Workplace policies create monetary strife
Sanjay Paul

The article appeared in The Etownian, Feb. 20, 2012.

The air is thick with talk of employment policies. Discrimination, harassment, workplace bullying — all, we’re reminded, stuff to be avoided. Training sessions for employees are being conducted, with the College’s lawyers holding forth with unseemly relish on statutes and Title VII and suchlike.

Attendance at these sessions is mandatory. And what if you don’t attend? Penalties are not mentioned explicitly, but there are rumors about Internet privileges being suspended, department chairs’ terms being extended, and other punishments too vile to name.

A draft statement on standards of conduct is brought to the Faculty Assembly. It includes a long list of things that might get an employee into trouble. There is some very serious stuff, like violence, theft and destruction of property. Then there are slightly more ambiguous things. You cannot eat horseradish on campus, for instance, or carry out practical jokes. As for insubordination, why, don’t even think about it.

Needless to say, the faculty have questions. Many questions. They are concerned by the sheer scope of the statement–if taken literally, the list of infractions would ensnare almost every faculty member at the College. No practical jokes? Why, that alone would be sufficient to get rid of the entire political science department. (If reports are to be believed, that is.)

Homer was not concerned by any of this. He had felt for a long time that there was too much horseradish being served at the College’s dining establishments. Horseradish with this, horseradish with that. He was getting sick of the stuff. He rose to voice his complaint.

“This horseradish stuff on campus has to stop,” he bellowed. “People are sick of it!”

There was stunned silence in the assembly. Horseradish? The faculty asked each other — what did Homer mean? There was no mention of horseradish in the standards of conduct.

It didn’t take long for someone to clear things up. “Homer,” said the president of the assembly quietly, “it’s not horseradish. The word in the statement is horseplay. There must be no horseplay by employees.”

“Oh,” Homer said, before adding: “Well, I think there is too much horseplay on campus. Why, just the other day, I was kicked by a colleague. And when I said ‘Chunski, why did you do that?’, he said, ‘Oh, it’s just horseplay.’ So I am all for outlawing horseplay.”

The department chairs nodded in unison. They knew how Homer felt. Kicks were par for the course. If one wasn’t kicked at least once during the day by a colleague, well, that day must have been a holiday.

The conversation shifted to other things. There were extensive discussions about policies and procedures. The need to protect the College. Getting things approved by lawyers. The rights of the accused. Due process.

Time sped by, and the discussion ranged ever wider.

Homer offered a suggestion. “Why don’t we outsource our Policies?” he said. “Take an existing Workplace Policies from another reputed college, tailor it to our requirements, and be done with it.”

“Why should we reinvent the wheel,” he thundered, “when there are several good wheels already in place?”

But there were questions. Don’t these things have copyrights? Aren’t an institution’s policies intellectual property? Will we not be accused of plagiarism if we take someone else’s policies?

But these are not insurmountable problems. We can acknowledge the source in our materials. We can get permission from the college that holds the copyright. We can pay that college, if necessary.

Homer did a quick calculation. A hundred faculty members, each spending an hour on discussions about horseplay and stuff. At $100 per hour, the cost of faculty time came to $10,000.

Pay the other college five grand, and both parties are better off. We end up with Workplace Policies that are tried and tested, while the other college earns a payment from an asset it never suspected was capable of generating an income.

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