Workers: Know your rightsI just finished reading the Oct. 4 Bureaucratus column [FCW, "Supervisors need to share leave rights"], which discusses the shabby treatment John Landahl received from the managers of the Fisheries Science Center. Those managers ought to be ashamed of themselves!

I wish I could believe the actions of the Fisheries Science Center is aberrant, but I do not believe it is. There seem to be quite a number of dinosaurs out there who believe good management is ruthless and uncaring and that their jobs "correctly" require the destruction of the "expendable" people who work for them.

I was a supervisor and manager of engineers for over a decade at an Air Force base in central New York. After that base closed, I was offered a job as an engineer in Oklahoma at what had been my former unit's headquarters. I knew the person who would be my supervisor was a straight shooter. About a year after I accepted the job, my wife became so gravely ill that I had to stay home to care for her. My boss apparently knew of the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act and allowed me to use my annual leave.

While I was out, my boss was reassigned and a person I can only describe as a curmudgeon was detailed into his position. That individual insisted that I provide him with daily updates on my wife's condition and an estimate of when I might return to duty. He made a point of telling me that he intended to assign my duties to another engineer and that my job might not be there when I returned.

He seemed surprised that I had heard of the FMLA and knew its provisions. When I e-mailed him a link to a Web site that had the text of the act, he began to use his vast legal knowledge to determine why I was not eligible and why he was not required to allow me to take any more paid or unpaid leave.

Here is where Mr. Landahl's approach and my approach differed. I asked my next-door neighbor to watch my wife for an hour or so. I drove to the base and met with the colonel, who had been my commander in New York, and related my whole story. He called my temporary supervisor to his office and had me repeat the story.

That individual admitted that he had been trying to get me to return to duty, that he considered me a malingerer who was using my wife's illness as an excuse to avoid work and that he had no intention of granting me any further leave.

The colonel seemed genuinely surprised at what he had heard. He agreed that the individual would not be approving any further leave for me - or for anyone else. He looked at him sternly and informed him that his temporary promotion and detail had just come to an end. He said that there was no place in his wing for a supervisor who willfully defied public law, nor was there any place for a supervisor who would not treat his people with dignity and respect. The colonel then turned to me and apologized and told me that if my wife or I needed anything that I should call him.

But that's not the end of the story. Not only did I remember how much and why I had grown to admire and respect this colonel, I also learned to respect the decency of many of my co-workers.

I was pretty much the "new kid on the block" when my wife became ill. I had worked for the organization for less than a year and, while I had made a few solid friends, I was still the outsider - or so I thought.During the time my wife was gravely ill, many of my co-workers sent me e-mail notes of encouragement. Some picked up where I had been forced to stop and carried on in my place doing both their jobs and my job.

Some traveled in my stead even though each who did so had a heavy travel schedule of his own. Perhaps the greatest failing of that temporary supervisor was that he did not trust any of his employees. He chose to believe that I was a malingerer, and he also failed to trust in the decency of those workers on whom he would have to rely to accomplish the mission.

Mr. Landahl won reinstatement, but I doubt his overseers will learn their lesson. I suspect that as soon as he is returned to duty, those individuals who believed they had no obligation to inform him of his rights and to treat him decently will see it as their duty to themselves to "induce" Mr. Landahl to leave the Fisheries Science Center. 'Tis a shame some people let power go to their heads.

Harry F. Armstrong


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