Wednesday, June 14, 2006

New York Judge Says Internet OK at Work

LANDMARK DECISION ... about what?

You’ve been hearing about it – the Muslim Guy in New York whose Department tried to fire him "for being on the Internet" and the Judge who reversed the decision.

That’s how the media has chosen to report that story. There’s a lot more to this landmark decision that you need to know. We will deal with:

--The biased reporting
--The problems with alphaspeak in the courtroom
--What about “excessive” don’t you understand?
--The answer to “what” can be one word.
--Defiance and fear are often mistaken for one another.
--Dealing with Difficult People in the workplace

Read actual Report & Recommendation of Judge John B. Spooner in the NY City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, in the matter of Dept of Education v. Toquir Choudhri: .

POINT ONE: Here is what the man was actually charged with: (1) disobeying order to cease using the Internet and insubordination in replying to an explanation for Internet use; (2) Excessive absence; (3) Excessive lateness; (4) Submission of an improper leave request in violation of agency rules.

While he was off the hook re: using the Internet and the rest of it, he was charged with the insubordination, and wait til you see what that looks like.

POINT TWO: Now we move to alphspeak. Much re: Mr. Choudhri’s behavior was documented and not contested. It appears he was getting his work done. Management said they were “backlogged.” Choudhri said work was slow. Management has a budget to justify. Choudhri has lots of time to get his work done AND play on the Internet. (It’s your tax dollars, folks.)

Policy said no personal Internet and Choudhri ignored this. We’ll get back to this and the “insubordination “ part but first let’s take a look at the excessive absence and lateness. (And your reaction may be like mine – how can I get a job like this? ... and would you want Choudhri working for you? Well, maybe you would because as you’ll see there are workers out there that make Choudhri’s behavior NOT “excessive.”)

“Alphaspeak” is a madeup word, so your sense of what it means is as good, or better, than my definition. Strictly speaking it’s used by alpha males in the workplace (See “Coaching the Alpha Male”, Harvard Business Online). They define it as charts, graphs and metrics.

I define it as how the guy in authority, with high IQ and low EQ, who uses words poorly, attempts to communicate.

You know the expression, “Do I need to draw you a picture?” We say this to our recalcitrant teenager who doesn’t seem to be ‘getting’ that “breaking the rules” means “restriction.” With teens, attitude is usually served up with the cluelessness. But you may legitimately need to make this query of the alpha male because of his often-tenuous connection to words, as you’ll see. Of course you can’t be copping an attitude, so you want to say, “With all due respect, sir, I‘m not sure I understand…”

Please, let us continue. And prepare to get lost.

Here is what “excessive” is NOT, according to Judge Spooner:

--In 18 months, 33 days absent. Particularly it is not “egregious”. Really?
--Being late 38 times in 11 months. “Excessive” is 60 or more latenesses in one year. One wonders why they bother to pretend to require promptness when it is rendered meaningless. You also must understand that 5 minutes late is not “late.” (What about the word “late” don’t you understand?)
--Leaving work early 23 times.

Now check out this conclusion: If you don’t come to work a lot it proves you’re sick. Could I make the following up? “The high number of documented absences corroborates respondent’s statement that he was genuinely ill and felt unable to work.” HUH??

Now try and unravel this one. Obviously Choudhri and one of his bosses, Mr. Nelson can’t stand each other. Therefore Choudhri starts seeing a therapist. They are Difficult People to one another (see my course on Difficult People).

Nelson issued a memo saying “If you plan to travel, do not make arrangements (purchase tickets, reserve accommodations, etc.) until you have receive approval of requested days.”

Choudhri did, of course. Nelson then charged him with “insubordination.”

Haven’t these people had teenagers? It’s the oldest manipualtive trick in the book and you simply ignore it. You let them commit their folly (this isn’t something life-threatening!) and then you say “I warned you,” i.e., if the person goes ahead and purchases their plane tickets, and their leave is denied, then they eat the $500. And they don’t try that trick again.

HOWEVER, check out the interpretation: Judge Spooner writes, “no authority was provided for the novel notion that a supervisor was somehow obliged to approve any leave request which was phrased as a declarative statement rather than as a tentative question.

Isn't that peculiar? Did Nelson actually think he could forbid someone from buying a plane ticket? Does he feel hamstrung if they do? If he meant “IF you buy a plane ticket assuming you will be granted leave, and you aren’t, you’re going to be very sad” or “We suggest you not make reservations or commit to plane tickets until (and unless) your leave I granted,” then why didn’t he say that? Sentence that man to Writing 101.

After penning this poorly written directiven, it’s then out of Nelson’s hands. Predictably Choudhri defies. If Nelson felt pressure to then grant the demand, he’s fallen for the oldest trick in the book. Sentence him to Management 101.

Choudhri is denied, of course, and takes it to a higher level, where leave is granted. Nelson ought to retaliate against that person, but Choudhri, instead, charges retaliation with the Internet thing.

This sort of personality conflict is unfortunate.

Please, let’s continue with the language problem here, the insubordination re: the Internet. Recall now, workers are forbidden to use the Internet, Choudrih does, is caught, and there’s proof. This time supervisor Barton confronts Choudhri with evidence and (quoting His Honor) “wrote respondent [Choudhri] a memo asking ‘what you were doing on the Internet.” Choudhri returned the memo to Barton with the word “reading” at the bottom.

Judge Spooner decrees that this was insubordination, writing, “Under the circumstances, it was impertinent for respondent to reply only that he had been reading. This reply failed to answer the question asked as to why respondent had been accessing the web for non-work-related reasons and was intended to be sarcastic.”

There was no WHY there. That was a WHAT question. Sentence Mr Nelson to Interrogation 101 and the Judge ... ?? And wouldn’t you Mirandize yourself at this point in time? Sarcastic? Wouldn’t you say Nelson was “provocative”? You catch me with my hand in the cookie jar and ask, “What are you doing?” It’s obvious WHAT I am doing. If you want to know WHY, you have to use this word – “why”. It’s spelled W-H-Y. And why would I be? The sarcasm belongs to Mr. Nelson, in my opinion. It's like the PA, "Why did you break that cup?" How can you NOT flip back with, "To drive you nuts?" "Because I'm clumsy?" "Because I wanted to?" There is no reply to's a set-up and you remain silent. At this point, Choudrhi exercised restraint.

They all kind of deserve each other. What’s needed is an interpreter of the English language.

BTW, Dreizehnermuss writes on blog, “I knew people in my company which are surfing the net for 6+ hours a day at work. Dreizehnermuss can’t write English no better. Is there anyone out there who can read this … or who cares? ______________________________________________________

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