A couple days ago, some Facebook friends told me that some managers in their department were beginning to discipline their employees for not filling out a made-up “safety form.” This form was devised by some desperate field-manager, likely a second-level, who was no doubt terrified of losing his bonus if one more of his employees reports an on-the-job injury.
In this department, some employees are required to inspect their job-site using the form and, using a diagram and symbols provided by management, list all the hazards identified by the technician in that instant of time. Though a state-wide department, strangely not all similarly situated employees are mandated to do this.
No doubt management told the employees that they were requiring this to help technicians “focus on their surroundings” and “put safety first” or some such self-serving BS. Employees know better: If they are injured performing work at that particular site, their supervisors often try to find a way to make it the employee’s fault. If the hazard is found on the employee’s hazard-map, management’s rationale will be that the employee knowingly did something that would injure themselves, and must be disciplined. If the hazard is not on the form, this is because the employee did not pay enough attention during the site-survey and overlooked the hazard, and therefore must be disciplined!
AT&T”s new “blame the worker” form is made-up and actually called a hazard-map. Hazard-mapping is often used by unions to point out safety concerns to management. This is because under OSHA, once management becomes aware of a safety defect at work, they are required to address the hazard. In other words, making management aware of a safety hazard at a work-location also now makes them legally responsible for an accident/injury (especially if they do nothing).
Like OSHA, AT&T policy also makes management responsible for the hazard, once they are made aware of it by an employee such as a technician. If a technician encounters a serious or likely-serious hazard and cannot determine how the hazard at the work-location should be addressed, there is now a legal and protected basis to stop working on the job — until a manager comes out to assess the hazard and determine the solution. If the manager does not come out to the job-site and instead tells the employee to “figure something out” or ignores the technician’s call then the employee has the right under OSHA to not perform the work and instead the employee should ask the boss to provide safe work. The employee should also inform his steward and may want the steward present if/when the boss comes out. For purposes of discussing these issues with management, a serious hazard is one that causes an unpaid suspension to the employee if he receives an injury from it!
Sometimes when employees demonstrate knowledge of their rights under OSHA, management gets testy and looks for reasons to discipline. This is called retaliation and is usually unlawful. If you believe you are unfairly disciplined for a safety issue at work, an OSHA 11(c) complaint should be filed by the employee (or representative). This complaint is for employees who are disciplined for retaliation by management for reporting an injury or raising safety concerns. An OSHA retaliation complaint must be made within 30 days of the discipline!
If you file a complaint with OSHA (or a state plan such as MIOSHA, CALOSHA, etc.) be sure to involve your union; the local union will likely be able to assist OSHA in explaining AT&T’s “blame the worker” safety policies more comprehensively due to grieving these types of cases. If you’re not sure where to start, check out these resources:
- File a health and safety complaint
- Disciplined for reporting an injury that was not your fault? File away!
- Call OSHA: 1-800-321-6742
Managers have the right to institute work-rules. However, work-rules that impact terms and conditions of employment, such as safety, overtime, and pay can and should be investigated by the union. In the case of the hazard-map above, management has disciplined an employee for not following the work-rule. Some reasonable questions that the union should put to management about this form could include:
- Has EH&S signed off on the new form?
- Where is the policy requiring use of new form?
- Who “invented” the new form? (Get actual name/uuid, so you can email that person some questions, too)
- Do all employees have to follow the rule regarding the form? If not, why not?
- Does management inspect for compliance with the rule regularly? Or, only when there is an accident? (If the latter, this is a red-flag for OSHA 11(c) discrimination case and should be referred!)
Press for answers! Ask in writing or in a grievance-meeting with a note-taker. Even if management has not (yet!) disciplined someone for accidentally violating a made-up work-rule, the union has the right to investigate it for other reasons, such as fairness of application. Example: When one work-group has to follow the form, this takes time off the job. This time likely wasn’t calculated into Company incentive programs (ask!). So, when monthly incentives are issued, one work-group of employees appears less efficient (due to extra work-site inspection form compliance) than one that is not required to fill out the form.
Asking questions like these about “made-up” work-rules is the union role; answering these questions is the management role, no matter how embarrassing the answers! Not answering the union’s questions about these matters can and has led to unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
As a local union, taking a more proactive approach on these “made-up” management policies can bring some relief to work-groups who have “one of those” bosses. Such an investigation is likely to uncover other inequities that can be addressed and make for a fairer workplace. What say you?