Tag Archives: paid leave

Making the Tough Calls: It’s What Leaders Do


toughdecisionsWe had a big project underway in our Human Resources Department—combining the company’s vacation and sick pay policies into a paid leave bank. The HR group had recommended this change for several years, but it had taken time to get the company’s leadership on board. This time, it looked like it was a go. We would make the change at the beginning of the next calendar year. It was October, and we were ready to communicate to managers, and then to the employee population at large.

We held one last meeting with the IT folks to confirm that our time reporting systems could handle the transition. They’d been confident in prior conversations. But this time—with the HR manager spearheading the project (one of my direct reports), my boss the Vice-President of HR, and me all present—the IT guys said, “It will take us two man-years and $150,000. Can’t be done in less than six months.”

I knew immediately that however much I wanted to support my project manager who had worked hard to bring the paid leave bank to fruition, the project was dead in the water. We couldn’t proceed without the systems in place to track employees’ time. It was a decision I didn’t want to make, but the only reasonable choice for the company at that time.

My boss and I looked at each other. I couldn’t look at the project manager, who was facing a year’s work going down the toilet. “We have to pull the plug,” I said. “We can’t do it this year.”

Whose fault was it? IT’s for not being honest in earlier meetings? My project manager’s for not pushing IT harder? It didn’t matter, the decision was clear. Ranting about who was at fault was not going to help, though the project manager and I had a couple of private conversations later about the problem.

A recent article on Inc.com, How to Control the Damage When Making Unpopular Choices, by Alix Stuart, for the March 2015 issue of Inc. magazine, reminded me of this situation.

Image from Forbes

Image from Forbes

There are times in every leader’s career when he or she must make hard choices. Do you push for what you want, or settle for what you can have? Do you take a risk or play it safe? Do you pursue Product X or Product Y?

Many times the choices are not as clear as the choice I faced over the paid leave bank. The Inc.com article makes good points about trying to communicate well in the time leading up to the decision. But ultimately, leaders have to make the call and deal with the consequences.

Dealing with the consequences requires listening to the people hurt by the decision, mitigating the harm where you can, and standing firm when you believe your decision was right. I spent many hours listening to my project manager after the decision, helping him plan our next foray into paid leave banks (which was successful). But I never thought we had any good alternative to the decision I made.

When have you had to make a tough decision and face the consequences?

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Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management

Favorite Firings Series: Bringing Pot Brownies to Work


In my last “favorite firing” post, I asked “what was this employer thinking?” This time, my question is, “What was that employee thinking?”

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported recently that a bus driver, whom I will call Driver MJ, brought double-fudge Betty Crocker honey brownies laced with marijuana to work and gave them to other bus drivers. Driver MJ was fired after an administrative hearing.

In the places where  I worked, this would have been known as a termination for being “too stupid to work here,” hence my question, “What was he thinking?” Most likely, Driver MJ wasn’t thinking, or was only thinking while under the influence.

Not only did Driver MJ lose his job, he faces criminal prosecution.

So this is a “favorite firing” because the employee’s behavior was wrong on so many levels.

The more interesting questions in this situation involved the actions the employer took with respect to the three drivers who consumed the brownies.

The Facts:  When Driver MJ brought the homemade brownies to work, at least one of the other drivers allegedly asked whether the treats had any pot in them. Driver MJ said they did not.

When the three other drivers later realized the brownies had in fact been laced and they became dizzy, they stopped driving their vehicles and called for replacements. Thus, these drivers acted appropriately once they realized their driving was impaired.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System then placed the three drivers on paid leaves of absence and told them they could not return to work unless they submitted to drug counseling, as federal regulations of transportation workers require. One of the drivers accepted these terms.

The other two refused the terms for the paid leave, not wanting to undergo counseling because they had not intentionally taken the drugs.  These two drivers were put on unpaid leave.

Ultimately, the Federal Transit Administration waived the requirement that these employees receive drug counseling, and they were permitted to return to work

The Moral: Driver MJ caused far more problems than he anticipated, not only for himself, but for his co-workers. The other drivers did exactly the right thing and stopped driving, which prevented any injuries to themselves, their passengers, and the public.

The Metropolitan Transit System also investigated and took prompt action, which was appropriate. Some commentators have questioned why the MTS the drivers on an unpaid leave while pursuing the drug counseling issue. But based on the articles I’ve read, the MTS acted in accordance with federal regulations for transit workers.

Still, the right outcome in this situation is what happened: The regulations were waived.

If you had been one of these drivers, would you have objected to the counseling on principle, or been more concerned about keeping your job?

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Please send me ideas for stories on workplace terminations for this series. If you have an interesting situation, please email me or leave a comment below. But please disguise the facts to protect the innocent (and not-so-innocent) unless the situation is well-publicized, and then include a link to support your story.  I will only publish verified stories.

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Filed under Human Resources, Law