Tuesday and Resnick called his boss, Maintenance Supervisor Tom Lincoln, and asked permission to take the day off. "No problem," Lincoln replied and expressed condolences for Resnick's loss.

By Raymond Dreyfack Contributing Editor May 1, 2001

Does excused absence invalidate holiday pay?

President’s Day fell on a Monday. During that weekend, Milton Resnick’s uncle Harry passed away. The funeral was on Tuesday and Resnick called his boss, Maintenance Supervisor Tom Lincoln, and asked permission to take the day off.

“No problem,” Lincoln replied and expressed condolences for Resnick’s loss.

The following Friday was payday. When Resnick saw his check, he made a beeline for his boss’ desk.

“A mistake was made in my pay; it’s one day short. I wasn’t paid for President’s Day.”

Lincoln pulled out the labor agreement. “You weren’t supposed to get paid. According to the contract, to be eligible for holiday pay, you have to be at work the day before and the day after the holiday.”

“I called and informed you that my uncle had died. You authorized me to take off Tuesday.”

“That’s my point. You didn’t work the day after the holiday. The contract says you have to work — “

“I don’t care what the contract says! It’s a ripoff. “I’m entitled to the holiday pay.”

Question: Should Resnick be paid for the holiday?

Ruder’s ruling: “Pay the guy for President’s Day,” Plant Engineer Ralph Ruder ruled. “For one thing, Resnick wasn’t advised when you authorized his absence that he wouldn’t be paid. For another, the purpose of the day before/day after clause is to discourage employees from extending holidays into longer vacations. His eligibility for the pay shouldn’t even have been questioned.”

Don’t go soft on poor attendance

Today’s speed-up grievance from the maintenance department was the final straw so far as Plant Engineer George Anton was concerned.

Summoning Maintenance Supervisor Vincent DeMilio to his office, he laid it on the line. “This is the third speed-up gripe from your department in as many weeks. What’s going on?”

DeMilio frowned. “I don’t know what to tell you. The work’s gotta get out.”

“No argument there, but you shouldn’t have to push your people to excess to get the job done.”

“I have no choice, unless it’s to keep hiring more temps and part-timers. What with all the absence and lateness these days —”

“So that’s the culprit. I’m not surprised. What are you doing about it?”

“What can I do,” DeMilio replied, “except to keep on their butts? I’ve lectured, cajoled, and threatened until my tongue’s tied in knots. I’ve held meetings and issued memos. Nothing seems to help.”

“What about some good old fashioned tough discipline?”

“I’ve tried that too, but it’s had no effect.”

Question: In the plant engineer’s shoes, what advice would you give DeMilio?

Anton’s mandate: “Those speed-up complaints,” Anton told DeMilio, “are opportunities in disguise. We can kill three bad birds in one fell swoop: the speed-up problem, the attendance problem, and the productivity slump we’re experiencing.” “What do you want me to do?” DeMilio asked. “I want you to get tough on the one hand, and on the other, I want you to make sure the crew understands why. First, I want more and longer suspensions for chronic absence and lateness. And I want employees to get the message that the new policy is in their best interest as well as the company’s. It doesn’t take a Harvard graduate to realize that when people are away from their jobs, speed-up and increased tension are unavoidable. As you say, the work has to get out. If two people wind up doing the work of three, the conclusion is obvious. Get this message across and it may give people something to think about.”

Can you unilaterally change pay period frequency?

When the bulletin board announced a switch from weekly to biweekly pay checks, a self-appointed delegation of three protesters appeared at Maintenance Foreman Ed Slotsky’s desk.

“We’ve been on a weekly pay arrangement for as long as I can recall,” spokesman Jim Gundeson complained. “It’s illegal to make a change without consulting the bargaining unit.”

Slotsky disagreed. “Where does the contract say that management doesn’t have a right to determine the time and method of payment?”

“It doesn’t have to be stated. It’s understood.”

“I don’t know who understands it,” Slotsky said. “I sure don’t.”

“What do you think?” Gundeson asked his fellow delegates.

“I think we’re being ripped off,” one replied.

“Do me a favor,” Gundeson said. “Check it out with the boss.”

Slotsky reluctantly agreed to do so.

Question: Do the workers have a valid case against management’s unilateral change?

Murdock’s verdict: “No way!” Plant Engineer Ralph Murdock told Slotsky. “For one thing, determining how and when employees are paid is a management prerogative. For another, the issue isn’t arbitratable since no mention about pay periods appears in the labor agreement. Only operational grievances and questions that call for the contract’s interpretation can be arbitrated.”

Don’t overlook precedent in administering discipline

Electrician Grade II Perry Shea reported late for his job on the afternoon shift. The relief man from whom he took over wrinkled his nose in distaste when he smelled Shea’s breath. The man walked away shaking his head. He remarked to a coworker, “Shea should be sent home. He’s a danger to himself and to other employees.”

The coworker agreed. “You gonna turn him in?”

“No, but I should.”

As the shift progressed, it became increasingly clear Shea was unfit for the job. Before long, his loud and belligerent voice attracted Maintenance Foreman Paul Garson’s attention.

He approached Shea. “How many drinks did you have before coming to work?”

“One or two. No big deal. I can handle the job.”

“I wouldn’t want to bet on that,” Garson countered. He sent Shea to the medical office for a checkup. When Shea balked, Garson said, “It’s either that or clock out for the day.”

The nurse declared Shea intoxicated and unfit for duty.

When Garson got the report, he fired Shea for being drunk on the job.

The electrician stormed out of the plant in a rage. Next day, back and sober, he accused the foreman of unfair and unequal treatment.

“How do you figure that?”

“Six months ago, Joe Kramer was suspended three days for drinking, at which time he was warned that if it happened again, he’d be fired. You can’t let him get away with it and then give me the ax.”

Question: Can Shea’s argument save him his job?

Bryant’s decision: “Shea deserves to be fired, but the precedent saves his skin,” Plant Engineer Phil Bryant told Garson. “As much of a dud as the guy is, he’s entitled to no harsher treatment than Kramer. Give him the same three-day suspension and warning.”

What constitutes same-sex harassment?

When Electrician Smith and Carpenter Jones broke up, Maintenance Supervisor Brown saw the opportunity he was waiting for. But he would have to proceed carefully. Although it was known that Smith and Jones had been longstanding partners, his own gay status was very much in the closet.

Smith was the man of his dreams. Tall, blonde, good looking, and sensitive, he had been a subject of his fantasies for months. The age difference, Smith at 30, 12-yr his junior, Brown regarded as insignificant. If only he could get Smith to know him

Brown wasn’t sure how best to approach his subordinate. But flattery, he decided, never hurt. So he complimented the electrician every chance that he got.

Smith was clearly pleased by his boss’ comments. It did Brown’s heart good to see his face light up.

Brown finally decided he could wait no longer. He summoned Smith to the small conference room where they could talk in private. There, Brown began nervously, “Uh, I couldn’t help notice that you and Jones are no longer, uh, close.”

Smith’s face blanched. “What the hell business is that of yours?”

Brown moistened his lips. “I would like to make it my business. I’ve always been jealous of Jones, and since you are no longer…”

“What are you saying?”

“I think you know what I’m saying. This is more than a crude proposition. We’re both single. We share the same needs. We could at least try, and if it works…”

Smith’s face turned from chalk white to cherry red. He leaped up, flinging back his chair and stormed out of the room, threatening to sue for sexual harassment.

Question: In your opinion, is Brown guilty of same-sex harassment?

Murdock’s opinion: Plant Engineer Murdock, after listening compassionately to Brown’s shamefaced admission of guilt, summoned the electrician to his office. “Don’t get me wrong, Smith. I appreciate your response to Brown’s misguided behavior, and I’m sensitive to your feelings. But do you expect this to alter the condition of your employment in any way? Will it have a negative impact on your work or income? Did Brown persist in an obnoxious way in his proposals or demands?” “Well…” Smith pulled in his breath. “No, I guess not.” “Then, however distasteful, it really wasn’t harassment, was it?” Smith frowned. “I suppose not.” Murdock smiled. “Then why don’t we all simply forget it ever happened and get on with our lives?”

Can an employee bid down for a job?

When a Mechanic II vacancy was posted, Maintenance Supervisor Ned Paulson was surprised to find Mitch Cochran’s name among the applicants.

“I don’t get it,” he told Cochran. “How come you’re applying for a Grade II job? Your rating’s Grade I.”

“So there should be no question I’m qualified.”

“None at all. But downgrading Grade I to II would mean a 15% reduction in pay.”

“Marge and I discussed that,” Cochran replied. “The Grade II job is on the day shift. We agreed the cut would be worth it to get me off the late shift and lead a more normal life.”

Paulson frowned. “I see your point. But bidding down for a job is unprecedented. I don’t know if it’s allowed.”

“Please check it out for me. I really want that job. As senior man and clearly qualified, I think I’m entitled to it.”

“Maybe so,” Paulson said, “but there’s another factor to be considered. As a Grade I mechanic, you’re needed on the swing shift. But I’ll talk to the boss and let you know.”

Question: Do you think Cochran should be permitted to bid down for the Mechanic II job?

Meltzer’s verdict: “Arbitrators are divided on this issue,” Plant Engineer Irving Meltzer informed Paulson. “Since no clause in the contract specifically restricts either downward or lateral bidding, my suggestion is to honor Cochran’s bid and make a shift adjustment accordingly.”

Are visits to a psychiatrist valid sick leave?

Painter Sam Selikoff appeared at Maintenance Supervisor Mel Greene’s desk with a glum expression on his face.

“What happened, Sam?” Greene asked. “You look like somebody shot your dog.”

“I got a problem,” Selikoff replied.

“Okay, I’m listening.”

“My shrink says I’m well enough to work, but he wants to see me once a week. That means every Tuesday, I’ll have to lose an hour or so.”

“For how long?”

“He didn’t say.”

Somewhat reluctantly, Greene agreed to go along with the worker for no more than 3 mo. “After that you’re on your own.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning that you’ll have to see your psychiatrist on your own time.”

The end of 3 mo found Selikoff still under treatment. When Greene informed him he could no longer allow the time off, the worker protested.

“I’m entitled to 2-wk sick leave a year,” he argued. “I don’t see why that lost time each week can’t be deducted from my sick leave.”

“Because the visits to your shrink don’t qualify as sick leave. Case closed.”

Selikoff disagreed and threatened to fight the decision.

Question: If Selikoff follows through with his threat, how do you rate his chances to win?

Plant engineer’s decision: “Either Selikoff resumes his normal work schedule, or we let him go. ” Plant Engineer Al Mitchell ruled. “The purpose of sick leave is to compensate employees for unforeseen illness, not recurrent treatment of indefinite duration. In allowing him 3 mo of visits, you bent over backwards and then some to accommodate him. More than that, we just can’t do.” Send us your ideas for the “Human Side”

If you have an idea for a “Human Side of Engineering” case, please send it to: Human Side of Engineering, PLANT ENGINEERING magazine, 2000 Clearwater Dr., Oak Brook, IL 60523; e-mail: ; fax: 630-320-7145.