Husband Hurt Back, Told to Suck It Up!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about injury:

My husband was hurt two months ago on the job. At first we didn’t think it was serious. But after one doctor told us he needed a back surgery because two bones were not connected, we thought long and hard about what to do. He told his boss the moment he felt pain, but he said suck it up; if you try to claim unemployment they will fire you. He is the only worker in the family. I am at home with our 10 month old and trying to go to school.

Finally one night he pushed something at work and his whole back started popping. They called the ambulance and said to bill workmen’s comp. When a couple of days later, he saw the company doctor, he pushed on his back, and said he was fine, no x-rays or anything. We can’t afford to lose any income so he went back to work that same day, when other doctors said to stay away for at least two weeks. What should we do?

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How Do I Avoid Workplace Birthday Celebrations?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about office birthday celebrations:

I work in an office of about 150 coworkers. My birthday was this past year. I did not want a big deal made of it and I told people that. I walk into work the next morning having my desk decorated, a huge food spread in the empty cube next to mine, gifts, cake, etc. My problem is I feel I can’t possibly participate in every birthday celebration at work for financial reasons and stuff. I cannot begin to tell you how many times birthday cards go around at work asking for money for birthdays and food day celebrations.

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Gotta’ Go, But Want Privacy!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about vandalized restrooms:

We just recently moved into a great facility. The restrooms are very nice. Lately we have had employees deface the restrooms. Smearing feces on the walls, smearing blood on the walls. Peeing on the floor. The upper management has set in place that an employee must sign in and out with their supervisor before going to the restroom. If they do not they will receive disciplinary action with the company. If the problem persists the company states that they will put cameras in the rest rooms. We are located in Ohio. Are they allowed to do this? Isn’t it an invasion of privacy? Thanks.

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How Do I Get My Tuition Reimbursement?

Question:

I currently work for a large company, and they have just announced a policy change to their tuition reimbursement policy. The previous policy paid 100% of books and tuition. They have now decided that if you want to take part in this benefit, you have to agree to a one year retention policy if you use this benefit as of January 1, 2006. This was announced mid-October 2005. My question is that the current fall semester in 2005 ends December 16th, 2005 that I am told is past the financial year-end deadline of December 9th, 2005. This means that the classes I am taking this fall will count as being taking in 2006 and the retention policy will be applied to me.

Can they legally change this policy if it affects me and the benefits that I have already used? The last day to withdraw from the fall semester was August 20th, 2005 that was before they announced the change so I was not ever given a chance to decide if I wanted to accept the new terms or not. I would assume that if a benefit is given and the employee already used it based on the original terms then they cannot change the terms attached to it. This seems like a bait and switch tactic that is a form of fraud being they gave me a benefit to use and after use they decided to change their mind and tell me I now owe them a year service or I will have to repay them. Thanks for you help

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Husband Works In Cold and Heat!

Question:

My husband works in an office/warehouse where there is no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. Is this allowed?

Signed,

Concerned For Hubby

Answer:

Dear Concerned For Hubby:

A company is not required to condition their air for the comfort of the employees unless the air may be a health risk. There are “safety regulations” which are administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U. S. Department of Labor. But these do not include heating or cooling the facilities. Thinking of the well being of employees and the profits of the company should be balanced. Employees should voice their concerns for what is reasonable. Thinking for one’s self is necessary in light of what is reasonable for all concerned. That is what we mean by WEGO. Do keep us posted on what your husband and his employer do or don’t do.

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When Is A Written Warning Not A Written Warning?

Question:

A co-worker was taken to one side to be given a verbal warning. This was followed up 4 days later by a harsh letter, but the title of the letter was verbal warning, not written warning. The employers are claiming the letter was not a written warning, but a recording of the verbal warning. When is a written warning not a written warning please?

Signed,

Disability Adviser

Answer:

Dear Disability Adviser:

Your question is frequently asked! From the viewpoint of human emotions, any warning that appears in writing is written. But from an organizational and legal perspective that is not the case.

The terms written warning and verbal warning do not refer to the pieces of paper but to a stage in the progressive discipline policy of a company. Stages of progressive discipline are required for legal support of management disciplinary actions and so is documentation. There may be times when a situation is so serious that a supervisor can jump over one stage and go directly to another one, but for most performance or behavior issues, the stages are effective for correcting behavior without serious punitive action. Here is an overview of what I teach on the subject, and it reflects best practices in most settings, whether in the U.S. or the U.K.:

The three first steps to correction of undesirable behavior or performance:

1. Verbal counseling is an attempt by a supervisor to redirect behavior by discovering root causes and allowing the employee an opportunity to discuss mitigation. The picture of verbal counseling is, for most of us, less tense and more supportive and often is part of informal supervisor/employee interactions. Verbal counseling may or may not formally documented according to the nature of the conversation. For example, a supervisor might verbally counsel someone over coffee and tell him or her that he is concerned about a behavior and wants to know what is going on. That counseling would not require official documentation, but an email to the employee thanking him for his openness and supporting improved behavior, would provide informal documentation. A note in the supervisor’s planner that a conversation took place might also be considered documentation. Documentation at some level is important to establish that an attempt was made by the supervisor to correct performance in a supportive way.

A possible documentation email: Dear Karen, Our conversation yesterday about you not leaving your worksite early was a very important one. I felt good about the fact that you understood the importance of your job and how much you are needed, right until work is done at 4 p.m.

Yesterday when I saw you putting your things away before closing time, I was concerned. You could have gotten in serious trouble if you had left early. If you have a situation in the future that you think will require you to leave early, please ask me several days in advance if possible and I’ll do what I can to help you adjust your schedule. The important thing is that we actively communicate and I felt we were able to do that yesterday.

As I told you yesterday, I appreciate your good work and especially your courtesy to clients who need assistance.

2. A verbal warning is the first step in the progressive discipline program of most organizations. It is directed at specific behavior with a warning that if the behavior continues more serious action will take place. Often a supervisor on-site has already corrected the employee and immediately or close to the time of the event, so the verbal warning will be the second time the matter has been discussed, but it is necessary to establish the progressive discipline stages. The supervisor on behalf of management and at their direction administers the Verbal Warning.

A verbal warning should be as well-planned as a written warning, in that it should be given in private setting with documentation made and kept in the employee’s file until a purge date, as well as given to the employee.

The documentation does not constitute a written warning for the purpose of progressive discipline, it is precisely what is says: A documentation (written record) to prove that the employee was warned once, and it is required if ever the employer has to prove that an employee was given a chance to correct their behavior. It is not the format of the documentation that makes a warning written or verbal, but rather the stage of the progressive discipline program that has been reached.

The documentation should only cover the issues that were covered in the verbal warning and when possible should be given at the time of the verbal warning rather than being written afterwards. The advantage of writing it afterwards is that the supervisor can document the nature of the interview that took place at the time of the verbal warning. The disadvantage of writing it afterwards and sending it to the employee, is that it keeps bringing up an issue that may have already been resolved.

The verbal warning documentation should be brief but can be less formally written than an official written warning: Dear Karen Rider, The purpose of this letter is to provide a written record of the Verbal Warning you received from me today, June 23, 2005. Yesterday, on June 22, 2005 I saw that you had left the worksite before quitting time, which is a violation of RR 302- Leaving Worksite Without Permission. I tried to contact you by cell phone but was unable to do so. When I talked to you today you said you had a doctors appointment at 4:30 on June 22, and left work early to get there on time.

On May 10th, 2005 I counseled you about making sure you stay at your worksite until closing time because I had seen you putting your things away ten minutes before closing and had directed you to return to your work activities. At that time you said you understood that you should not leave work early. I instructed you to ask permission if you felt you needed to leave.

When I gave you the official Verbal Warning today, I again instructed you to ask for permission to leave early in the future. I also told you that if you leave without permission again you could be subject to more serious discipline in our progressive discipline program. This Verbal Warning will be in effect for one year from today.

Please contact me if you have questions about this documentation or the issues to which it refers.

3. A written warning is the next step in the progressive discipline program. Often the employee has been given an immediate verbal correction or reprimand and told not do an action again or to improve work. That supervisory correction is not part of the official discipline process. The official Written Warning (I capitalize it to show it is official) is part of the formal organizational process and is usually given on the instructions of HR or managers. The written warning is given in a private interview or mailed to the employee. The private interview is much better, in that allows a continuing relationship with the supervisor.

The written warning is more formal: Dear Karen Rider, This is an official Written Warning about your violation of RR-302, Leaving Worksite Without Permission. On June 23, 2005 you were given an official Verbal Warning about the same violation. At that time you were told that further violations could result in progressively more severe discipline. Yesterday, on June 26 you were not at your worksite at 4 p.m. Investigation disclosed that you left work at 3:50 p.m. When I contacted you on your cell phone you said you had a family function to attend. At that time it was 4:05 p.m. and I did not order you to return to your worksite since your workday was officially over.

You were in violation of RR-302 for the second time in two weeks. This Written Warning advises you that if you violate this rule again you may be subject to more severe action, including dismissal. This Written Warning will be in effect for two years from today.

If you have questions about this matter you may direct them to me or to Bill Edwards, Director of Human Resources.

So, those are the first three stages…each resulting in something in writing to the employee, but each called something different: Verbal counseling, verbal warning, written warning.

I hope that is helpful to you. I know that many employees perceive the written documentation of a verbal action as a written action. Usually once they understand that the terms verbal and written in this context refer to a stage in a process rather than a format, they accept it, even if they do not agree with it.

Incidentally, you ought to SEE how complicated this gets when an organization has unofficial counseling, such as I mentioned and also Official Verbal Counseling, Verbal Warning, Written Warning, Verbal Reprimand, Written Reprimand, Written Intervention and finally, Performance Improvement Plan! Every one of those seems to the employee to be about the same thing, but they all have a different function. Actually, they are all designed to keep the employee from going higher in the disciplinary levels by changing the behavior that is a problem.

Apparently there are other issues operating in the matter about which you are concerned, and I hope those get worked out as well.

Tina Lewis Rowe The Workplace Doctors Both oral and written communication is important in establishing a WEGO working relationship. Each has its sequential role in policy and practice.

Follow Up: Thank you for your explanation I can see the point you are making. What would be the status a letter which is considered much more formal and harsh in tone than the examples you give and which outline aspects which were not included in the informal verbal interview and which also indicates a possibility of dismissal? I would appreciate your thoughts on this. This seems to me to be bridging two steps in the process. This is the message I sent back to Ms. Hall and the thanks she sent back to me.

You asked: What would be the status of a letter which is considered much more formal and harsh in tone than the examples you give and which outline aspects which were not included in the informal verbal interview and which also indicates a possibility of dismissal? I would appreciate your thoughts on this. This seems to me to be bridging two steps in the process.

Without knowing the circumstances, let me use the same situation I mentioned before….Ms. Rider, who left her worksite early. Here’s something she might receive: ****************** Dear Karen Rider, This letter is to inform you that your actions of leaving your worksite early as you did yesterday, June 22, will not be tolerated and may make you subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal.

This action not only indicates your lack of compliance with rules, but also an apparent attitude about respect for the organization. Further, your work has been less than standard in several areas and you have failed to correct those deficiencies when they were brought to your attention.

There must be a change in your attitude and behavior if you intend to remain with Widget Corporation. Starting today and for the next two weeks you will be receiving training materials regarding rules and regulations via email which you will be expected to read, print and sign to indicate your understanding, then return them to your supervisor for filing. You are also hereby notified that any violation of rule of regulation will be considered in the light of these recent events.

********************* THAT would be more harsh, include things not mentioned in the first situation and clearly indicating that the employee is on her last legs with the company. Here is the way I would consider that, based on what the letter to which you refer contains: 1. If it outlines steps required for improvement, especially if there are indications of supervisory involvement, I’d call it a Reprimand and Performance Improvement Plan, which is usually the last step before either the employee improves or is dismissed.

2. If it only reprimands, I’d call it a Written Reprimand, but I would say it should not include things that have not been investigated and proven or were not discussed with the employee.

If the employee has had several things discussed with her in the past, there might be a reason to include it, to say, “See? All these things are piling up!” That would not require recent conversations about it. Sometimes a supervisor will warn someone, then think about it or talk about it to the boss and they take it much more seriously. Next thing you know, the matter has escalated far past what it started to be.

Here’s my general view: Unless there are union issues involved……or even if there are…….. the most important thing is to get the underlying problems cleared up. I would like the employee to ask for a meeting with the supervisor who corrected her and the HR staff, and find out just what is going on. Or, just to the supervisor if she thinks that would help. The easiest way, is to say, “I see what you mean about you viewing this as a written documentation of a verbal warning. But it sounds much harsher to me, no matter what it is called officially, and it mentions things my you didn’t talk to me about before. How serious is the problem? Am I on the verge of being dismissed? If I am, what can I do to make things better? I don’t want to feel that I’m teetering on the edge and I know I’m trying to do good work. So, can you help me understand this better?”

Or something like that. The key is to let them know there is a concern and that the employee wants to know where she stands. Often when that is confronted supervisors and managers hasten to say that no, there is no risk to employment. Or, they say yes there is and at least the employee knows how bad things are!

Before that, the employee would benefit from listing the things that have already been said to her about problems and what she has done to respond to those. That would be a good thing to bring up in the meeting if she can show she has made an effort to correct issues.

I say that, because I would doubt this is the very first time there has been a conflict with the supervisor or with management. Usually things don’t jump from fine to rotten that quickly! In the meantime, look at company policies about progressive discipline and see if that might give you an idea of where things are. If they hadn’t said it was a verbal warning, I might have thought they’d jumped to a higher level right away….and that’s sometimes the right thing to do. But if they say it’s at the lowest level of discipline it makes one wonder what would be worse! (I’m making a value judgment based on what you said, of course, but you seem to be reporting carefully and accurately.)

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Injured, Not Welcomed Back!

Question:

I have been a housekeeper for a senior apt complex for 18yrs. I had to have a knee operation. I was gone for 9 wks. They had replaced with a Ukrainian man, I had worked in a place called Ukrainian village( run by a Ukrainian board) but managed by the company I worked for. When I came back to work, no one welcomed me back; no one asked how I was. Then a manager from the company I work for calls me in the office hands me a schedule to go faster knowing that I am on dr. restrictions. I have an email from the office there that told me, they were told not to welcome me back or ask how I was. They just wanted me out, so that man could have my job. I cried so hard and left and never returned. How can you treat a longtime employee like this? I want to sue them for a hostile environment when I returned. Will I be able too? Thank you.

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Zapped And Losing My Hair!

Question:

I was zapped with electric coming from my machine at work. I never had this happen before, and I’m really concerned. They couldn’t get the machine grounded, and I was being shocked every day. My hair was down to my waist, and it just started falling out. Now it’s to my shoulders. I don’t know what to do. Please can you help me? Thank you.

Signed,

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Answer:

Dear Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow:

Hair loss remains a mystery in medicine. Most of the time “Alopecia”, as excessive hair loss is called, cannot be explained. However, you really should go to your doctor to seek some other possibilities for its cause other than electric shocking. I do hope your machine gets fixed, but I don’t think that is the likely cause. You should check your nutrition and your general health status that can be determined with the help of your family doctor.

Ed Hollenberg, M.D. Seek advice and share what you know is WEGO mindedness

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If The Time Clock Is Wrong, Can They Dock Me?

Question:

I am aware that employers can dock employees for lateness; however, what recourse do I have if the time clock is four minutes fast? I have brought the fact of the time clock being fast to management, and their response was for me to set my clock to the time clock. Also, can they deduct from my overtime instead of my regular time if I am late to work?

Signed,

Docked

Answer:

Dear Docked:

The issue is twofold: is your clock actually correct? For the time being, no. Move your clock ahead five minutes and you won’t be late. Secondly, they are correct in deducting the time from your overtime. If you owe them, say 15 minutes, then you would not deduct from regular time, since you have already exceeded the 40 hours. If you worked 45 hours and 15 minutes total time, then they are correct in deducting from the total, not the subtotal of 40 hours.

Time management is a collaborative process. Think WEGO

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Is Why I Take A Sick Day My Business?

Question:

In the state of Illinois, can an employer ask an employee why they are taking a sick day?

Signed,

Can They Ask?

Answer:

Dear Can They Ask?:

It depends if the question is job-related or casual conversation or if your presence is required for performance of necessary tasks, in other words, your presence is required. If you’re looking for cause in an action, look elsewhere. Could it be that this person was just showing concern? Worried that something is seriously wrong? Offering assistance. Rather than taking your present position, try ignoring or just saying “It’s personal, thank you for your concern.”

My present position quip referred to the defensive nature of the person asking this question. One should try not to jump to conclusions when all the facts aren’t in. Trying to guess other’s motives usually lands us in trouble. The answer to when or how a sick day is excused and whether they need a Doctor’s “Excuse” depends on the company. Some companies deduct merit points for sick days; some require an excuse. This person should look in their employee handbook for the answer to the question. The handbook might say three sick days per 125 workdays is allowed or 5 sick days per year. How each is handled SHOULD be in the book.

A positive mental attitude thinks WEGO.

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