Will I Be Fined for Mistakes?

Can the owner make you sign a paper that takes money from you if you run so many bad parts?
Signed Worried I Will Owe My Boss

Dear Worried I Will Owe My Boss:
Your question is straight forward and deserves a clear yes or no. It is a legal one that a labor attorney might be able to answer depending on the size of your workplace and if your employer has any government contracts. We aren’t attorneys and don’t pretend to know or give advice that might be inadequate or wrong.

Yours is a question to which you might get free advice from a call to a local attorney or from your state’s Department of Labor. However, you probably know the answer to your question.
You know you probably can be fired for a good reason or no reason because apparently you work without a contract secured by union bargaining. This is called an “At Will” employment meaning you can be fired at the will of your employer for any good or no reason just as you can quit for any reason. If you make defective parts, that employer can fire you, and probably also can tell you if you won’t sign a paper in which you agree you will pay for making defective parts, you will be fired. Is that fair and right? You may say, “No, that’s not fair. I do my best and the machine and pressure to work fast causes the defects.” You may be right but if you’ve signed, you will have agreed to pay.

Now can you refuse to sign and see if you owner fires you? Yes. Or can you speak with your owner to explain why you don’t want to sign? Yes. If your owner is reasonable, you might not be fired and the owner will understand that you want to work and to do good work. If your owner is hard-nosed about not wanting to pay for defects and possibly to worry he might be liable if defective parts are shipped out, probably he will say, “Goodbye, Sam” or whatever is your name.

Is it reasonable that you should talk with your owner about why you hesitate to sign? Yes, it is always reasonable that you frankly discuss a matter that you think is not fair.
My advice is that you should contact your state’s Labor Department to learn their answer before you sign. Also before you sign, would it not be wise to talk to other machine operators where you are employed or elsewhere to learn if this is an accepted practice?

Doing zero-free products is the goal of every manufacturer. It is a worthy goal and deserves a commitment of those hired, but it is not simply a matter of an individual’s competence. Why is it not? Zero-free or low defect rates hinge on employer-employee training and on the machines and system. One GE plant where I trained team building had training in six sigma to lower the defect rate, and they purchased a multi-million dollar machine from abroad, but that machine, even after months of adjustment, didn’t produce as they hoped. So they renewed their effort to increase high performance from older machines.

You can decide what you feel right about doing, but it would be wise to consider this situation of being asked to sign a learning experience—one that prompts you to talk with your employer about how to manufacture good, durable, and defect-free products at a speed that enables your company to make money. Such a talk will demonstrate your sincerity and should help your owner to reconsider asking you or any other employee to pay for mistakes.

Such a talk is smart because it shows you are not a robot, you are an employee who cares about good work and the good of your workplace. It will also tell if you need to vote with your feet to hunt another job.

Do these thoughts make sense? Check them out and feel free to let us know what you do and what results. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. By that I mean you should work and can help shape your workplace to have reasonable rules and become an employee-friendly place.
Bill Gorden