Look, there’s an endless supply of jokes about dealing with HR in any company, but if there’s a moral to this story, it’s that having HR on your side can really REALLY fuck over a loathsome boss. Especially when that boss tries to cut corners on a ridiculous scale.
Years ago one of my employer’s clients decided to set up a new office in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I got chosen to spend three weeks there getting the new space set up.
Also chosen for the job was a guy from another division’s Chicago office, Dave.
I’d never worked with Dave before, but from the start I didn’t like him much. He was never less than fifteen minutes late, he lumbered like a zombie, and I caught him dozing off more than a few times during the first week on site.
Still, he was the closest thing I had to a friend in Fort Wayne, so I invited him out to the bar on Friday for all the company-funded booze we could drink.
“I wish!”, he says. “I’m going home and passing out until Monday, the commute has been killing me.”
It seems Dave’s boss had been a dick, and, instead of paying for a plane ticket, hotel and rental car like my boss had, he’d instructed Dave to drive.
From Chicago, almost three hours away.
Me: Dude.. That is like, totally no bueno. Six hours a day just driving?!?
Dave: Yeah, it sucks.
Me: Still, it’ll be killer money. That puts you at what, like 70 hours this week? Jeez. Make sure you put in for your gas and tolls quick though, the last time I had to get reimbursed for expenses it took ’em over a month.
I could see what little light Dave’s eyes held fade.
Dave: They’re not paying for any of that.
Hearing that I put in a call my boss, who was as puzzled as I was. If he’d worked for our division, he’d be paid for his drive time and expenses at least, and we were both pretty sure it was corporate edict and not something individual divisions could choose not to obey.
Unfortunately, neither I nor my boss had any say in the matter and neither of us were familiar with Illinois or Indiana labor law, so all we could do was advise Dave to save his receipts for the IRS and complain to HR.
On Monday Dave was late again. After an hour I was worried and called his cell phone.
Dave: I just passed Portage, making pretty good time all things considered. I should be there in about two hours. Dave sounded perfectly happy about it, so I figured he’d been required to stop into his office before heading out for some reason.
Me: Okay, Dave. I’ll see you then.
When Dave arrived a little after eleven, the first thing he did was take a 15 minute break. Long drive, I understood. There was still most of the day ahead of us, and after the break Dave finally got down to business booting up his computer.
He had barely logged in when he stood up and announced he was taking his lunch.
Oooookay. Something was going on, but I hadn’t the foggiest idea what.
After lunch Dave finally got around to some work, putting in a good twenty minutes reading email before stopping by to see me.
Dave: I’m gonna take my second 15 now, then I’m heading home.
Me: Uh, what?
Dave, grinning like a nut: Don’t worry, I spoke to HR over the weekend.
I didn’t see Dave on Tuesday, his cellphone was going unanswered, and neither my boss or I had any luck finding out why. We didn’t try hard; Not our zoo and not our monkey, after all. Ditto for Wednesday but whatever, he’s probably just sick.
And then on Thursday, I see Dave. Before work. At the hotel breakfast buffet.
Me: Dave! I was getting worried when you were no-show the last two days.
Dave laughed a little and after we’d piled our plates with bad scrambled eggs and burned sausage, told me a story.
On Monday the client had noticed him coming in late, doing no work, and leaving early and called our company to complain. Dave, in turn, was called into a disciplinary meeting with his boss and local HR who were prepared to terminate him over putting in for 32 hours of un-earned overtime the previous week and not working at all the day before.
Dave said they were serious, too. One of the guys from building security interrupted the meeting to deliver a box containing the personal effects from his desk.
Dave had an ace though. Well, three aces.
An email from his boss instructing him to drive to Fort Wayne every day at his own expense as a “change in work location”(1), an email from Corporate HR telling him he that while he wasn’t required to work overtime, he was required to report any overtime worked, including driving to or from a client(2), and a page from his division’s employee manual(3) which covered paid breaks off-site.
He then informed them that he was not working any more overtime and, after 3 hours driving in, 1.5 hours of breaks, and 3 hours home it left him with just a half an hour a day to do actual work. Less, actually, if the traffic was bad.
Oh, and that Corporate HR was willing to stand behind him on it. He’d just spoken to them before the meeting.
Dave: It took them about three seconds to realize they were screwed, and well, here I am, back in action. And, since everything was booked last minute, I’m in a suite with a Jacuzzi and my rental is a damn Cadillac!
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