By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2015-10-05 21:45:34
School nutrition operators share a few of their best “worst” personnel stories to help you keep perspective when the slackers, space cadets and snarks threaten to get you down! Sometimes, you just have to laugh. Never has the idiom about it taking all kinds to make the world go round been so on point. Over 21 years’ worth of conversations with school nutrition directors and managers, I’ve heard quite a few wild stories about employee behavior. These tend to give me even more appreciation for the achievements of all of you—school lunch superheroes who never let the kids they serve see the challenges that go on behind the lines! By collecting and sharing these tales with you, I hope that they provide some light-hearted perspective that your next bad day could always be worse. Many thanks to contributors from all across the United States who offered their anecdotes. SN decided to excise the names of all the poor put-upon supervisors and coworkers in order to protect their identities, just in case they continue to struggle with disciplinary and employee improvement procedures. (But we hope that no one recognizes themselves in these next few pages!) Once, we had a new employee who was nowhere to be found on the first day of school. Upon more intensive checking, the manager found her inside the cooler, clutching her pocketbook, seated in a chair that she had rolled in there. When asked what she was doing, the employee stated, “I don’t know how you people do this!” and stormed out—never to be heard from again! Last year, I had an employee who requested a sick day because her dog was sick. I had to explain that sick days, according to the employee contract, were for immediate family members only. She argued that her dog was immediate family. I was thankful that our official sick leave form specifically lists those who are included in the immediate family definition. Dogs are not. Many, many years ago, I had a manager who “loved” delivery drivers! She took ever y opportunity to follow them into the walk-ins. She would never let anyone else on staff check them in. She’d stay in the walk-ins with each driver for quite some time. Apparently, there was a lot of speculation about what went on in there, but I didn’t hear any of this until after she retired. I had to discipline an employee for poor attendance. The meeting did not go well, and she was quite emotional when she left. About an hour later, her husband came into my office, rather angry that I had made his wife cry. I think he thought he could scare me, but I calmed him down and told him to encourage his wife not to miss anymore work. I never saw him again—and his wife found a new job a few months later. I had a young man who was a new hire and had worked previously in a restaurant kitchen. I k new he could cook, but never thought about how our terminology might be different. One day, on our work order, I had put under his name the assignment to cook three cases of USDA corn. Later, when I checked on him, I noticed he didn’t use the USDA corn. When I asked, he said, “I thought USDA meant ‘use da corn.’” Texting has ruined the younger generation! I have an employee who, on several occasions, came to work wearing sponge curlers tucked under her handmade crocheted hairnet. She didn’t “get” the conflict between curlers and “professional appearance” in foodservice and thinks I’m overly conservative. We had to add a “no-curler” rule to our dress code policy. And once, I had a warehouse clerk who wore fuzzy slippers to work, saying she just forgot to put her shoes on when she left the house. I made her go home and change. Many, many years ago, a child nutrition worker and a custodian—both married, but not to each other—were discovered in a custodial closet with their pants down. The supervisor who found them asked what they were doing, even though it was fairly obvious. Their reply was that they were comparing spider bites! Our kitchen once had an employee who always did tasks that did not require cooking. One day, the manager decided it was time to make her cook something: au gratin potatoes in the tilt skillet. The employee so dreaded it, she laid her head down on the skillet and started praying. The next thing everyone knew, the fire extinguisher spray from above came on suddenly! The employee did not have to cook that day—and was never asked to cook again. We had a substitute who didn’t show up to her assignment one day. We called and called, thinking that she’d been in an accident. The next day, when she called in for that day’s assignment, we asked about the previous day and she explained that she couldn’t find a place to park at the school—the parking lot was full—so she went to do her grocery shopping instead! Back when I worked as a base kitchen manager, one day, one of our drivers came in with a cigarette in his mouth (despite a no-smoking prohibition within 1,000 yards of the building), staggering and looking like he had slept in his clothes. He was calling all the ladies “Baby.” I could smell the alcohol on him. I asked for the keys to his truck, saying that I might need to move it before he left. He didn’t question my request. I sat him down, called HR and someone came and got him. Sure enough, he was under the influence. No one at the transportation office had seen him when he picked up his truck that morning—and that was 10 miles away! Needless to say, he was terminated. Once, an employee was asked to bake chicken and beef patties to be used for hot sandwiches. She replied that she couldn’t do that because she couldn’t be trusted to pull items out of the oven due to her night blindness. About 20 years ago, all child nutrition employees wore white pants as part of their uniform. I was asked to visit a site to have a talk with a woman who was obviously wearing tiger-striped underwear—with a rather large hole in them. It was an interesting discussion. On more than one occasion, I have had different employees call in absent from work because their dog was having puppies. I remember reviewing job applications. “Dates attended high school” was one question and an applicant wrote: “Monday-Friday”! Also, under previous positions, she’d listed “housewife” and the reason she left “the position” was “mean husband”! One day, an employee lost her cell phone. She thought she’d thrown it away in the dumpster by mistake. About four months later, an employee sweeping out the freezers found it under the shelves. Once it thawed, the alarm started going off to remind her to clock out for lunch. I guess the freezer does keep your battery from running down! I had a young employee who lied about being 18 on his employment application. After he had worked for us for a while, we realized he wasn’t old enough and had to let him go. His mother called me and said she had told him to lie and not to punish her son. All I could say is that I hoped they’d both learned a lesson. What else could I do? I couldn’t terminate the mom! BONUS WEB CONTENT School Nutrition received some fun “only-in-school-nutrition” stories that didn’t quite fit the personnel management theme but are still worth sharing. Look for these online at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition. Illustrations by jiunlimited.com.
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