An NTEU73 member brought an email to the Union office from a manager in SBSE, Excise. But the email could be from any Business Operation with a phone product line. It said:
Please see the attached revised phone schedule for today. Unfortunately, we had a couple people call in so that time has to be covered.
Be sure to sign in to the phone system daily at the beginning of your TOD in case you have any issues such as passwords.
Also, be in READY status five minutes before you are scheduled on the phones. We have not been meeting adherence and this will help and then we can work on trying to get phone time reduced.
If you are not ready for your phone time, you will be charged AWOL.
If you need to leave during your phone time, please give as much notice to the manager as possible so that the phone time can be covered.
Let’s take this “well-meaning” email apart. The manager starts by telling the employees they have a new phone schedule. That’s reasonable enough. Then proceeds to state “a couple of people called in, so the time has to be covered.” This may be factual but is inappropriate. My coworkers do not need to know whether I called in or was scheduled off. They also don’t need an opportunity to blame me for their extra phone hours.
The manager reminds the Team to “sign in to the phone system daily at the beginning of your TOD in case you have any issues such as passwords.” Employees on the phones should log in and be ready to answer the phones, when necessary, but there are rules about switch over time and slippage. The Customer Service Agreement of 2012, says the following:
Sign On/Sign Off (Idle with Reason Codes)
A. General Provision
Sign On/Sign Off (Idle with Reason Codes) will be administered in accordance with the procedures in Attachment 1 to this agreement. If the Employer elects to change Sign On/Sign Off (Idle with Reason Codes) procedures in the future, it will provide notice to National NTEU and bargain to the extent required by law.
B. Form 3081 Preparation and End-of-Shift Activities
1. Employees will be given a total of eighteen (18) minutes per day for beginning and end of shift activities, including completion of Form 3081, etc. Supervisors may approve more time on an as needed basis. The eighteen (18) minutes will be in addition to the time provided in Subsection 1.E.5. below.
C. Sign-on Process
Employees who are required to use Voiceover Internet Protocol (VOIP) and ASPECT will sign on to their computers at the beginning of their TOOs and use the appropriate reason code while signing on to the IRS Intranet. Those employees on ASPECT without VOIP will sign onto their ASPECT telephones at the beginning of their TOO. Once the sign-on process is completed, the employee will then begin answering telephone calls.
Next the manager gives a directive, “Also, be in READY status five minutes before you are scheduled on the phones.” This is appropriate IF your phone schedule isn’t immediately after your start time, breaks or lunch. Federal employees must be paid for every minute they work. Signing on the phone is work. If you are required to sign on and be ready 5 minutes before your tour of duty, you would be entitled to 0.3 overtime because it rounds up from 7 minutes and it will take at least 2 minutes to log in and get to “ready.”
Now, we have the justification for the directive, “We have not been meeting adherence and this will help and then we can work on trying to get phone time reduced.” For this I would like to quote Mark Twain, “There are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” Simply put, adherence is a statistic created from data in a system that records employees logging in and out of the system and compares it to data input by the Systems Administrators as to how many people were supposed to be logged in or out. This metric has nothing to do with number of calls answered/dropped, quality of responses or other measures that might explain operational performance. It is an indicator that a group of employees have been beaten into submission rather than how well they do at their job
Here it comes, you got it, the threat, “If you are not ready for your phone time, you will be charged AWOL.” Punitive use of AWOL (docking Pay) is cheating employees of pay. AWOL is, first and foremost, ABSENCE. Not being in a particular code on your phone is not absence from duty. AWOL is an unpaid leave status. You may be Absent With Out Leave because you failed to follow proper leave procedures, your leave request was not approved for valid business reasons, or you have created a pattern of misusing paid leave. But per the IRM 6.630.1.13, (4) Although AWOL is not considered a disciplinary action, it can form the basis for future disciplinary action.
The other issue with this punitive use of AWOL is that your manager can discipline you for AWOL if it happens often enough. So, while your pay was docked for not logging in quickly enough this week, it adds to the AWOL you got because your child was sick last pay period when you didn’t have leave, and the AWOL you got for being sick the day after a holiday, 2 months ago. So now you can be suspended for 3 days (another loss of pay), not be allowed to telework (if it becomes available) and not receive your performance award (more dollars down the drain) for the year. It really piles up. So please bring these to NTEU73 as soon as you get them. There are often ways to have AWOL removed.
The last thing the manager says is, “If you need to leave during your phone time, please give as much notice to the manager as possible so that the phone time can be covered.” <Sigh> If you are at work and need to leave, it’s probably an emergency. “How long will it take for the ambulance to get to the building? I’ll stay on the phone till they get here.” I don’t think so. But that’s just me.
The last word is “Thanks.” How does one respond? Is the manager truly grateful for the opportunity to lie, cheat and threaten employees in writing? Hmmm, maybe, lots of them seem to enjoy it, well enough.
In the words of Boss Spearman, “Most time, a man will tell you his bad intentions, if you listen, let yourself hear.”
This manager sure has let us know how they plan to move forward. You be ready to respond if your manager does the same thing to you. Ask you manager for time to come to the NTEU73 office, bring the email or AWOL if it’s gotten that far and let us help.
NTEU 73 – Chapter President