ASK ANN

"An employee in our department has consistently been late for work, and his work has also been regularly below standard. Just before I planned to take disciplinary action against him, he was called for active military service. Recently he returned from his active military service and indicated that he plans to return to work at our agency. While I certainly appreciate and commend him for his service to the nation, my preference, based upon the employee's prior tardiness and sub-par work performance, is that he seek employment elsewhere, as I would not like to rehire him. Is this legal?" (New York)

Having experienced just such a dilemma following the earlier Gulf War conflict, I sympathize with your situation. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301, provides certain protections for employees on military leave. It does prevent discrimination against military personnel but does permit discharge "for cause." Therefore, if there was independent cause to terminate the employee and the reason for the termination is entirely unrelated to military leave/service, termination is allowed. Check your state law to see if added protection is provided to military personnel. I would, however, caution you to consider the timing of your proposed action in relation to his poor performance and also how your agency has addressed similar tardiness and sub-par performance issues in the past. Be certain you have adequate written documentation of the problem areas if you hope to avoid allegations that your agency's action is in retaliation for the employee's military absence. Maybe he's grown up with his service and may be a better employee, given the chance, than before.

"I recently saw a request for comments on a draft policy to provide guidance for local governments in operating their sewage treatment facilities and helping prevent the overflow of raw sewage into homes and waterways during heavy rainfall. Can you shed some light on this?"

As I understand it, the draft policy focuses on the practice of blending, which occurs when large volumes of wastewater exceed the capacity of the secondary (biological) treatment units at a sewage treatment facility. Proponents of the new policy believe this will support local governments in planning and operating wastewater facilities that provide environmentally sound and cost effective treatment during a variety of conditions, leading to improvements in water quality. The policy will also require that every sewage treatment facility in the U.S. must maintain compliance with the Clean Water Act. For more information, visit the website at www.epa.gov/npdes/blending.

"Help. I'm buried under a ton of paperwork and can't find my way out! With reduced budgets comes reduced staff and I no longer have an Administrative Assistant to do my office work and filing. What can I do?"

How quickly we forget how valuable our staff support people can be! And just think, some of us have never had the luxury of even having staff support. Depending upon the legalities of your agency, there may be a couple of ways to get the assistance you need. In some cases, agencies allow for volunteers from within the community to come in for a couple hours each day or week to help with "non-technical" duties. This could include janitorial work, filing, feeding animals at the shelter, putting labels on bills or newsletters, painting, or any number of things. If you can't get volunteers, you might try your municipal or county court system as they often have clients who need to perform "community service" and this is a good outlet, especially in bad weather. High school students, also, may need "community service" hours towards their graduation. This option can provide some of your local students with good insight into how your agency works (could be a great career-building method).

Another more detailed option might be to contact a nearby college, university, trade school, or such to establish an intern program. Whether the work is technical (such as would require an engineering student), research (which might use a public administration or science student) or computer-based planning, an intern program may be one which pays a small stipend to the participant and requires sign-off for credit, or may be as simple as signing time sheets when the work is completed. Any of these options would be better than filing everything in the circular file! Who knows, you might even find things when you need them.

"I've noticed the articles in this magazine about the "APWA Core Competencies." Is there a brochure available where can I get this information?"

So happy you asked. You can access a pdf file of the brochure on our website at www.apwa.net/Documents/About/PET/Leadership/CoreCompBrochure.pdf.

Ask Ann...

Questions are welcome.

Please address all inquiries to:

Ann Daniels
Director of Technical Services
APWA, 2345 Grand Blvd.
Suite 500
Kansas City, MO 64108-2625
Fax questions to (816) 472-0405
E-mail:
adaniels@apwa.net