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I currently manage a team of quite a few engineers in Canada. Things normally run smoothly, but we've had a serious problem with a senior engineer as of late.

This engineer is the sole engineer on our team with his Professional Engineer (P.Eng.) designation, and we depend on him to evaluate security and safety features after reviewing in-house tests of our own products. He has always been a dependable employee, but since being overlooked for a promotion to principal engineer (which would have been a large pay increase), he refuses to sign off on tests, citing them as "flawed" or "not rigorous enough". It's gotten to the point where products we would normally ship still can't go out the door, since our policy dictates a P.Eng. must sign off on the security and safety tests in order to meet client requirements.

Part of his job, though not written into his contract, is that he signs off on the work records of newer engineers, so they can complete the 4 years of supervision under a P.Eng. to become P.Eng.'s themselves. He seems to never have time to sign these lately, and it is all that prevents us from expediting the process so we can have more P.Eng.'s in our company.

I think that if he got the promotion, this wouldn't be an issue, and that he's just trying to be difficult. I understand he must be frustrated, given that the person who got the job is related to one of the members of the exec board, and is about 10 years younger than him; so my guess is that he suspects nepotism and is retaliating. I had little say in the promotion process, sadly.

Is there any way to force him to stop this game? He's not technically breaking any company rules, and he's all but admitting to being cagey and difficult. I've also overheard discussions between colleagues of his (though not including him at the time) about attempting to force us to fire him and pay out a couple years of severance.

Or if I can't get him to smarten up, are there any resources through his licensing body to contract out a P.Eng. to review our tests and sign off on them while we find a replacement, or validate our suspicions he's just playing with us? Maybe they can provide a second opinion and provide proof to HR he's just willfully wasting time out of spite? I'm tired of having to pay someone who's causing the entire team and division to suffer, and don't want to have to pay him two year's salary to just go away.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Mar 8 '16 at 4:33
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    Have you tried a one-on-one session with him in which you tried to address these issues ? Maybe this way you'll get more insight into his reasoning about why he does this. – Radu Murzea Mar 8 '16 at 9:17
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    Are you his direct supervisor? – longneck Mar 10 '16 at 18:42
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    I notice that the troublesome professional engineer is responsible for evaluating security and safety features of the products. Yet, people paid attention to the salary and office politics in the question. I would like to call attention to the users of this site about why this question is vital to the workplace by reminding everyone the recent event - Samsung Note 7. If Samsung had paid more attention to the safety of their products, they would not lose billions of dollars. – scaaahu Oct 28 '16 at 8:22

15 Answers 15

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I think you made your own bed, here.

You passed up the ONLY qualified candidate (so far as you have said) for a "Boss's Nephew." You (collective, as in the whole company) need to either go to him, hat-in-hand, and make this right, or pay whatever you need to in order to get a qualified replacement.

I know how hard those qualifications are to come by. I think you need him a lot more than he needs you, and he knows it.

The company is the one in the wrong, here. Not he. You need to be working this with the higher management, and not with this engineer.

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    This post makes me absolutely giddy. I don't blame the PE for suspecting nepotism, and I'm really happy to see him putting the pinch on management. I mean, it's unfortunate for OP, and unprofessional behavior for the PE, but still, it's viscerally satisfying. – Dan Mar 9 '16 at 19:23
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    Absolutely correct. The company made several missteps here, first and foremost allowing anyone to become irreplaceable. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 9 '16 at 20:54
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    I completely disagree with this. The company may have been in the wrong: the post never states that this guy was the only qualified candidate (just that he is left as the only P.Eng. after the promotion) nor that the promotion was unjust (only that the person who didn't get the promotion may suspect it was). The guy in question is definitely in the wrong, since he is not doing his work to acceptable standards. We don't know if he picked this up with management or not, but that's what he should be doing instead of trying to sabotage the business. – Jasper Mar 10 '16 at 9:40
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    @Jasper If I had worked to standard X, and thought that I did everything as my manager wishes, and now some inexperienced guy gets promoted right into my face, I would come to think that I did something utterly wrong. So I would now test another approach and see whether that approach can satisfy upper management so much that I get the promotion. I think that the P.Eng. is applying such a standard learning algorithm until he gets his promotion. – Alexander Mar 10 '16 at 16:42
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    I understand you guys disagree. That's why there's a downvote button. A few have used it. Personally, I hope I never have to drive over a bridge designed by a firm that puts the boss's nephew above the trained, certified, and seasoned expert. Full disclosure - I have family members in the US with this cert. I know exactly how hard they are to get. – Wesley Long Mar 10 '16 at 17:16
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Key points:

He has always been a dependable employee

So, you started with a good man, now what happened.

but since being overlooked for a promotion to principal engineer.

Your company screwed him....

(which would have been a large pay increase)

AND you hit him in the paycheck

Let's stop here for a moment. Your company disrespected a key employee and cost him tens of thousands in future pay. He's mad as hell, and rightly so.

This is the part that really grabbed my attention.

Is there any way to force him to stop this game?

You STILL have the wrong attitude.

You screw a guy HARD and then instead of trying to smooth things over, you are looking for a way to FORCE him to act the way you want him to act.

he refuses to sign off on tests, citing them as "flawed" or "not rigorous enough".

We used to call that "booking". He is doing his job by the book and to the letter. The next part is why you can't touch him

This engineer is the sole engineer on our team with his Professional Engineer (P.Eng.) designation, and we depend on him to evaluate security and safety features after reviewing in-house tests of our own products.

Unless you have another P.Eng to say he's wrong, then for all intents and purposes, he is right, your tests are "flawed" or "not rigorous enough". He's got you, and there's not a thing you can do.

It's gotten to the point where products we would normally ship still can't go out the door, since our QA policy dictates a P.Eng. must sign off on the security and safety tests in order to meet client requirements.

See what happens when you screw a key employee?

Part of his job, though not written into his contract,

If it's not in his contract, it's not part of his job. Again, he's got you.

is that he signs off on the work records of Engineers In Training (EITs), so they can complete the 4 years of supervision under a P.Eng. to become P.Eng.'s themselves. He seems to never have time to sign these lately, and it is all that prevents us from expediting the process so we can have more P.Eng.'s in our company.

Again, he's got you, and he's playing defense on this one. If the EITs aren't P.Eng, you can't replace him with in-house staff.

I think that if he got the promotion, this wouldn't be an issue, and that he's just trying to be difficult. I understand he must be frustrated, given that the person who got the job is related to one of the members of the exec board, and is about 10 years younger than him; so my guess is that he suspects nepotism and is retaliating.

YA THINK!!!???

Your whole question is basically "Hi, we did dirty by one of our employees and found out that we couldn't just step on him, so how do we do him dirty again."

Your wisest maneuver would be to either pay him to go away, or undo what you did to him and give him a new title with the commensurate pay increase he should have received to begin with.

I noticed you asked how to get him to "smarten up", he seems PLENTY smart to me and not nearly as dumb as you thought.

If you think he's causing problems now, just wait until you see what happens when you try to screw him again.

If I were in your position, I would apologize to him, give him a big promotion, tell him just HOW valued he is, and kiss his posterior from sunup to sundown, or pay him to go away, but one way or another, it's time to pay.

Your company did wrong by a key employee. Now you have to rectify it. From what I've seen in your comments, you don't want him there, he doesn't want to be there. The best resolution would be to find some way to pay him off to leave. It may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but while he's there, he's doing damage and will probably cost more to the company than paying him to go away.

I get the emotion on both sides, but this is not a hill you want to die on. Crunch the numbers and do what is best for the company.

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    Especially if regulatory bodies find out the OP's company is thinking of threatening a P.E. with dismissal if he doesn't sign off on safety issues. – kleineg Mar 9 '16 at 16:55
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    IMO the employee is throwing a tantrum because he got passed over. He needs sat down and told to shape up or ship out. He is NOT doing his job he is roadblocking. If he was doing his job he would be conveying the necessary information back to the development team and then approving the build when they implement his changes. He is not doing that, he is just continually rejecting for new reasons each time, and the OP didn't elaborate as to the nature of the requests but the tone indicates they are not reasonable. He is making their life miserable because he got passed over boo hoo. – Bill Leeper Mar 9 '16 at 20:34
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    @BillLeeper He's staging a job action. If he were a laborer, would you have the same attitude? Boo hoo for the employer. They created the mess, now they have to deal with it. If someone cost you tens of thousands of dollars, I doubt you'd be so cavalier. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 9 '16 at 20:49
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    @BillLeeper, sit him down, tell him to shape up or ship out, and he nails your hide to the wall. Threatening a P. Eng to get him to sign off on something is about a zillion sorts of illegal. Any solution to the problem needs to take that fact into account. – Mark Mar 9 '16 at 21:00
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    @Mark Yes, that point seems to be getting lost. The company made the unfortunate move of enraging a key employee who is making it known just how key he is. There is nobody at the company who can LEGALLY override him or even legally second-guess him. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 9 '16 at 21:03
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The other posters have brought up excellent points. I can provide more insight into the P.Eng. related concerns and reporting this engineer to his certification agency. But first things first:

Things normally run smoothly...

This engineer is the sole engineer...

...we depend on him...

He has always been a dependable employee

Remove the filler, and we see you've provoked a technical professional. Why?

the person who got the job is related to one of the members of the exec board, and is about 10 years younger than him;

This was a colossal mistake. You could have promoted another engineer or this guy himself, and benefited both him and the company, and instead put in an unqualified kid in his place. At least if it was another engineer, you could have BS'ed the guy and placated him possibly with a pay raise. By taking this course of action, you tell him that the company is irrational and does not act in good faith. If this is a publicly traded company, the board may be required to discipline the exec if he had a hand in this "promotion" when the likely lawsuit arises.

Onto the P.Eng. stuff. @JohnRStrohm draws attention to the elephant in the room: You can't force a P.Eng. to sign off on stuff. That's the point! By trying to force his hand, you're opening yourself to massive liability, and your customers won't be happy you tried to falsify safety ratings by threatening an employee with his job.

With respect to dealing with his "cagey" behavior, you can contact his licensing board and file a complaint. This will be difficult though, as he has all the domain-specific knowledge on your products, so nobody really is more of an expert on it than him. There goes your idea to hire someone to come in and "prove" he's being irrational. You could always throw rule #7 of the APEG Code of Ethics:

act as faithful agents of their clients or employers, maintain confidentiality and avoid a conflict of interest but, where such conflict arises, fully disclose the circumstan ces without delay to the employer or client

But he can always just throw the most important role back in your face:

hold paramount the safety, hea lth and welfare of the public, the protection of the environment and promote health and safety within the workplace;

Also, no you can't just rent a P.Eng. to sign off on your products. You'd need to sign him/her on as a contractor or regular employee, train them in the use and design of your products, have them learn all the little details and intricacy of said products. It'd be at least a 16 month lead time. I sincerely hope you weren't asking to pay someone to just sign off on them. Professional Engineers need to pass a series of exams and law and ethics, and be "of good character". One screw up, and that license is gone for good.

John also brings up another fantastic point:

but he will likely charge you an arm, a leg, and transplant rights on your left kidney for EACH signature, and he would be totally correct to do so, since he is legally responsible for that signature and the consequences of any screwups on your part. More to the point, the first question he will ask is "Why won't your in-house guy sign off on it?" and he may well refuse to touch the job at all.

Massive risk, little payout, unlimited liability. So what about replacing him?

Part of his job, though not written into his contract, is that he signs off on the work records of Engineers In Training (EITs), so they can complete the 4 years of supervision under a P.Eng. to become P.Eng.'s themselves. He seems to never have time to sign these lately, and it is all the prevents us from expediting the process so we can have more P.Eng.'s in our company.

He's realized he has got you by the balls, and is playing that card to its full potential. You could always try to report him for violation of #6 and #7 in the Code of Ethics:

(6) keep themselves informed in order to maintain their competence, strive to advance the body of knowledge within which they practice and provide opportunities for the professional development of their associates;

(7) conduct themselves with fairness, courtesy and good faith towards clients, colleagues and others, give credit where it is due and accept, as well as give, honest and fair professional comment;

However, as you noted, this isn't part of his contract, and he can't be forced to give positive reviews of his subordinates.

Sounds like your execs did severe harm to the company to do a favor for a family member of one of the board members. I'd document the hell out of this situation so there's proof you truly "had little say in the promotion process".

Now that you've covered your own butt, I'd say trying to have an honest discussion with the guy. If that gets you nowhere, you're probably going to have to terminate his employment and pay out the severance package. Firing someone for insubordination is a dangerous game when it comes to arguments over signing off on legal documents, and it's definitely not the sort of thing you want customers or the general public hearing about. It sounds like he's set you back at least 8-16 months in terms of shipping product updates, and up to 4 years for having an army of replacements trained.

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    Your entire answer was perfect and on point with exception to one little thing. You state "It sounds like he's set you back at least..." I think that ought to read "It sounds like upper management's decision to bypass him for a promotion set you back at least..." – NotMe Mar 8 '16 at 1:49
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    @NotMe When I read it like you've worded it, I agree wholeheartedly. This sort of reaction should not have been unexpected. The only reason I don't re-word it is because while management has made their shoddy decision, he still makes a conscious decision not to cooperate. I do think the majority of the fault lies with the management, but it doesn't really give him a valid reason to act like this. – Cloud Mar 8 '16 at 2:30
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    @BenVoigt I assume the "kid that got the job" is grossly unqualified for the job, not that he is non-technical. If there is a 10 year age gap between the two candidates, and the younger one doesn't even have a P.Eng, he has no business supervising a P.Eng. if he doesn't understand the legal and ethical problems that come up in day-to-day business. Maybe if the nepotistic exec possessed such training, he/she would have spotted such an obvious conflict of interest in the first place. – Cloud Mar 8 '16 at 2:49
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    @BenVoigt Also, to clear up one point I noted: if the "kid" was maybe just given a management job and put in a higher role of authority than the senior engineer, it might remotely make sense. It doesn't make a lick of sense to give him the role of "principal engineer" though, as the senior engineer should be able to ask him for useful engineering advice. – Cloud Mar 8 '16 at 2:55
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    +1 I agree whole heartedly with this answer. One addition is that it doesn't appear the company (Jess included) respect the P.Eng as any more than a sign-off-monkey. The fact that you have made it clear you think you can replace an P.Eng with over 10 years experience with a newly qualified one suggests either you don't fully understand/respect what he does for the company or he is seriously in the wrong the role in the company. – Luke Mar 8 '16 at 4:18
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He is sending a message. You already know why he's doing it and you seem to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Your job is to pass the message where it's addressed: up.

Explain to your boss how screwed the company is. Explain why. Ask him/her to pass the message up.

Eventually, it'll reach someone who can resolve the situation, that is someone capable of firing the kid and promoting your guy. Or firing your guy and accepting the consequences.

The worst thing you can do is trying to resolve it yourself. If the promotion is outside your competences, then the message is not meant for you. The only thing you can achieve is to delay it until someone well up the chain will notice the problem and will start fixing it without understanding what's going on (eg. blaming you). You're not a side in this conflict, you're merely intermediate or obstacle in communication. Don't be an obstacle.

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    This. "If the promotion is outside your competences, then the message is not meant for you." – wberry Mar 9 '16 at 21:03
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    This answer should be appended to the one from "Richard U". Combined they tell the whole story. – Tonny Mar 10 '16 at 16:46
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    @Tonny I tried to stay neutral and narrow down my answer to the exact question: "What should OP do?". Richard says what should be done in the broad context of the company, I'm focusing on what OP should do, given his limited options. Because, lets face it, the proper solution of disciplinary dismissal of the board member who caused the trouble seems to be out of reach. I think what should and what could be done are very distinct answers. – Agent_L Mar 11 '16 at 11:00
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    @Agent_L Point taken and I appreciate the distinction you make. – Tonny Mar 11 '16 at 12:22
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My first instinct was to interpret our P.Eng's actions as rather unprofessional and in something of a grey area, but thinking on this further I think he is actually right on the mark.

The engineering hierarchy puts the most risk and the most responsibility on the most senior engineer. Given that he is not the Principal Engineer, it should be his responsibility to absolutely err on the side of caution - to design tests that are more rigorous than necessary, etc. If shortcuts or less stressful testing are deemed to be sufficient, it really should be the top Engineer who makes that call. Since that's not him the clear recourse here is to take this to the new Principal Engineer.

...but your new Principal Engineer is woefully unqualified, and therein lies the problem. You want your guy to act as Principal Engineer but you've made it clear that you don't want to pay him to be a Principal Engineer. This is a bit like hiring a Cardiac Surgeon and then paying him General Practitioner wages, subsequently getting upset when he gives you a referral instead of just doing the surgery. If you want a heart surgeon, you gotta pay him to be a heart surgeon. Same here. You want him to accept the responsibility of a more senior role than you are paying him for. You've put someone over his head who can't do the job required - checkmate.

You've just hired a brand new, shiny Principal Engineer whom, presumably, you are paying a massive wage to for exactly this purpose. If you need tests amended, make this new guy do his job. Whatever else are you paying him for? If you're looking for someone to fire for not doing the job you're paying them for, why on earth are you not looking squarely at this unqualified, overpaid PE who, apparently, can't even make a simple amendment to a test written by a subordinate under his management?

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    This was what I thought was happening too; I figured if something went wrong, the P. Eng knows he would basically be on the hook as a Principal, but he isn't getting compensated appropriately to bear that risk. The only way for him to be happy is to really minimize the chance of anything going wrong, whatever standard that means for him. If the previous Principal was competent he may have deferred to their judgement, which is why the situation has now changed. – neocpp Mar 9 '16 at 19:38
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    I think this a good point. Regardless of other motivations, if he thinks the guy over him isn't competent he is more or less professionally obliged to err on the side of caution. – user207421 Mar 10 '16 at 8:31
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    My first instinct was also that this was unprofessional (if understandable) behavior, but you've swayed me. – MackM Mar 10 '16 at 21:14
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    @MackM. I'll agree, however, that he should not be unduly obstructing the progression of his intern engineers - supervising his juniors is a professional responsibility that extends beyond the politics of the workplace and he should be absolutely chastised for using their careers as leverage to his own advantage. – J... Mar 10 '16 at 21:20
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    @MackM If that wasn't part of his job, and he was previously doing it voluntarily as a pro-bono thing, he's probably right to refocus on his core responsibilities after being told he's not good enough to advance. (yeah, I see the date...) – fectin - free Monica Aug 22 '18 at 20:28
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I think that if he got the promotion, this wouldn't be an issue, and that he's just trying to be difficult.

Prove it.

If you can't, you have to act as if he's doing it because of a sudden drop in quality compared to previous work, or because he's taking the job more seriously in the hopes of getting the promotion on the next pass, because clearly "being a positive team player" didn't get him there. Or that he wants to make a good impression on his new boss.

If you can, assemble the evidence, and get him to talk to HR about his responsibilities.

At the end of the day, while projecting can help you guess why an employee is struggling, unless they're willing to tell you, you can't truly know, and any actions you take based on your guess could make the problem more serious.

  • I wouldn't expect to see a HR dept in a company with 25 employees. – Ave Mar 8 '16 at 15:29
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    And the moral of the story is "Karma is a *****" – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 8 '16 at 15:31
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    @ardaozkal "I currently manage a team of about 25 engineers and developers in a subdivision of a Canadian tech company" Where did you get company with 25 employees from? – Anthony Grist Mar 8 '16 at 15:47
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    Even if he is mad because of the lack of promotion, giving him one isn't guarantied to swing him to your side again. It is easier to piss someone off them make them friends with you again. – kleineg Mar 8 '16 at 20:38
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    @kleineg It's more that if you can prove he's being professionally negligent due to personal issues, you can report him to his professional body or replace him; there are procedures in place. If you just arbitrarily accuse him because you're projecting your guilt onto him, that doesn't solve anything. – deworde Mar 9 '16 at 10:37
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Ethically, the engineer and the company are both in grey areas. The OP says the engineer isn't doing anything strictly against the rules, and their are no legal restrictions on a company promoting somebody who is less competent. So he and the company are at an impasse. The company has a few options. Terminate his employment (rules vary by location), ignore him, or try to make him happy again. All of these will cost the company money. You can't force him to sign off on things, because that would destroy the whole point of having a P. Eng.

My first suggestion would be to offer him an apology and a substantial raise. The apology should come from the people who actually passed him over, but you apologizing is better than nothing. Find out if he has grievances beyond the promotion. See what you can do to address those. If it were me, that would be the only way I'd consider staying. Plus this is probably the company's cheapest option at this point.

The company can fire the engineer, pay severance, miss contracts, and be unable to get out updates, or they can continue as is until the engineer leaves (same consequences, but uncertain timeline and no severance), or they can pay the engineer a higher salary until he leaves. And make sure that in the future, they've got at least 2 Professional Engineers on staff so they don't end up in the same boat again later. The company screwed up, and there only choice now is how they handle it.

I'd also be very, very cautious about putting this guy in a position of power ever again, and once I had another couple of engineers who could do his job, I'd look into letting him go with a decent severance package to avoid future antagonism. Right now, the company put themselves into a bad place, and it's going to take a lot more time and effort to get out of it than it took to get into it.

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    +1 for "I'd also be very, very cautious about putting this guy in a position of power ever again". He may think he got screwed but his behavior indicates that he was rightly passed over for promotion. As a professional he should still be doing his job until he can find somewhere else to work. Someone who engages in passive-aggressive revenge through abuse of power rather than negotiating/talking is not someone I'd want to work with. And this personality trait would be why I wouldn't have promoted him in the first place. – Eponymous Mar 9 '16 at 18:18
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    @Eponymous Looks like he is still doing his job. But because the company pointedly demonstrated they don't value him, he's no longer doing the smallest bit more than that. Should he be penalized for remonstrating? Well, the company is unlikely to be able to apologize sincerely and adequately, or accept having been called for misbehavior, so they will probably go their separate ways soon. – Deduplicator Mar 10 '16 at 17:43
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    @Deduplicator Management didn't demonstrate that they don't value him, they demonstrated that they thought he wasn't the best fit for the other job he wanted. Nepotism is unproven and could be his rationalization to cover flaws he won't face. That decision is their responsibility. His responsibility is to give his honest appraisal of test plans and sign off on work records. There are 3 possibilities: 1) he wasn't honest with test plans before, 2) plans became worse the moment he was passed over, or 3) he's not doing his job now. 2 is unlikely. The other possibilities look bad for him. – Eponymous Mar 10 '16 at 21:49
  • @Eponymous, I disagree. Read this answer. The Principal Engineer should be able to modify the recommendations of his junior...if said Principal were in fact competent. – Wildcard Feb 24 '17 at 1:58
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I don't think this situation is easily salvageable in the short term. My read is not necessarily that he is being malicious, just that he has checked out. When he was passed over for a promotion -- not due to the merits of his colleague, but due to a family connection, he probably felt betrayed and stopped caring about your company. He realized: none of it matters. The years of dedicated service and can-do attitude? "I've put in years at this company, and they don't care. Why should I try anymore? It's just making middle-management look good, and the execs know or care what I do."

So, he's stopped trying. He doesn't care if you meet deadlines anymore. Safety testing not perfect? Too bad. He's not going to exercise seasoned judgement anymore and read between the lines. He's just going to send it back and collect a paycheck. Thats all the job is anymore -- an (unfairly diminished) paycheck.

If possible, you can argue to upper management that he deserves a promotion. However, it sounds like you guys have already broken trust, and he is poisoning that well anyway, so who knows if that would do any good.

You could manufacture an opportunity for him, "if we meet sales figures this year, we will be opening up a new position that you would be ideally suited to and I would like to recommend you for." This allows him to save face, and may turn his attitude around. But if you promise, you better deliver.

Ultimately (and regrettably) in may be best just to let things run their course until either A) you can replace him, or B) his anger subsides.

Good luck!

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    I think if Jess goes and says at this point that we have a new position for you, if you work hard or meet the sales figure or whatever words those are, the engineer would be more pissed. Only thing that would come to his mind is, they give some kid my promotion and now expect me to work so I MIGHT have something in the future. I believe that would just tick him off and he would slow down signing stuff even more. – We are Borg Mar 10 '16 at 15:59
  • I agree; it's a gamble. – MealyPotatoes Mar 10 '16 at 16:01
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Your best bet is to recommend to the senior management that they agree to let your P.Eng go, with 6 months notice and a full severance package. At the same time, you should offer your P.Eng an extra (supplementary) contract that stipulates that he will sign off on the remaining experience your existing trainees need, during his notice period, for (say) an extra 100k. He's within his rights to turn this down - but if you treat him with respect and ensure that it will be worth his while, it's likely he will accept.

It will also allow you to limit the damage done: It is clear you can't keep your P.Eng on in the long term.

You need to tread carefully, because you are being watched by the trainees. One whiff of foul play will encourage them to flee the very moment they are fully accredited (please do not even THINK of doing anything stupid, like planting false evidence to engineer a miscarriage of justice, as someone here has implied! That will only convince them to leave, regardless of how they viewed their former supervisor.)

With any luck, all parties can put this behind them in 6 months.

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    At this point, the odds are better than even that the soon-to-be-former EITs will bail the moment they get their Registered Professional Engineer licenses, just as their predecessors have. (Re-read the original, where it says that the unwritten part of the job was to sign off on EIT timesheets, to get them their PE licenses. Apparently, he HAD been signing off on them in the past, and those EITs HAD been getting their licenses, but, "somehow", this guy is now their ONLY in-house PE. Connect the dots and run the numbers...) – John R. Strohm Mar 9 '16 at 16:04
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    Very true: Whatever your angle, something smells pretty bad at that firm - and you'd have to be an imbecile not to detect the stench. Therein lies the problem: Surprisingly few engineers are imbeciles, even if they are treated by HR and management as if they were. (This particular class of cognitive dissonance has never ceased to amaze me.) – Oliver Jones Mar 9 '16 at 18:35
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    This. There isn't a scenario where he goes out the door both painlessly and cheaply. They may as well spend the money and save the pain (and probably a good deal of money, to boot). He definitely needs to be out the door when this is over though: I don't think you can ever really trust him anymore, given that he knows your company is willing to screw him. – aaron Mar 9 '16 at 20:00
11

This is probably going to come across as blunt and perhaps mean-spirited, but the bottom line is this: your company is not beholden to "make things right" with this guy, your company is beholden to fix the problem. That's it. End of story. If fixing the problem means giving this guy the promotion he wanted then do what you can to make that happen. If it means finding a qualified replacement, then you need to go that route.

While I agree that the company kind of screwed this guy over and on one level I can really empathize with him in that situation, I would nevertheless be very wary about keeping a person who behaves like this on the payroll. First and foremost, this is a tactic that he did not have to use but did, and going forward, you have to take into account the idea that he will pull something like this again the next time he feels wronged about something. Second, I am sure that this incident will have left a bad taste in his mouth regarding your company and that may be something he never gets rid of for as long as he is employed with you. As the saying goes, contented cows make good milk. He may never be a "contented cow" for you again.

I think what you need to do can be summed up by the following:

  1. Divorce your personal feelings from the situation and look at it from the cold eyes of a business professional. From the tone of the OP I believe that you are sympathetic towards him, but I think you've got to put that away. It's going to be a very tough decision to make, and down the line you don't want to look back and think that you've made it for the wrong reasons (either way).

  2. Try to turn this into a comparison of numbers. How much is his intransigence costing you on a weekly or monthly or yearly basis? How much will it cost to find and hire a replacement? You really need to set this down both for yourself and for the sake of your company if you do decide that letting him go is the best option. It sounds like his actions are impacting the bottom line; get an honest appraisal of how much they are.

  3. Consider changing your overall approval strategy here. I mean, I can understand that from a legal or at least semi-legal perspective you need a trained professional to sign off on certain things, and it may be too expensive to employ more than one at a time... but what are you going to do if this guy's replacement gets hit by a bus on the way to work? It would behoove you to seek out alternatives to having a bottleneck of one person at any point in the process, and that applies even if this guy somehow shapes up or gets the raise he was hoping to negotiate and behaves exactly the way he did before this whole thing began.

  4. Hope for the best, assume the worst. You can confront this guy, sure, but if he's already told people he's basically waiting for you to fire him, it's probably not going to do much good. At the same time, this is an issue that's probably not going to go away by itself. It's likely to be very messy, but it's only going to get messier if you don't act on it quickly.

Sorry, wish I had better things to tell you...

  • 5
    +1 Agree mostly with a caveat. The PE has to be appeased to stop the bleeding. This has become political, and the man is smart. He now has them in an untenable position. In a case like this, I'm reminded of the old Will Rodgers quote about politics being the art of saying "nice doggy" while looking for a rock. This company is just looking for the rock – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 9 '16 at 14:03
  • It kind of seems to me like the dog has already stopped snarling and started attacking though. If they can get the guy to do his job for a couple months then sure, appease away, but I'm not sure they're even at that point anymore if he's out and out refusing to do his job in a way that is making the company stop in their tracks. – NotVonKaiser Mar 9 '16 at 14:43
  • Yeah, but if you throw the dog a bone, he might stop attacking. The P.Eng is in a position where he can bring operations to a halt by doing everything by the book, leaving them without recourse. They need to appease his anger of they will get nothing done. It's pure pragmatism, IMO. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 9 '16 at 14:54
  • 1
    Sorry, man, but that analogy fails. If a dog is attacking you, a bone's not going to stop it. Unless, of course, you hit it over the head with the bone. – NotVonKaiser Mar 9 '16 at 14:58
  • 6
    You're obviously a good person because you don't think like a total jerk. Conversely, I must assume that I am less so, as I can think of far worse things he could do. At this point, I would negotiate with the P.Eng until I could replace him, but they need to clear up the bottleneck. They can't fire him for cause because while he is causing a bottleneck, he is not doing so through anything that is actionable. I would pay him to go away, hire a P.Eng to replace him, take the most knowledgeable EIT and promote him to assist the new P.Eng to get him up to shop standards and move on. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 9 '16 at 15:48
9

You are in a sticky situation. If you feel he is flagging things in retaliation or not in line with existing standards for those reviews, then raise this up the management chain.

If he is however, pointing out flaws in your code, then you need to keep fixing them and resubmitting, possibly asking to get a full list of what it will take to clear the app for release so that you can get everything fixed to his satisfaction.

Lastly if you are his manager, you need to sit him down, and set him straight. If he doesn't shape up then you will terminate him.

I think his professional certification is not the point here. If there are defined deficiencies then he should be listing all of them so you can have them resolved and then at that point he should be approving your builds. If he persists in not signing off, then proceed with your other options of putting him on probation or moving the issue up the chain.

  • 13
    It depends on whether the P.Eng. signoff is only a QA requirement, which can be changed, or a legal requirement, which can't. If it is a legal requirement, they're screwed, until they hire a new P.Eng. and he gets up to speed on their products and processes. That process will take a long time and cost a lot of money. – John R. Strohm Mar 7 '16 at 23:01
  • 38
    If you terminate him because he's insisting on strict, but (I'm assuming) valid standards, guess what happens then? Don't know about Canada, but in the US it could mean lawyers & expensive lawsuits for firing a 'whistleblower'. Not to mention bad client & public relations... – jamesqf Mar 8 '16 at 2:13
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    @BillLeeper I think you don't understand what he's doing. He's doing exactly his job, up to every letter. He's just not giving slack to anyone and you can't fire someone for doing his job too diligently. – Agent_L Mar 8 '16 at 19:54
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    @Jess You said promotions are not your job, so it's not your job to fix promotion problems. If you allow anyone to think it's your problem, then guess what happens: Nephew can't be fired. P.Eng. can't be fired. Who can be fired? You. Don't make a mistake and let anyone think this is your problem, because then someone will make it your problem. You can't solve the problem. Don't make yourself pay for it. – Agent_L Mar 8 '16 at 20:02
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    @Jess: This guy is not the cause of your job being difficult. His behavior is a symptom; your management's behavior is the cause. You're not going to get anywhere until you accept that, and treat the disease, not the symptom. – jamesqf Mar 8 '16 at 21:06
5

Consider it as a reliability problem. Success means that everything passes through a single inspection point of failure. If the test, tester or test machine was working reliably, most of the product would pass. Now the fail rate is unacceptable and worse than before. So add a parallel test/tester. (Hire a new PE). Now rejects at gate 1 can be resubmitted at gate 2. IE an independent test exists.

BUT if the second, new tester (hired after a search process, and some time delay) agrees with Gate 1 tester that quality sucks - something has changed - has visible nepotism soured the whole team - "no point in trying, I'm not related to the boss" - and created a bad atmosphere and bad quality?

This assumes that you can hire a new PE (since people talk, the new guy - if he's any good - will realise he is entering a war zone - and may pass).

Since all these issues of poor output/quality are arriving at your desk (and are visible from above) - how long before the favoured nephew comes calling looking for your head?

Maybe you need a plan B and a lifeboat for yourself? You've already more or less admitted that internal politics prevail over sound commercial and technical judgement.

I'd start by talking with your existing PE (lots of fish in the sea, more opportunities for promotion, etc, etc) - depending on whether he trusts you or not that may bear fruit, or at least give more info about what is needed to fix the matter.

Most seasoned professionals are used to "Doing the impossible, for the ungrateful, frequently" but it hurts to have your nose rubbed in it. Maybe a technical conference trip or a course at the company's expense could sweeten the situation.

Finally - if the PE has access to a computer and this website - unless the details are well concealed, you'll have open warfare in a few days.....

  • Asker didn't say much bad about PEng, except the "connection with exec board", shouldn't be that much of a problem. – Ave Mar 8 '16 at 15:36
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    @ardaozkal: What the asker said was that the newly-minted Principal Engineer, who apparently got it because he was someone's nephew, is NOT a Registered Professional Engineer. What the asker did not say, but seems obvious in retrospect, is that this is NOT the first time they've screwed people over, just the latest, and, this time, the company's only Registered Professional Engineer has hit his "Enough is enough" point. What the asker does not seem to realize is that his company is, at this point, BEGGING for the guy to turn in his resignation. They're lucky he hasn't already quit. – John R. Strohm Mar 8 '16 at 16:00
  • Upvoted. I was about to write an answer based on the destruction caused by a bad engineer in a high position and this turns up. Well not quite what I would have described, here's an even faster way the process could be really corrupted really fast, requiring a much more thorough process to have any hope of being right. – Joshua Mar 9 '16 at 3:06
  • @JohnR.Strohm: He won't quit, he'll lose his severance package. He's trying to force them to fire him. If he was going to quit, my guess is he would have done it as soon as he heard he was passed over. – TMN Mar 9 '16 at 18:00
  • 1
    @TMN Or more likely he's looking for another job already and will quit once he's found one. In the meantime he sees no reason to do anything more than the minimum for the company that he feels has already screwed him. – Tim B Mar 10 '16 at 12:26
4

This is exactly what you're paid to do, sit him down and talk to him. Find out what his grievance is, don't surmise it and if need be hand out an ultimatum or whatever disciplinary measure you can and move forwards from there.

Until you have had that conversation you have not started doing your job on this issue. Whatever reason he didn't get the promotion is not really your concern if you cannot do anything about it. Your concern is to protect the company and ensure workflow is smooth. I would be sympathetic but firm.

I would also take each on of his issues found with the products seriously, keep a track on them and if necessary after talking to him, get a second opinion from someone with the required qualification. In other words do it properly, don't make any assumptions based on third party hearsay.

If I found that it is just sour grapes on his part and I can't get him back to work, I would then take the problem up the line and make whatever recommendation I thought appropriate and move forwards from there.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Mar 9 '16 at 12:45
  • 2
    I disagree. A plan whose "solution" involves framing an employee by putting pron on their computer is not a good plan. Doubling down in a bad situation by increasing the damage to the company seem more vengeful than practical. – Yakk Mar 10 '16 at 19:24
  • @Yakk: And doing something like putting porn on the PE's computer assumes that he is not smart enough to have thought of that possibility, and installed measures to catch the company in the act. If you think they're having problems now... – jamesqf Mar 10 '16 at 19:56
  • porn was just an example, you don't need to frame the guy, if you look hard enough you can always find something to sack him over however marginal it may be. In any case it's not the OP who would be doing it, his responsibility is just to determine if the PE is doing his job or not, if not then pass the info to the bosses. – Kilisi Mar 10 '16 at 20:03
4

Sorry, OP, but your post reads like you are being a petulant child, and if that is how you act around this PEng, I can understand why he is taking this course of action:

he's just trying to be difficult.

Is this what you would state in a court of law when the judge finds out you forced this PEng to rubber-stamp a safety review on threat of losing his job and a consumer of your product dies as a result? Is that what you're going to tell the friends and family of that consumer? Is that what you will tell the Globe and Mail or Business Insider or Forbes?

Is there any way to force him to stop this game?

Once again, is "game" the word you would use to describe the situation when you force him to rubber-stamp a safety review and someone dies? Is a proper safety review just a "game" to you and your company? Are you properly qualified to determine whether this is just a "game", or whether product safety has actually decreased? You very much do not want to be on the wrong side of answering that question, it could be very expensive for you and your company.

As with many upper-management types who come to Workplace SE, you are looking at this business problem as a people problem. The problem is, you are not qualified (and neither am I) to determine whether or not the safety tests are sufficiently rigorous; that's what the PEng is there for. It is your job, as upper management, to trust your PEng, and to not let things out the door if he doesn't give the OK, no matter what reason you think he has for doing so, and if it means your product is late to market, then so be it. So irrespective of whether the PEng is being petty, you have a responsibility to trust his judgment.

Now that that's out of the way, I have a solution to your problem of how to make the PEng stop doing these things: In theory, your PE is supposed to have at least as much experience as the PEng. I don't know about your company, but in the experiences I've had, in general, a promotion ladder works in the way that each higher rung on the ladder encompasses the competencies of the previous rung; an intermediate engineer should be at least as good as a junior, a senior at least as good as an intermediate, a principal at least as good as a senior, a CTO at least as good as a principal, so that different levels can cross-mentor and have meaningful discussions with their equivalent or lower levels. So therefore, your PE has the same qualifications (or ought to) as your PEng. Therefore, your solution is to just sideline your problematic PEng and have the PE do the safety reviews since he has the required expertise. Is there a particular reason you can't do this? If the PE is not competent to do the job of the PEng, then perhaps you should reconsider your choice of PE.

2

Promoting the P.End reinforces the message to the entire staff that dedicated service gets you nowhere - instead employees need to either sabotage the company to get pay raises/promotions, or have special connections to the board.

Sending such a message can be incredibly expensive because it usually increases employee turnover and decreases productivity at the same time. If the company is willing to get the employee back without sending the wrong message (because the employee is beyond excellent, or a replacement is harder to find than you assumed when you created the situation in the first place), then you'll need a fall guy from higher up. This allows people to blame a person - who's gone - for the entire mess, instead of blaming the company. The board member whose nephew got promoted would work, good luck convincing him to step down.

I can see various more realistic solutions, but all of them require you to hire another P.Eng, either to take away some of the current P.Eng's power, or to replace him.

  • 21
    I have to say that they have already sent the message that dedicated service gets you nowhere. That train has left the station and they can't fix it. Once this immediate crisis is resolved---and they want to resolve it as diplomatically as possible---they're going to have to start rebuilding the trust of the engineering staff. – dmckee Mar 10 '16 at 1:56
  • @dmckee There can be all kinds of reasons why someone gets passed on a promotion. If there's one promotion and two people who want it, most people realize there will be disappointment. Not promoting someone is a pretty standard thing to happen and sends a weak signal. Promoting someone solely because they sabotaged the company is not a standard thing to happen, and sends an extremely strong signal. – Peter Mar 10 '16 at 6:22
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    Mmmm @dmckee is right here that train is loooooong gone. Yes being passed on a promotion is a normal thing but being passed on a promotion for someone's nephew is not a normal thing especially when that nephew isn't a P.Eng and the position being hired for is Principle Engineer. And the guy being passed up is a P.Eng and in the words of the OP: "a reliable, hard worker, who've they've never had a problem with". I dunno what message you would get from that, but the one I get is loud and clear "We don't care about qualifications, we want to keep money in the family". – Ryan Mar 10 '16 at 17:16
  • @ryan The OP did not state that the person who got the promotion is incompetent or unreliable. Someone not getting a promotion for whatever reason os one thing, but someone being rewarded for sabotaging the company is on a completely different level - it should be very clear that the second event is worse by far to everyone on staff other than the P.Eng. Rewarding people for harming the company can destroy the entire company. – Peter Mar 10 '16 at 17:35
  • 2
    @peter The OP did say that the nephew was incompetent and has since been relieved of his position. That was in the comments that have since been deleted, but she did say it. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Aug 19 '16 at 13:31

protected by Jane S Mar 9 '16 at 12:46

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