ODLO International AG, Complaint 791

Reasonable hours of work Legally binding employment relationship

On 20 September 2019, FWF’s complaints handler in Romania received a complaint from a 44-year old worker who complained that he/she was given a 20-day dismissal notice for consistently failing to reach the standards during evaluations. The complainant has worked at the factory for 12 years, but for the last year he/she had been unable to meet his/her quota and was told to stay longer hours to reach the targets. In order to reach his/her production quota, the worker had stayed after hours, but that time was not recorded (except when using the access card), and not paid properly. This occurred most recently in the past 6 months.

The complainant was told she had not progressed from one evaluation to another and that the company would have to let her go on October 12. The content of the given notice to the worker describes articles 61 and 62 in Law 53/2003 regarding labour (specifically, listing the reasons why an employee can be dismissed; letter (d) in article 61 refers to the case in which an employee is found not suitable for a position). According to article 64 of the same law, a suitable position for the skills of the said employee should be at least considered, but the factory specifies in the notice that none are available. The worker was unable to discuss with her direct supervisor any further, stating that the supervisor becomes very irritated very quickly, raises her voice and stops the conversation.

A meeting with HR to talk to the factory manager was scheduled and conducted on 20 September. On the meeting worker explained her point of view, brought all her production records with her, and she was told (verbally) that her situation will be looked into. However, the conversation clarified that the worker had been subject to yearly evaluations (with results handed to her in writing), but at least the most recent of them appeared to be inaccurate. The worker has performed other tasks apart from finishing, like assembling boxes and ironing; but, her official skills matrix only mentions "finishing". HR department stated that no other jobs suitable for her skills are currently open. The only option that the factory HR has offered her was to seek employment elsewhere and meanwhile advised her to try to obtain unemployment benefits.
The worker believes her direct supervisor purposely downgraded the evaluation in order to get her dismissed. Her direct supervisor has also mentioned the worker's failure to clean her work regularly and to observe H&S rules as additional grounds for dismissal.

Complainant talked to one of the workers' representatives (WR) but the WR had told her they had no power to decide anything. The complaints handler encouraged the complainant to talk "like colleagues" to the WR she felt most at ease with.

The complainant lives out of town, commutes to work, her husband is currently in prison, and she is raising a child on her own.

The complainant found out since the previous conversation with the complaint’s handler that another worker in the department had resigned last week, citing excessive overtime and stress.

Overview of the complaint investigation

2019-10-08 Investigation

FWF addressed the complaint to the brand and the brand approached the factory and requested factory response. Based on the response from the management the brand responded that:
1. All extra hours are recorded and paid or in the course to be paid (on 10 of October is the salary day and hours of September will be paid on that day). There is no complain to the HR about hours not to be paid from previous months, and we have informed on each meeting with the representatives that any doubt regarding the salaries has to be cleared on the current month on HR.
2. The raised voice from the manager – on complaint box there is no single claim of any kind for months now. We do not encourage this, we also do not exclude this, but for sure is not a common/daily thing.
3. The skill matrix is strictly related to the evaluation and performances. Evaluation is done annually
Supporting documents for the working hours and payment of the overtime were provided.
After the investigation was made by the brand, FWF decided to conduct its own investigation at the factory location and to investigate further the dismissal of the worker. The investigation will take place no later than 30 October.
Meanwhile, the complainant will be informed of the status of the complaint.

2019-10-24 Investigation

FWF conducted an investigation visit at Odlo International factory in Romania on 24 October 2019. Issues claimed in the initial complaint were investigated through interviews with workers, interviews with the management, workers ‘representatives and supervisors and document inspection
Investigation findings:
From the inspection of the documents and provided personnel file for verification, there were several evaluations and memos all signed by the worker. The evaluations included explanation notes on the worker's performance and all of them were found that have been signed by the worker. This finding, therefore, acknowledged in writing that the worker was properly informed about the evaluations.
Workers were able to describe the periodic evaluation procedure (self-assessment questionnaire + supervisor's opinion); they did not know how the issue is discussed when a "needs improvement" rating is received (whether any kind of action plan is detailed, for instance) (the interviewer did not come across any of the workers who had received such a rating). The results of the evaluation are confidential and discussed individually with each worker.
The newer workers were more aware of the escalation of disciplinary measures in case of noncompliance with job requirements (verbal warning, written warnings, dismissal).
Out of 40 contract terminations since January 2019 till the date of the investigation, 3 were due to retirement, 1 for disciplinary reasons, 1 for poor results in production and the rest were resignations initiated by the workers.
The factory management follows the written procedure that is incorporated in the Internal Rules and Regulations of the company, as well as in the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated and signed with the workers’ representatives. The company very rarely initiates a dismissal procedure; therefore, this is not a repeated practice in the company
Findings related to not paid OT: The investigation of the documents showed that there were no OT hours recorded as worked by the worker in the last three months. When OT hours occurs, they are documented and properly paid for other workers in the last three months. All interviewed workers confirmed that OT hours are recorded accurately, and they have the possibility to compensate them with time off in lieu of having them paid with a premium rate. The interviewed workers appeared content with the pace of work and with the workload. Some of them mentioned the fact that the quotas from a few years back seemed to be more realistic, as they were set by a consultant based on tests in the factory, whereas nowadays the quotas "just arrive ready-made".
Small amounts of overtime are performed occasionally for small repairs; in such cases, the workers usually arrive a little early (10-15 minutes) at the factory. Also, for urgent deliveries and loading the trucks, but no more than 45-60 minutes at a time.

2019-11-04 Conclusion of the investigation

The factory management has followed the company’s policies related to the termination of a labour contract on grounds of poor results. According to the inspection of the documents related to working time, there were no overtime hours worked by the worker that formulated the complaint.

As the complainant left the country to work abroad the conclusions from the investigation can not be communicated and cross-checked with the worker.
However, the FWF investigation team consider that there are a few aspects that could be improved related to the evaluation procedure:
- The workers are not handed out the results of their evaluations, these are only discussed and signed case by case.
- The language used in the evaluation forms is academic and formal, and the objectives are not SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-Related).
Based on these findings it is very difficult to confirm or to deny the claim of the worker for her overtime. There is no reason to doubt the records or interviews.

2019-11-04 Remediation

Recommended remediation for the confirmed findings
- The management should formulate the evaluation results in a more transparent and clearer way so that for the “need improvement” result the workers should understand that it is a reason for potential dismissal.
- For such a result (“need improvement”) the management should also agree with the worker on the next steps and what exactly needs to be improved.
- The language used in the standard format of objectives discussed with the workers should not be academic and adapted to the level of understanding of the workers.

2019-12-10 Closed

This complaint is closed but FWF requested from the brand closely to monitor the progress of the recommended remediation.