Human Side of Engineering – 2001-12-01

By Raymond Dreyfack Contributing Editor December 1, 2001

Quits without notice: Is he entitled to vacation pay?

Maintenance Supervisor Bill Cosgrove took the call from Charley Maguire at his desk.

“Hey Bill, how come I still didn’t receive the check for my vacation pay. I left three weeks ago. I’m entitled to a week’s accrued vacation, $416.85. How long am I supposed to wait?”

“Ten years as far as I’m concerned.”

Following a pause, Maguire said, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It’s supposed to mean that you’re entitled to no vacation pay, and that’s exactly what you’re going to get. It’s no more than you deserve, quitting without notice and leaving the department in the lurch during a peak period.”

“And what the company’s going to get is sued,” Maguire snapped back. “Refusing to make good on a wage entitlement is against the law.”

“Not if it conforms to the terms of the contract,” Cosgrove replied.

“What terms?”

“Clause 18B on page 132. It states specifically that if an employee is either fired for cause or quits without at least five working day’s written notice, his vacation pay will be forfeited.”

“No way, pal. I’m fighting this to the Supreme Court if I have to.”

“Be my guest.”

Question: How do you rate Maguire’s chances of winning if he follows through with his threat?

Dormer’s verdict: “No vacation pay for Maguire,” Plant Engineer Ralph Dormer ruled. “Clause 18B is a handy one to have around.”

Don’t settle for substandard productivity

Maintenance Mechanic Muhammad Ahmud had been warned repeatedly by Group Supervisor Mike Delaney about his substandard performance. Measured against coworkers with equal experience and longevity, his output ranked between forty and fifty percent of their average productivity.

It finally reached the point where Ahmud’s sub-marginal productivity could no longer be tolerated. Delaney broke the bad news one day with a typed dismissal notice spelling out in detail the reasons for his discharge.

Although, as the record showed, three disciplinary sheets in his file warned of dismissal if his low performance persisted, Ahmud was actually stunned or did a good acting job. He then proceeded to assure Delaney that he would bring his productivity up to par.

“You made that promise before, more than once if I recall.”

“This time I mean it. Give me another chance, and you’ll see.”

“Sorry,” Delaney replied. “You’ve run out of chances.”

Finally, the mechanic accused, “You wouldn’t fire me if I was a lily white American.”

The supervisor denied any prejudice. “You’re being dismissed because of your unacceptable performance, not your ethnic background or religion.”

“We’ll see about that,” Muhammad snapped back.

Question: Is Delaney justified in letting the mechanic go? Does he warrant special consideration because of his ethnicity?

Martin’s verdict: “Muhammad is out of here,” Plant Engineer Greg Martin told Delaney. “While I’m all in favor of treating minority employees with extra care and sensitivity whether they are black, Hispanic, Muslim, or whatever, there’s a line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior that must be drawn for a plant to run efficiently however tolerant a supervisor might be.”

Take care when helping victims of terrorism

In a New England manufacturing plant, Donald Moore, the president, wanted to do his part toward providing money for victim relief and the war against terrorism. (Executives’ names are changed at the company’s request). Moore thought it would be a good idea for employees to contribute a small part of one week’s income to one of the several funds set up for this purpose.

Moore called a meeting of the company’s top management team.

“It’s certainly a worthy cause,” Alice Crenshaw, the company’s human relations vice president, said. “But we have to be careful about how we present it.”

Plant Engineer Fred Bolton nodded agreement. “I think it will have to be proposed on a purely voluntary basis.”

The general manager echoed this sentiment. “We have to make sure there’s no arm twisting involved.”

“Right,” Crenshaw said. “It has to be a suggestion, not a command.”

Bolton added another thought. “The fund chosen should be one relatively neglected thus far, such as a fund earmarked for individuals in the area who lost their jobs or their businesses. For example, the guy who ran a newsstand, or was a waiter in one of the restaurants destroyed, or ran a delivery service.”

Moore agreed. “That’s a good point. We’ll have to work on that. No one’s more deserving than the families of firemen and police who lost their lives. But they’ve had millions pouring in.”

Corporate Attorney Frank Merrick added vehemently. “It’s a great idea, but I don’t think we should make the contribution as a payroll deduction.”

Question: How do you feel about this proposal?

Moore’s decision: After listening to the comments, the president proposed issuing a memo suggesting that the contribution be made on a voluntary basis. He further proposed setting up a sealed box in the cafeteria for donations to be inserted on a voluntary basis. The resulting overall contribution was in excess of $22,000.

When work and religious observance conflict

Asa Masoud was a friendly, soft-spoken middle-aged woman. Her performance rating over her 12 years as a receptionist was excellent.

Asa arrived in America from Saudi Arabia with her family in 1987. Asa was a devout, peace-loving Muslim who would no more think of leaving home without her traditional head dress than showing up at work barefoot. She was horrified by the September 11th atrocity.

Prior to September 11th, Asa got along well with her coworkers. But when the world changed on that fateful day, Asa’s world changed with it.

Work at the plant resumed two days later. That noon John Duggan, the company’s general manager, observed Asa crying. He understood why and attempted to comfort her. “I’m so ashamed,” she confided, “that some of my people could have done a thing like that.”

“The world has its fanatics and extremists,” Duggan replied sadly. “You have no share in the blame.”

Asa thanked him for his sentiments, but two days later Duggan approached her again. “Forgive me for having to say this to you, but I’m going to have to ask you not to wear your head dress at the switchboard. Some of our narrow-minded customers have registered objections.”

“I couldn’t do that,” she protested.

Duggan didn’t argue. “We don’t want to lose you, Asa. There is one alternative. I can transfer you where you wouldn’t come into contact with the public.”

Question: Is the company being unreasonable in its demand?

Duggan’s verdict: “Life isn’t always fair,” Duggan replied. “Anyone who knows you knows you as a decent person. But we have no control over the feelings of some of our customers. I would like you to accept a transfer to another department at no less than the payrate you are currently receiving.”

After discussion with her husband, Asa decided to accept the offer.