The meeting lasted only ten minutes, since all those present quickly agreed that Tom Kinder should be fired. According to management, Kinder had caused the company numerous problems over the last eighteen months, and the incident that Saturday had been “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Plant management believed it had rid itself of a poor employee, one the company had offered numerous opportunities for improvement. It seemed like an airtight case and one the union could not win if taken to arbitration.
Tom Kinder had worked for the Aero Engine Company for fourteen years prior to his discharge. He was initially employed as an engine mechanic servicing heavy-duty diesel engines. For his first nine years with Aero Engine, he was considered a model employee by his supervisors and plant management. Kinder was also well liked by his fellow employees. His performance appraisals were always marked “exceptional,” and his personnel folder contained many commendation letters from customers and supervisors alike. Supervisor Mark Lee described Kinder as “devoted to his job of building and repairing engines.” Through company-sponsored training classes and courses taken at a local trade school, Kinder had acquired the knowledge and experience to build and repair specialty engines used in arctic oil exploration.
The Aero Engine Company, with headquarters in the Midwest, was engaged primarily in the production and maintenance of specialty engines used in drilling, rapid growth in sales volume, number of products produced, and the size of its workforce since 1985. (At the time of Tom Kinder’s termination, the company employed about 1, 700 employees.) Aero Engine avoided hiring new personnel and then laying them off when they were no longer needed. Company policy stated that layoffs were to be avoided except in extreme circumstances. When heavy workloads arose, the natural solution to the problem was to schedule large amounts of overtime and to hire temporary employees through one of the local temporary help services.
Tom Kinder’s work problems had begun approximately five years prior to his discharge when he went through a very emotional and difficult divorce. He was a devoted family man, and the divorce was a shock to his values and his way of life. The loss of his children was particularly devastating to his mental well-being. He became sullen, withdrawn, and argumentative with his supervisors. Several of Tom’s close friends described him as having a “depressed attitude” at work. Aero Engine has a comprehensive employee assistance program (EAP) for employees experiencing personal and family problems. Tom’s supervisor, Gordon Thompson, had recommended the services of the EAP to Kinder, but it was unknown if he had used counseling since the EAP program is voluntary and confidential. Management professes that it took a very proactive and humanistic approach toward Kinder, an employee the company valued and respected. However, regardless of the company’s concern for Tom, his work performance became problematic.
An absenteeism problem developed and continued until his discharge. Over the eighteen months prior to this termination, Tom was absent twenty-seven complete days and nine partial days and was tardy nineteen times. Twelve months before termination, he had been given a written warning that his attendance must improve or he would face further disciplinary action, including possible discharge. Unfortunately, his attendance did not improve; however, he received no further disciplinary action until his discharge on Monday, June 9, 2008.
Management had experienced problems other than absenteeism with Tom Kinder. The quantity and quality of his work had decreased to only an acceptable level of performance. His supervisor had discussed this with him on two occasions, but no disciplinary action was ever instituted. Furthermore, during heavy production periods Kinder would either refuse to work overtime assignments or, once assigned, would often fail to report for work. It was an incident that occurred during a Saturday overtime shift that caused his discharge.
On Saturday, June 7, Kinder was assigned to a high-priority project that required him to build a specialty engine for a large and loyal customer. The big new engine was needed to replace a smaller engine that had exploded on an Alaskan drilling rig. The engine was being built in a newly constructed plant building located on-half mile from the company’s main production facilities. At approximately 9:15 AM on that Saturday, Gordon Thompson had walked over to the new building to check on the progress of the engine. As Thompson passed by a window, he noticed Kinder sitting at a desk with his feet up, reading a magazine. The supervisor decided to observe him from outside the building. After about twenty-five minutes, Kinder had not moved, and Thompson returned to the plant to report the incident to Glenn Navarro, the plant production manager. Neither the supervisor nor the production manager confronted Kinder about the incident.
At 8:15 the next Monday morning, supervisor Thompson and production manager Navarro met with the director of human resources to review the total work performance of Tom Kinder. After this short meeting, all those present decided that Tom Kinder should be fired. Tom’s discharge notice read, “Terminated for poor work performance, excessive absenteeism, and loafing.” At 10:15 that morning Kinder was called into Navarro’s office and told of his discharge. Navarro then handed him his final paycheck, which included eight hours of work for Monday.
1. Comment on the handling of this case by the supervisor, production manager, and director of human resources.
2. How much concern should organizations show employees before taking disciplinary action for personal family problems? Explain.
3. To what extent where the concept s of good discipline and “just cause” discharge applied?
4. 4. If Tom Kinder’s discharge went to arbitration, how would you decide the case? Why? What arguments would labor and management present to support their respective positions?


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