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State investigation clears Sodexo of sick-day policy illegality

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State investigation clears Sodexo of sick-day policy illegality

Tom Fondakowski

Tom Fondakowski

Kayla Friedrich

Tom Fondakowski

Kayla Friedrich

Kayla Friedrich

Tom Fondakowski

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Sodexo Food Service at Johnson State College has been investigated by the state after a former employee testified before the Senate Economic Development Committee that the company’s sick-day policy forces employees to come to work sick.

Former Sodexo employee Michelle “Esther” Hasskamp lost her job at Johnson State College after surgery related to advanced gallbladder disease. She described how one colleague who repeatedly threw up in a trash can during his cashier shift.

The state has finished its investigation, and determined that nothing illegal has been done.

The policy in question, according to those who testified, penalizes workers for becoming sick. According to a VTDigger.org article, former JSC Sodexo employee Esther Hasskamp lost her job after gallbladder surgery, and another colleague repeatedly threw up in a trash can during his cashier shift, because he was afraid to take a sick day.

Basement Medicine’s attempts to contact Esther Hasskamp were unsuccessful.

Tom Fondakowski, general manager of Sodexo at Johnson State College, said he could not comment on the particular allegation in VTDigger, but said that the main reason for the current attendance policy is for consistency between campuses in how they track absenteeism. It was passed out to employees one year before being enforced, and was signed off on and understood by all employees.

Absenteeism is tracked over a one-year period, and an absence is called an occurrence. “To give you an example of how flexible it is, say you’re out with the flu for three consecutive days, we just require a doctor’s note to come back to work to make sure you’re not contagious, and that only counts as one occurrence,” said Fondakowski.

Family emergency, vacation time, bereavement, and scheduled absences are all approved absences and are not tracked on the attendance policy. Fondakowski said that out of his 40 employees, not one is currently being tracked.

After seven occurrences in a year that are not excused by either a doctor’s note or medical leave, the case is sent to human resources for review. The manager himself is not permitted to terminate an employee.

Sodexo officials declined the invitation to be present at the hearing. They wanted to take the time to talk with their legal team about what they can and should say. “Sodexo’s stance is, number one, we want to do what’s legal, and we also don’t want to get into a slander match,” said Fondawkoski. “We don’t want to get into any public relations scheme we feel is inappropriate.”

Sodexo also wanted to find out what its rights were, because of the particular situation at the University of Vermont where a union became involved. Fondakowski said a union has gone in to get a vote of whether some employees want to go union or not. “You’ll find now,” he said, “that you’ll be seeing comments from Sodexo in the media very soon. Now, we are going to tell our side of things, because it has been one-sided, and hasn’t been factual at all.”

In regards to the employee from Johnson who testified that her employment was terminated while she was on a medical leave he said that Sodexo would never terminate an employee while he or she was on medical leave, and also will not permit sick employees to stay at work. “All I can tell you is that the medical leaves were granted. It [the termination] was due to the attendance policy and excessive absenteeism on the attendance policy that we have.”

According to Fondakowski, within the two years that he has been with Sodexo on the Johnson campus, only two people have been terminated: one was voluntary job abandonment and the other was for the attendance policy. It works with its employees to manage their jobs, because the company has invested in each person it employs, and does not want to lose that investment.

Almost everyone who is terminated did not call to inform their manager of his or her absence, or did not show up for work.

“It’s really hard to lose our employees. People forget that,” said Fondakowski. “When we terminate an employee, I have to hire someone new. I have to retrain that person, and re-acclimate that person. We have a good team here, and do care about our staff.”

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About the Contributor
Kayla Friedrich, Editor in Chief

Kayla served as a general assignment reporter and photographer for the spring 2013 semester.  She returned for the Fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters...

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State investigation clears Sodexo of sick-day policy illegality