"Human resources, Nick Richards," Nick responded when he answered his phone at 7:30 on Monday morning.
"Nick, it's Nancy," said the general manager. "I've got some bad news. We found out late on Friday that we didn't get the contract on the Elerbee Bridge with the state. That means we'll need to start layoffs beginning next Monday. I've got a list of all the effected employees that need to be notified. Can you get the process started today?"
Nick was not surprised by the phone call. Their business lived and died by state and federal contracts, so he was always prepared. "Of course, Nancy. How many employees are we talking about?"
"Thirteen to be exact."
"Okay, send your secretary down with the list," Nick said. "I'll take care of the rest."
"Thanks, Nick," Nancy said and clicked off the line.
Nick began the paperwork. On Wednesday, he arranged to notify all 13 employees of the layoff. He indicated the layoff would begin at the end of business on Friday.
As soon as Derrick Lazurby, an engineering drafter-designer, received his notice, he informed his supervisor that he had a doctor's appointment the following morning. Derrick indicated he expected to return to work by noon. The next day, Derrick presented his supervisor with a letter from the doctor. The letter certified that Derrick was a chronic alcoholic and required immediate sick leave.
His supervisor was shocked. Derrick had never exhibited any clues that he might be an alcoholic. He rarely missed work, and although his performance was hardly stellar, it certainly was satisfactory. "I'm sorry to hear this, Derrick," his supervisor said sincerely. "Would you like me to make arrangements for you to enter a treatment center? I don't know if you are aware, but the company can arrange for you to go to the Betty Ford Center."
"No thanks," Derrick replied.
"Well, what type of treatment are you going to receive?" his supervisor asked.
"None, I'm just going to stay home."
"I don't get it–don't you want to recover?"
"You don't have to get it. I'm not going to any stupid rehab center," Derrick stated adamantly.
Derrick's supervisor presented the information to Nick. As Nick listened to the supervisor's explanation and reviewed the doctor's letter, warning signals went off. "I find the timing of Derrick's appointment curious," Nick thought. "I wonder whether it's mere coincidence that it occurred immediately after learning of the layoff, or just a clever move on Derrick's part? And his refusal to seek help is very strange. Something is just not right here."
Although Nick assumed the doctor's certificate was valid, he suspected that Derrick may be attempting a goldbricking technique. If Derrick was placed on sick leave prior to the date of layoff, he would be removed from the layoff pool. That meant he would be eligible for full pay for a minimum of eight weeks and avoid the reduced salary provided by unemployment compensation.
On the other hand, if Derrick's alcoholism was legitimate, Nick felt an obligation to ensure that he receive help. Nick briefed Skylar Arnold, his outside legal counsel, on the facts and asked for assistance.
"Can't we at least require him to check into a rehabilitation center to secure treatment?" Nick asked.
"I'm afraid not," Skylar advised him. "We can't handle this any differently than if it were an appendectomy."
Nick was livid. "So you're saying that we let this guy go home and drink himself to death!"
"Sad, but true, Nick."
"Look, Skylar, I don't think it's the same thing. Right now he's on the company's sick leave. We pay for that, not an insurance company. Why can't I tell him that our policy assumes that if you're sick, you seek treatment? If you don't seek treatment, we don't pay."
"I don't think that would be prudent," Skylar maintained. "He could open up a whole legal can of worms that you don't need."
The whole situation smelled foul to Nick, but he deferred to Skylar. Derrick remained on paid sick leave for eight weeks. Subsequently, the company's long-term disability policy continued to cover his case for nearly six more months until he finally died. To this day, Nick is uncomfortable with the handling and outcome of the situation. He feels that he should have ignored the attorney's advice and interceded with a demand that Derrick seek treatment. If he had, perhaps Derrick would be alive today.
To learn how what the HR and Legal Panels thought how this situation could have been handled more effectively, click here.