Talk with Human Resources

Thursday, May 26 2005

Late Thursday morning Juana called and said I needed to attend a meeting with boss, Bryan, and HR at 2:30 that afternoon. I said I really couldn't do that. I said I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain my composure and would rather they just deal with it in email. I knew that if it was another one of those discussions about "judgment", I "should have known better", and "everyone knows..." I would break down into tears again. I didn't want to go through that embarrassment. The secretary said she would pass it on. She came back "I'm sorry it's mandatory". I said I wasn't going to do it. I'd take the punishment instead. They could do it my way or forget it. She told me she was just the messenger but that I have to attend the meeting. I reiterated my position and said it was my final decision. I got an Outlook meeting request a few minutes later. I declined with this message:

From: Huffman, Joseph K
Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2005 11:19 AM
Subject: Declined: Mandatory Staff Discussion
When: Thursday, May 26, 2005 2:30 PM-3:30 PM (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada); Tijuana.
Sensitivity: Private

I'm sorry, but I am unable to maintain my composure while discussing this topic. I will not subject myself to that embarrassment. Please deal with this via email.

Thank you.

I got a call from Bryan a few minutes later. He told me I didn't have any options. I had to attend this meeting. I said, "What do you mean I don't have any options? What's the worst you can do to me? Fire me? So what? I have another job in Moscow right now. All I have to do is accept it." He said, "It doesn't have to come to that, but it will if you don't attend this meeting." I told him I didn't care. I would rather leave the company that go through with that meeting. Deal with it in email. He kept saying it can't be handled that way and that I would get fired if I didn't attend. And I kept saying I wouldn't do it and any punishment he had available was better than attending the meeting. He finally gave me 30 minutes to change my mind. There were no lawyers available in that time frame and I talked to a couple friends who had better knowledge in the area than I did. The consensus was that it from a legal standpoint it was reasonable that I be required to have a face-to-face meeting. I decided to tell my boss I would have the meeting as long as there were no men present. I would rather cry and sob in front of women than men. He called back and asked me for my final answer. I told him my counter offer. He immediate said no and asked if I was going to the meeting or not--final chance. I immediately and firmly said no. He paused for a bit and said he would work on it and see what he could do. He called back 15 or 20 minutes later and told me the meeting was arranged on my terms with two people from HR for 2:30 PM. But after the meeting he HAD to talk to me for a bit.

I went to talk to Gina, who was aware of the status my projects, the problems I had with my computers being gone and that I was being investigated. I told her of my new meeting with HR in a few minutes and that I didn't know what would happen. A week previous I had sent email to her and Wayne telling them they should seriously consider getting someone else for the Houston project and perhaps others. At that time they decided to wait and see what would happen with me. After I had explained the change she said Wayne, the Program Manager for all my projects, was away at his daughter's wedding. We didn't even know what state he is in but she had his cell phone number and could contact him if necessary. I told her I would let her know as soon as I knew anything.

I went to the conference room about five minutes early and two very sour faced women showed up on time. One was Peggy Hevland and I don't remember the other woman's name.  Peggy had a list of questions which she read and made notes with my answers. The first question was "Have you taken the ethics training?" My answer was "Yes." The questions were of a much different nature than I expected and I didn't have any problem maintaining my composure. They were all fact based and very specific. The blogging issue only came up in terms of blogging while at work and did I ever charge my time while doing that to any projects. The answer was no. I did the blogging while during my lunch break or spent extra time at work to make sure the hours for the projects was correct. She asked (at least I thought it was what she said, it later became clear this probably was not what she said or what she meant if she did say it) if I knew 'posting' from a work computer required me to get permission. I said I didn't really know that but I supposed thing could be interpreted that way. She said there was a very large amount of personal data on the computers and that 'hosting' that was clearly against rules. I basically didn't know what she was talking about. I said, yes there was probably a personal spreadsheet or two and some files related to Boomershoot that I had downloaded to answer questions people from work had stopped by to talk about. But there just wasn't that much that I could imagine was considered personal stuff. "Did you know there are restrictions on personal use of computers." "Yes. Doing outside business work on a work computer was forbidden, but there were allowed uses too. For example use for a charity was acceptable as long as it didn't interfere with work use. The boomershoot activity wasn't a charity but it was put on for a non profit gun club I belong too. It isn't a business."

The other woman hadn't said a word since the questioning started but at this point asked a question about "hosting". I explained that hosting had a very specific meaning to me about a server delivering files to other computers and people. But Peggy apparently has some other definition. As near as I could tell her definition was that since I would copy something from a news report on the web on some distant computer then paste it into my blog on a different computer in a different state, momentarily the work computer contained the information and was the "host" for the information on my blog. I asked my questioner if I had that right. She neither confirmed nor denied. There wasn't even any expression change in her. She went on to other questions. "Have you ever accessed any anti-government sites from work?" "I have accessed sites that were hostile to certain political parties, but none that were hostile to our constitutional form of government and advocated the violent overthrow of our government." "Have you accessed any sexual sites?" "My wife and I have a active sex life. Some might view some of our activities as unusual. It's possible there will be evidence of that in the personal email I have accessed on via the web." "Have you ever downloaded any sexual material to your computer?" "No."

The questions went on to the laptop computer. Did I protect it when I didn't have it in my possession? I said it would go in the safe either at home or at my room in Richland when I was out. They wanted to know if anyone else had access to the safe. I said my wife knew the combination to the safe in Moscow but she wouldn't have done that. I told them my daughter and wife had logged onto the guest account and used the computer to browse the web and check email on a few occasions. This seemed to be of great interest. "Did you know the rules for computing resource use at home are much more strict than those at work?" "No. I don't recall that." "They are. There is NO acceptable use of computers for personal use at home." Had I ever logged in as guest? I said I didn't think so. "So all activity in the guest account would be that of someone else?" Yes, I think so. Anyone other than your wife or daughter? My daughter has had friends with her in Richland and they were on the computer together at times. "Who is Xenia Joy Huffman-Scott?" "That is my daughter." "Does the computer contain any OUO (Official Use Only) information?" "I believe it does now, but I don't think it did at the time others used it." "How would you know?" "I would have deleted it or at least checked for that before I let someone else use it. But at this point I have no way of knowing whether I was completely successful in that." "Did you know it was against the rules for someone other than yourself to use the computer?" "Yes." "Why did you allow it?" "Because they wanted to get on the web, I thought it was innocent use and it just wouldn't matter."

They excused themselves for a while to talk out of my presence. While they were gone I realized where the "hosting" question probably came from. For one research project I needed to collect "typical computer use" while at a customer location to demonstrate some software I had written. I couldn't install the software on the customer's computers. I had to bring computers with me. I couldn't hook my computers up to the net while at their site. I downloaded all of the web sites I was the webmaster for (about a dozen different sites I think) onto a couple of the computers. When testing the demo while in Richland and at the customer site I created a small network with five or six computers and shared out the directory with the various web sites for the participants in the demo to be able to access and engage in "web browsing" of my web sites. In addition I had obtained permission for and installed games (no games are allowed on company computers) on some of the computers for use in the demo too. For future demos and to preserve my test environment I kept those downloaded websites on my computers. They were only made accessible during those times the same demonstration network was active.

The nearly silent woman returned first and I said I thought I knew where the hosting question came from and that I would explain when her co-worker returned. After a few minutes the other woman returned with my boss. They started to talk and the first woman said I had something to further to say about the hosting. I explained. When the games came up the questioner asked, "Who did you get permission from for this?" My boss said "Human Subject Testing Group". He mangled the name, it was "Human Subject Testing Review Board" and I corrected him. The Human Subject Testing Review Board gave permission for the demonstration and testing but it was someone else that gave permission for installing the games. I realized after his answer the question was ambiguous but decided to go with his interpretation rather than resolve the ambiguity. Especially since I couldn't remember who it was we went through to get the permission and I believe it was a co-worker that actually got the permission.

My boss then gave me a written memo that said I was being suspended without pay, effective May 30th. I would be paid for the rest of the day and Friday but effective Monday I would not be paid until the situation was resolved. I was to turn in my badge and keys. I was not to access the computer network even remotely. I informed them of my trip to Houston and asked what they wanted me to do about it. My boss said he would work with my co-workers to mitigate the impact. I explained that the person he really needed to talk to, Wayne, was on vacation at his daughter's wedding but Gina could probably reach him. They said they would work to resolve things as quickly as possible and I might still be able to travel on Wednesday. They needed to research what has been done in previous similar cases of poor judgment to make sure the treatment given to me was similar. I told Peggy, "We haven't talked about 'judgment'." She replied, "The allowing of your daughter to use the laptop reflects on your judgment." I replied, "Thank you."

I asked what I should do in regards to the trip to Houston. Should I contact my co-workers and help them deal with my potential absence? My boss said it would be the professional thing to do but he would do it for me if I wanted him to. I said I wanted to handle it. But it was ambiguous to me whether I was allowed to do that. I looked at Peggy. She said nothing. My boss said I could contact them. I said I had telephone numbers on my cell phone and would give them calls as soon as I could. My boss and I walked out of the building I handed him my badge and office key. He said from what he had heard (I believe only the details about the hosting and the computer usage by Xenia when he was in the room) "They don't really have anything on you. You can make it through this." He told me he would contact me as soon as he had something for me. I asked how he would contact me and he said however I would prefer it. I told him email. He agreed.

I walked away and immediately called Gina to tell her and let her try and figure out what to do. She was on the phone and I left voice mail telling her I had been suspended without pay and may not be able to attend the workshop. She called me back just a few minutes later as I was driving home. I offered to come back and meet her someplace to figure out things.  She said that shouldn't be necessary.  I told her she had the latest materials for the workshop. I had not received any comments or edits to them since I had received hers and I only had a slight disagreement with one of her edits and explained it to her. I explained deliverable material I was supposed to give to a co-worker of someone she knew at Sandia in Albuquerque by end of the day. She said she would contact the person she knew at Sandia and make sure it was delivered and work with Sandia to prepare for my potential absence. She said she had already contacted Wayne, the Program Manager, and I should call him too. I got his cell phone number from her and called as soon as I got off the phone with her. I got voice mail and left a message telling him what I knew. I also made some calls to Barb and a couple of friends.

About 30 minutes later as I was going in and out of cell phone service areas I got a call from my boss. I pulled over and he told me "For your own good you should not have any contact with anyone from work." I explained that, as per his suggestion and HR's apparent agreement, I had contacted my co-workers almost immediately after leaving him to help them handle my absence. I told him what I had said to them and agreed not to have further contact with them. I suggested he contact them and tell them not to contact me so I could more easily comply. He agreed.

After I got home I explained things to Barb, James, and Xenia. Then Barb and I rented a video and watched it before going to bed. The next morning I checked my email to find the following email sent by my boss Bryan the previous afternoon:

Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2005 4:31 PM
From: McMillan, Bryan H
To: Joe@joehuffman.org
Subject: Additional guidance
Importance: High

Joe I am writing to follow up to our phone conversation of this afternoon.

To relieve you of any further burden, I will provide any and all communication with PNNL staff regarding project work. Please do not contact any PNNL staff until we can get this resolved.

There was another staff member I had a deadline to deliver a status report to by close of business on Friday. I replied to Bryan's message and got the following reply:

From: Joe Huffman
Sent: Friday, May 27, 2005 7:52 AM
To: McMillan, Bryan H
Subject: RE: Additional guidance

There is some project status information Debbie Frincke needed from me by today. May I send that to you to forward on to her?



Sent: Friday, May 27, 2005 9:38 AM
From: McMillan, Bryan H
To: Joe Huffman
Subject: RE: Additional guidance

Yes that would be fine.

I wrote up the status report as best I could from memory and emailed it to Bryan at 13:14 Friday May 27.

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Last update: August 24, 2005