Open Season–Part 1
"Hey, want to see my new rifle, Opie?" Harper Johnson, the first shift supervisor, asked one of the operating technicians during a break.
"Yeah, let's look at her," Opie said, reaching over toward Harper. He picked up the rifle and peered through the scope. "She sure is a beauty." Then he tossed the rifle around in his hands. "The weight feels real good too. Where'd you get her from?"
"I saw an ad in Guns and Ammo," Harper said. "I got me some shells at home that'll work just fine. This weekend I'm gonna do some target practice. I wanna be ready by the time huntin' season starts."
It was common for the crew at the small rural plant to have their guns delivered to the company. Many employees lived on rural routes where delivery on mail order items was unreliable. They could always be sure to get their packages delivered promptly at the plant.
"Hey, let's have some fun with that new guy, Wally Beemis. He seems like the nervous type who scares easy," said Harper, before spitting some tobacco juice skillfully into a rusted can several feet away. "My cousin told me this Wally fella has been datin' her daughter. Let's test him out and see if he's man enough to handle the girl," Harper added with a sinister grin. He wiped away a drop of tobacco juice still clinging to his mustache.
Harper's victim, Wally Beemis, worked at the plant as a maintenance technician. He wanted to earn enough money to go to graduate school the next year, so he worked all available overtime. Wally kept to himself mainly, reading books on his breaks.
"Hey, Wally," Harper said as he approached him, taunting with the rifle in his hands. "Ever seen one of these? It could shoot your nuts off at 100 yards."
Wally ignored him.
"I suppose not," Harper grunted. "The kick off this baby would probably send a little weakling like you back six feet," teased Harper, while he and Opie laughed raucously.
Harper attempted to rile Wally for several weeks, but Wally either left the area or ignored him. One day, Wally was standing on an eight-foot ladder to paint some overhead pipes. Harper gathered his cronies, whispering and laughing. As usual, Wally ignored them.
Suddenly, Pop! Bang! Blam! Smoke started to rise from beneath the ladder, where Harper had thrown several cherry bombs. Wally was so startled that he and the paint came tumbling down. Harper and Opie doubled over with laughter as they watched Wally scrape himself off the floor. Harper's laughter turned to fear when he saw a wild look cross Wally's face. Within moments Wally charged toward Harper with eyes blazing.
Harper took off running. Wally quickly began to gain on him, so Harper ducked into an office to hide. Wally spotted the maneuver, entered the office, and jumped over a desk to cut him off. Then he leaped on Harper's back and knocked him to the ground. When Opie and another technician found them, Harper was gasping for breath as Wally gripped him in a choke hold.
While Opie and the technician struggled to pry Wally's arms off Harper, someone called the plant manager, Cleve Borland. When Cleve arrived, he saw all four of them engaged in the fracas.
"What the hell is going on here?" Cleve boomed.
Upon hearing Cleve's voice, everyone stopped fighting. Harper hung his head and Wally sat down quietly. After Cleve got the facts, he immediately suspended Harper without pay for a week and sent him home. He gave Opie and the technician a verbal warning for encouraging horseplay and told Wally to clean up the spilled paint and return to work.
Things were calm for a while, at least until Harper returned. Harper, angered by his suspension, continued to harass Wally with crude comments and threats.
Two weeks later, Wally went to see a psychiatrist and told the doctor about the harassment at work. Wally claimed that his stress was so severe that he could not return to the plant. The doctor certified that Wally should be off work based on stress-related workers' compensation for up to six weeks.
When Wally's six weeks expired, he did not return to work. He informed Cleve's secretary that he was still too stressed to deal with the situation and could not return. Cleve's secretary told Wally that he needed to have a doctor's excuse to remain off work and that his workers' compensation benefit had expired. Wally would need to get new certification to receive continued benefits under workers' compensation. Wally indicated that his attorney said that state law didn't require another doctor's excuse.
When Wally refused to provide another doctor's excuse, Cleve asked the outside agency that handles the company's employee assistance program to help. The staff attempted to work with Wally to facilitate his recovery. Nevertheless, based on the advice of his attorney, Wally continued his refusal to obtain a physician's excuse.
Since Wally didn't return to work or acquire a doctor's excuse, the company terminated his employment for excessive absenteeism. Wally countered with a lawsuit. It was at this point that Alexandra Marcus, the regional human resources representative, and Russell Morris, corporate legal counsel, first became aware of the situation.
"Oh, for crying out loud!" Alexandra exclaimed. "Why do I always have to mop up Cleve's messes? I cover 25 plants in the area, and Cleve is the only plant manager who refuses to call human resources for help until it's too late. He must have some kind of an ego problem or something. It's damn annoying."
"From my initial discussion with Cleve, this one's got some bad facts, Alexandra," Russell informed her. "It sounds like a bad termination, and I'm afraid we're going to get nailed. I think we'd better fly down and investigate."
They investigated the case and learned that no one from the office had ever told Wally directly the consequences of failing to provide a doctor's excuse. Neither Cleve nor his secretary ever said to Wally, "Look, Wally, you're getting some bad advice. We have a policy that says you need to have a doctor's excuse to take advantage of our sick leave policy. If you need more time, perhaps we can move you over to our disability plan. However, if you don't follow this procedure, you have two choices: either quit or you're fired." Instead, Cleve directed his secretary to handle the communication and only retained limited documentation. The only items Cleve documented to the file were Harper's suspension for setting off firecrackers and the verbal warnings given to Opie and the other technician.
To learn how limited documentation came to haunt them click here
Excerpted from Sex, Laws, & Stereogypes, by N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.©