Meet the Makers: Sam Cassell

Utility-Sam-sqThrough this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.
We would like to introduce you to Sam Cassell, Plant Manager at Utility Trailer Manufacturing in Glade Spring, Virginia, manufacturer of Dry Van trailers. Manufacturing has provided Sam with a rewarding and beneficial career for 30 years. We sat down with Sam to talk about the progression of his career and why he has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.


What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

It started when I was a young boy, a child wanting to play and tinker with little pieces of motors that used to come in toys, to tear them apart whether they would break accidentally or on purpose. Again, as a young kid I was just intrigued with how they worked and how we could take them apart and make other things with them. It just grew from there. Now that I look back on it, it was from childhood that got me interested and it continued on through school.

draftingTell us about your start in manufacturing.

I got started in my manufacturing career with Utility Trailer back in 1989 when the Atkins facility was opening up. I started there on the line and actually built the front wall on the third trailer that went down the production line. From there I had planned to just stay six months and move on to something else, but I found it very interesting, very challenging and neat that we were building something as large as a trailer. From there I had some opportunity within the company to move into different areas and gain a vast knowledge of the product. I have held the positions of Quality Inspector, Production Supervisor, Order Planning Supervisor, Quality Manager, and Plant Superintendent. Eventually I was given the opportunity to move into my current position as Plant Manager.

What education or training did you have before you started your job?

What is now referred to as a Carrier Center was once called Trade School. In Trade School I studied Drafting and blueprint reading. Back then it was the old green tables, nothing like you see today, but it was mechanical drafting. We got into drawing parts, both small and large, and we could see how they would work and come together. I found that very interesting, just being able to draw something from scratch, really just imaginary and how they could be put together and made to do different things. I got into blueprint reading and did a lot of that back in my high school days. When I graduated I went to college for a little bit, but I don’t know if I wasn’t ready for college or college wasn’t ready for me, it could go both ways. I didn’t finish college at that time. I went into the military for awhile. I went into the Army and got into working on tank systems. After the military I went to work for Utility Trailer. Then I finished my education and received my degree in business at age fifty. I personally found finishing my degree at an older age to be a benefit. I had a much better understanding of how to apply that education on the job and how to apply my years of experience in the class room. I have found that my business and drafting/blue printing education are equally important. I use each every day.

Sam 75000Tell us about your education/training throughout your career.

I have had on the job everyday training as manufacturing and our product continues to evolve for the customer needs. We’re faced with something new quite often. Training continues today.  Over the years I have received training in areas such as computer, heavy equipment brake systems, welding, and electrical painting, There is a lot that goes into building a trailer, it changes all the time so training is continuous.  Utility Trailer values training so a lot of time is devoted to this area. All employees begin training on day one.  We not only train on how to build trailers and operating tools, time is spent on safety, a lot of time on safety including proper lifting, wearing of personal protection equipment (PPE),  classes on blue print reading, use of measuring equipment, we have several on site with first aid / CPR training. I’m sure I will continue to go to trainings for the rest of my career.

Tell us about the progression of your career.

It started early on, I didn’t even know it. I got into my job and found I was liking it and learning. I was a lot younger then, and it was kind of cool to see we were building something with our hands and we could actually see the end product. We could see it out on the interstate each and every day and know that we had a part in doing that. There was a manager of mine early on, he didn’t tell me at that time, but it was shared with me many years later, and I asked him how I got where I am. He said to me, “Sam, we saw early on that you had something that we could use here. You had some work ethic, you had a good character and some knowledge, and the ability to do more and to learn.” Has it been easy? No. Some of the jobs and opportunities have been tough. Have all of them been a success? No, some of them have failed. But, to be honest, I think I’ve learned more from those failures than I ever have on the successes. I think it’s made me stronger and more hard headed to see current and future projects through to the end.

sam quoteWhat has this career meant to you?

Those people that we work with each and every day, it doesn’t just stop here. When we go home and people clock out our relationship doesn’t just stop. We see many of the people out in the community that we see here each day. Many times we’ll find ourselves out on the fence at a Little League game talking about what we just did today. I’ll get stories about the good, the bad, and the ugly about the job. When we’re out there together, outside of these walls, we share a lot. It’s not just me and the individuals who work here, it’s our families as well.


Watch the video below to find out why Sam has stayed in manufacturing for thirty years.


Meet the Makers: Dawn Archer

Through this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.

Dawn 1

We would like to introduce you to Dawn Archer, Senior Manufacturing Operations Manager at General Dynamics Mission Systems in Marion, Virginia. Manufacturing has provided Dawn with a rewarding and beneficial career for 38 years. We sat down with Dawn to talk about the progression of her career and why she has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.

What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

I was led to a career in manufacturing through my father. He worked as a Tooling and Facility Manager and as a Composites Product Manager here at this same facility, which at that time was called Brunswick Corporation.

Tell us about your start in manufacturing.

I went to work for Brunswick Corporation in 1980. I was 22 years old and my original position was an Engineering Technician. After three months in the Engineering Technician position, I was promoted to Program Coordinator in the Production Control Department.

What education and training did you have before you started your job?

I graduated locally from Marion Senior High School, then attended Virginia Tech. While at Virginia Tech I studied Political Science and Sociology. That background today doesn’t really sound like it fits in manufacturing, but back in 1980 with so few women in manufacturing positions, as long as you had a solid educational background, the company took the time to train you for the position you were hired to perform.  Today after 38 years of working in almost every area of the business, including 2 years at one of our business unit headquarters, I would have to say that it has been advantageous to be a part time politician and social worker.  Today with many technology changes in manufacturing, an educational background in science, technology, engineering, or math is beneficial.

Tell us about your continued education and training throughout your career.

Obviously, there was lots of on-the-job training.  Additionally, I continued my education taking several APICS [the association for supply chain management] courses, along with training in supervision, auditing, Lean 101, Lean Leadership, business writing, and communication & negotiation skills. In December 2003, I graduated from the President’s Leadership and Development Program, which was a 12-month program in Burlington, Vermont, that was established for GDATP (General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products) future leaders of the business.

Tell us about the progression of your career.

I was hired into manufacturing in 1980 as an Engineering Technician and was then promoted to a Program Coordinator in Production Control. From that position, I began to transition to Program Coordinator II, Master Scheduler, Manager Production & Material Control / Stockroom & Traffic, and then moved to Manager Radomes & Composite Manufacturing Plant 3. In 2003, I graduated from the President’s Leadership and Development Program and became the Director of Ethics in 2004. The Director of Ethics job required me to move to Charlotte, NC and work out of our GDATP headquarters.  At GDATP headquarters, I was a member of the senior staff and worked directly for the President of the company. Reporting directly to the President was a great opportunity that allowed me to travel to all of the GDATP locations and meet all of the people that manufactured the products for our business unit.

In 2006, the GDATP business unit reorganized.  At that point, the new Vice President over the Marion facility asked me to move back to Marion and I was appointed the Director of Production Planning and Support for Advanced Materials. In that job, I had responsibility of the planning support groups in Marion as well as our facility in Lincoln, Nebraska.  In 2008, I was appointed Director Manufacturing Operations and was responsible for all manufacturing activities.  In 2016, I was appointed the Director of Production and Material Planning / Aerostructures Operations Manager.  In 2018, our company moved into the GDMS (General Dynamics Mission Systems) business unit and titles changed to map with GDMS titles.  So currently I am Senior Manager, Manufacturing Operations, with the same oversight as in 2016.

What has it been about manufacturing that has made you want to stay in it as long as you have?

I have stayed in a manufacturing role simply because I love what I do.  I love everything that manufacturing brings to the table. There is always something new.  New processes, new techniques, new products, new equipment, new customers, and new ways of doing business through continuous improvement.  I’ve also stayed because of the people.  My co-workers, salary and hourly, have become a part of my extended family and that makes me work even harder, because I want this business to survive and excel.  I want all of my co-workers to have a long career like I have been blessed with.

Looking back, can you tell us about some highlights of your career?

When I first came to work here I applied for the first two positions that I held.  The main highlight of my career that I am most proud of is that after those first two positions, I have been recognized and rewarded with promotions and new responsibilities on numerous occasions, without ever applying for another position, which has meant so much to me.

A second highlight in my career was the opportunity to work at our GDATP business unit headquarters. Working at our headquarters gave me a tremendous amount of knowledge pertaining to how the General Dynamics business operates and it opened doors for me to develop business relationships, throughout all of General Dynamics.  While at headquarters for 2 years, I developed an award winning Ethics program that received local, state, and national awards, which will always be a highlight in my career.

Finally, I would say being a third term member of the labor contract negotiating team. We have a union (UAW Local 2850) at the Marion facility, and we have to negotiate our labor contract usually every 3 – 5 years.  I have been fortunate enough to sit at the table with the union and management teams on three different contract labor agreements. Only a small handful of management employees get to experience the labor negotiation process, and that is an experience I will always remember.

What has this career meant to you?

This career in manufacturing has meant everything to me. It has given me many opportunities to grow as an individual by working with others, mentoring new employees, and developing myself. Having all the jobs that I’ve held the last 38 years, I’ve touched many production areas, almost every department, and almost every employee at the Marion facility.  One favorite memory from my experiences was in 2016, being part of a 4-person team that won a General Dynamics Manufacturing Excellence award for the successful start-up of the Gulfstream G600 program.  That award was a true success story for the company and for me personally.

My career has provided more than I ever dreamed would be possible for a young girl who started to work in manufacturing over 38 years ago.  The company has been very good to me through my promotions and through my job responsibilities. The company benefits have allowed me to provide for my family and serve my community through many community service activities and Board memberships. Without this manufacturing career, my experiences might have been few, and in my opinion I would have been a totally different person.

Watch the video below to find out more about Dawn’s 38 year manufacturing career.

Meet the Makers: Gene Chumley

Through this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.


We would like to introduce you to Gene Chumley, Engineering Services Manager at Strongwell in Bristol, Virginia. Manufacturing has provided Gene with a rewarding and beneficial career for 32 years. We sat down with Gene to talk about the progression of his career and why he has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.

What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

Actually, I stumbled upon manufacturing. I was right out of college and looking for a job and once I started it I fell in love with manufacturing, and I’ve been in it ever since.

Tell us about your start in manufacturing

I started in 1986 at Electrolux in Piney Flats, Tennessee. I was working at a brand new electric motor plant.

What education and training did you have before you started your job?

I had a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee.

Tell us about your continued education and training throughout your career.

Through tuition reimbursement through the company I was able to pursue a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management through the University of Tennessee through an extension program. I also earned Green Belt in Lean Sigma.

Tell us about the progression of your career.

I started out as an entry level engineer at Electrolux and I worked my way up to Senior Development Engineer and I was there for 12 years. Then I moved onto West Tennessee for about two years as a Senior Project Engineer with Maytag. I had to get back to this area, so I moved back. I worked at Bristol Compressors for 18 years. I started there as a Senior Design Engineer and worked my way up to Manager of Engineering Services. Now I work for Strongwell Corporation in Bristol, VA.

Looking back, can you tell us about some highlights of your career?

From here looking back at my career it’s got to be working with other people, helping people, mentoring them, and seeing other people grow in their careers. That shows a lot of satisfaction for me. I really love seeing other people succeed in their manufacturing careers.

What has it been about manufacturing that has made you want to stay in it as long as you have?

I’ve wanted to stay in manufacturing this long because of the great people I work with. I also enjoy the fact that everything is always different. I cannot remember ever having two days that were exactly the same. I also enjoy facing challenges and being able to solve problems. I like the fact that manufacturing is the bedrock of our economy. You’re able to take raw materials and through processes turn it into a finished good that somebody is willing to pay for, and it serves a need for someone else.

What has this career meant to you?

My career has been a huge part of my life. I enjoy working in the manufacturing industry. Meeting dates and completing projects successfully gives a great feeling of job satisfaction. My career has also allowed me to afford the time to do the hobbies I enjoy and spend time with my family. It has given my family a very good life. I feel truly blessed.

Watch the video below to find out more about why Gene has built his career in manufacturing.

Meet the Makers: Alan Freeman

Through this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.

alan desk smallWe would first like to introduce you to Alan Freeman, Plant Manager at Quadrant EPP in Wytheville, Virginia. Manufacturing has provided Alan with a rewarding and beneficial career for 34 years. We sat down with Alan to talk about the progression of his career and why he has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.

What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

I was led to pursue a career in manufacturing mainly because of my degree in Chemical Engineering. When I graduated from Auburn University all of the job opportunities were in manufacturing so I naturally pursued this as my career route.

Tell us about your start in manufacturing

alan stripe shirtI got started in manufacturing when I worked summers in my home town in Alabama at a company called Samco Products. I worked as an operator’s helper on the production floor. Then after I graduated from Auburn, I started my career at Ciba-Geigy Corporation in McIntosh, Alabama as a Development Engineer where I provided process support to the production area I was assigned.

What education/training did you have before you started your job?

Other than my degree, I only had limited other experience prior to my first full time job.  After graduation I worked as a research assistant at Auburn while searching for full time employment. I worked at the University for a year helping with one of the research projects.

Tell us about your education and training throughout your career.

My formal education was a Chemical Engineering degree from Auburn University. I also obtained my Executive Masters of Business Administration from Winthrop University while I was working for Hoechst Celanese in Rock Hill, South Carolina. There are also many opportunities to further your training and education while working. The companies where I worked had multiple opportunities for continuing training and education. Such as, company held training, conferences and seminars. Training ranging from Quality Improvement systems, ISO Six Sigma, Lean manufacturing, environmental health and safety as well as Leadership training etc.

Tell us about the progression of your career.los 2017

I started as a Development Engineer at Ciba-Geigy Corporation in McIntosh Alabama. Ciba-Geigy was a major specialty chemical company. The plant where I work was a huge plant with over 1,000 employees. I was working on process improvement work for the Diazinon manufacturing process. I did that for two
years and was the first person at Ciba-Giegy to be promoted to Production Engineer 2. Previously someone had to have more experience to be promoted to such a position. The production engineer was responsible for all of the technical aspects of the process and had to insure that day to day the process was operating efficiently and direct actions to address problems and initiate improvements. In addition this person filled in for the Area Supervisor who was in charge and also for the shift supervisors who led the day to day activities. This was a major step for me and entailed taking on a great degree of responsibility at a very young age.

My next career move was to take a Unit Supervisor position at Hoechst Celanese in Rock Hill, SC. I was responsible for part of the manufacturing process for making a technical fiber called PBI which was used in fire retardant clothing and other applications. Reorganizations and downsizing then occurred which resulted in me taking full responsibility of all the manufacturing operations at this site and a promotion to Production Superintendent. I then made a lateral move to the Mount Holly Plant which was a specialty chemical plant with Hoechst Celanese. At this plant I was responsible for the operations making chemicals which were used in textile manufacturing. Again reorganization, downsizing, streamlining, occurred and I became the Operations Leader for all specialty chemical operations at this Plant. From Mount Holly, I transferred to the Polyester Plant in Salisbury, NC where I took on the challenge of leading the Process Improvement efforts for the polyester staple area. From that position I moved back to manufacturing management and became the Production Superintendent for the polyester staple business which involved several different processes from polyester polymerization to polyester staple production and responsibility for over 300+ employees.

I had always had a career goal of being a Plant manager and when the call came that there was an opportunity in Wytheville Virginia, I took the leap and applied for the position. I ended up getting the job and 21 years later can say that this was one of the best career decisions I have ever made.

Looking back, can you tell us about some highlights of your career?

When I was a Development Engineer I worked on developing a new process for making diazinon and have a patent for that, so that was pretty cool.
Beyond that it’s just the gains and improvements you make over time when you look back at what the plant used to be ten years ago and where it is now, what we’re able to achieve today through the hard work of the people I work with each and every day and the accomplishments we achieve. Seeing others advance and develop in their careers and helping them achieve their career goals. I take great pride in what our team accomplishes and the progress we make together. Some managers come and stay a short time and never have the chance to really see over time the impact that has been made. When you look back over the years and can remember how it used to be and then see people smile and take pride in the progress that has been made. That is what it is all about. One particular accomplishment that involved everyone at our plant was being certified as an OSHA VPP Star site. There are less than 2,500 manufacturing sites in the USA who have this and our plant is honored to be one of them. Our team has worked over 13 years without a lost time and has gone 4 years without any injury which is rare in manufacturing. Making sure you have a safe operation and a culture built around truly caring about each other is ultimately the biggest responsibility. We all have people who care about us and count on us to come home safely.

What has your career meant to you?alan quote

It has meant being able to support my family in ways that other careers may not have been able to. It has meant establishing wonderful relationships with great people and achievements made together. It is a lot of fun and has offered so many learning opportunities and challenges throughout the years. It has brought me to a beautiful place to live in Southwest Virginia which will be my home forever. The best part is that it is not over and if the Lord is willing, I will continue to do this for many more years to come.

Watch the video below to find out more about why Alan has built his career in manufacturing.

FMLA: The Basics and Common Issues

SVAM recently hosted a Lunch & Learn led by Catherine Karczmarczyk and Ramesh Murthy of PennStuart, entitled “The FMLA: What Every HR Manager Needs to Know.” This training covered the basics of the FMLA, common questions, and missteps to avoid.

Public agencies, schools, and private companies with 50 or more employees are required to provide FMLA to their employees. Employees covered by FMLA are eligible if they have worked at least 12 months for the employer, and have at least 1,250 hours of service, including temp time, during the year before their leave is set to begin. Covered employees must give at least 30 days notice to a management level employee if their need is foreseeable, for example, pregnancy.

The three most common qualifying leave reasons are for:

  1. Birth or placement of a child for adoption/foster care. The leave must be completed by the end of a 12 month period and can be taken all at once or in blocks of time.
  2. To care for spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition. This includes parents who stood in loco parentis, but not in-laws. It also includes children for whom the employee stood in loco parentis.
  3. For the employee’s own serious health condition. This includes inpatient care or continuing treatment.

Qualifying Military Family Leave is also covered for the active duty of a spouse, son, or daughter. FMLA leave can be taken as blocks of time, as intermittent leave, or as reduced hours leave.


One of the most important things a company can do is train supervisors on the appropriate actions to take regarding leave time. It is also important for both supervisors and HR to document everything and maintain records. There are several common supervisor issues that need to be avoided. First, avoid oral and written communications that can be construed as unsupportive of the leave given. For example telling an employee it is not a good time to take leave, or writing in an employee’s evaluation that they miss a lot of work.

A second issue is treating employees on FMLA as disabled. If an employee is prevented from doing essential job functions that is considered FMLA. ADA is when an employee needs accommodations to complete job functions. The two laws have divergent aims. If, however, an employee uses their 12 weeks of FMLA leave, employers can consider additional leave as a request for reasonable accommodation under ADA.

A third issue is the handling of leave requests. Since many employees are unfamiliar with the term FMLA, the burden is on the employer to recognize leave requests. It is also important for the employer to:

  • Require medical certifications
  • Notify employee of approval of leave
  • Notify employee of their rights and responsibilities
  • Notify employee when their leave has been exhausted

Another issue is a company’s failure to update policies. It is important for a company to have a policy in writing regarding FMLA and to update this policy annually. The policy should include an explanation of whether or not PTO and STD will run concurrently with FMLA, or how that will be handled. It should also cover moonlighting, and collection of insurance premiums. The policy also needs to address if leave is on a rolling or calendar basis.

The final issue is FMLA abuse, which is seen most often with intermittent leave. If employees show patterns of missed work, employers can get 2nd and 3rd opinions from doctors. Surveillance can also be sparingly used, but needs to be followed up with an opinion from a medical doctor regarding whether or not the activity in question is considered beyond bounds. A doctor’s note for missed time can always be required and employees can be asked to recertify every 30 days if the employer is doubtful that leave is still necessary.

Important Notes:

The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Catherine Karczmarczyk and Ramesh Murthy with PennStuart, but was not written by Ms. Karczmarczyk or Mr. Murthy. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided and were written by SVAM.

SVAM Members can view the full video presentation here.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Catherine Karczmarczyk, Ramesh Murthy, or PennStuart should be relied upon as legal advice, nor was any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.

Employee Handbook: Avoiding the Unwritten Rules

Clear and comprehensive employee handbooks are a necessity for every organization. At a recent Lunch & Learn, Catherine Karczmarczyk with PennStuart discussed the importance of avoiding unwritten rules.

There are many reasons to have an employee handbook, including communicating policies and procedures, and ensuring compliance with laws. According to Ms. Karczmarczyk, essential policies for all handbooks include:

  • At-will statement
  • Contract Disclaimer
  • Reservation of Rights
  • Statement that Current Handbook Supersedes Previous Versions
  • Non-Retaliation Policy
  • Statement Regarding Benefits Plan Documents
  • Acknowledgement”

It is also essential to have a policy addressing harassment. The policy should cover what harassment is, when it is unlawful, and what constitutes harassing behavior. It addition to this, the handbook should also include a Non-Retaliation Policy, recognizing an employee’s right to file grievances and guaranteeing no retaliation against the reporting individual.

Strongly suggested policies for all handbooks include:

  • Purpose of the Handbook
  • EEO Statement
  • Employment Classifications
  • Work Hours
  • Attendance
  • Timekeeping
  • Pay Practices
  • Payroll Deductions
  • Holidays, Vacations, Sick Time, etc.
  • Different Types of Leave
  • Reasonable Accommodations
  • Personal Appearance
  • Drug/Alcohol Testing
  • Tobacco Use
  • Driving on Company Business
  • Company Inspection of Work Area
  • Weapons/Non-Violence


There are three categories of rules according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): Category 1 rules are generally lawful to maintain, Category 2 rules warrant individualized scrutiny, and Category 3 rules are unlawful to maintain. Ms. Karczmarczyk went through some rules and which category they fall under.

Civility Rules: Most civility rules are considered Category 1 rules. The general idea of Civility Rules prohibits name calling, socially unacceptable behavior, rudeness, or gossip. A Category 2 Civility rule would be banning disparaging comments about the employer, and that is something to beware of when writing the handbook.

No Photography and No Recording: It is acceptable to ban recording since that is now considered a Category 1 rule. If your company ban includes cell phones, which could be an employee’s main method of communication, it is important to give advanced notice and a reason for the rule. It is also a good idea to enact the ban for working time rather than working hours, this allows for employees to use their cell phones on lunch and breaks.

Disruptive Behavior Rules: Disruptive behavior rules are usually considered Category 1 rules as long as the disruptive behavior happens during company hours. The idea of this is to limit dangerous or bad behavior. However, banning employee activity outside of working hours becomes a Category 2 rule and the courts will look to see if “the employer has a legitimate interest in banning the activity.”

Confidentiality: It is acceptable to make a rule “banning discussion of confidential, proprietary, or customer information.”  However it becomes a Category 2 rule when an employer tries to require confidentiality about “employer business” or “employer information”. It is unlawful to require confidentiality about wages, working conditions, and benefits.

Rules Against Using Employer Logos or Intellectual Property: It is also acceptable to ban employees from using employer logos and intellectual property. However, banning the use of the employer name is considered a Category 2 rule.

Rules Requiring Authorization to Speak for the Company: It is considered a Category 1 rule to “prevent an employee from speaking to the media on the employer’s behalf.” It is a Category 2 rule to ban speaking to media as an individual employee. The employer would need a legitimate reason to ban this.

FMLA: FMLA is something that must have a separate policy that meets Department of Labor requirements. If the employer isn’t large enough to be required to have an FMLA policy, it is a good idea to consider a leave of absence policy.

Personal Use of Employer-Owned Internet Devices and Resources: Ms. Karczmarczyk suggests being practical when creating rules regarding personal use of employer owned cell phones, computers, and resources. It is important to be specific with usage guidelines and policies. Employers also have the right to “monitor electronic communications if an employee is using an employer’s equipment.”

Social Media Policy: The key to having a social media policy is to have a strict definition and apply it consistently. Employees can be terminated for publishing confidential information, but not for statements that would be considered Category 3, for example wage information.

Discipline: Ms. Karczmarczyk advised that in regard to discipline it is best to state that discipline will be imposed as necessary, up to and including termination. It is also best to reserve “rights to impose any level of discipline deemed necessary, including discharge for the first offense.” All discipline measure taken should be documented and kept in the employee’s file.

Non-Solicitation and Non-Distribution: Banning solicitation and distribution during working time is considered presumptively valid. Working time is the time employees should actually be working. This needs to be enforced in a non-discriminatory manner.

Other topics that might be covered in an Employee Handbook include performance reviews and promotions, and job descriptions. Handbooks should be updated yearly and always dated.

Important notes:
The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Catherine Karczmarczyk with PennStuart, but was not written by Ms. Karczmarczyk. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided and were written by SVAM.

SVAM Members can view the full video of Ms. Karczmarczyk’s presentation here.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Catherine Karczmarczyk or PennStuart should be relied upon as legal advice, nor was any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.

Significant Developments in Employment Law

2017 saw a shake-up of changes in regulatory laws under the Trump Administration. Matthew Davison with Baker Donelson recently spoke at a Lunch & Learn regarding the new changes that have occurred.

Many changes include eliminating older regulations in exchange for new ones. Executive Order 13771 requires federal agencies to identify two existing regulations to repeal for each new regulation. Congress has also become more involved with monitoring and sometimes overruling new regulations. This shows the Trump Administration’s focus on fewer regulations on businesses. The administration also appears to be making decisions that are more pro-business and pro-employer.

There are three main executive agencies in regard to employment law: The Department of Labor (DOL), National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a bipartisan commission of five presidentially appointed members, although, right now, there are two vacant positions. Per Mr. Davison, the goal of the EEOC is “to ensure agency resources are targeted to prevent and remedy discriminatory practices where government enforcement is most likely to achieve broad and lasting impact.” This is achieved through their strategic plan, which according to Mr. Davison, includes:

  1. “Pay more attention to discrimination in federal government employment
  2. Focus on charges where there is systemic discrimination
  3. Emphasize non-monetary relief where only ‘reasonable cause’ is found
  4. Pursue litigation ‘responsibly’
  5. Improve its technology and social media presence
  6. Continue to provide outreach and technical assistance, especially to vulnerable communities (specifically including immigrants)
  7. Focus on its own employees and staffing”

Compared to prior years the EEOC seems to be overall more employer friendly. Notable course changes include suspending new EEO-1 requirements that would require businesses to report details including type of work and place the employees into wage bands. The EEOC continues to place priorities on ending age discrimination and protecting LGBTQ rights. In light of the #metoo movement there is also expected to be an increased focus on sexual harassment.


The Department of Labor (DOL) is the department mainly in charge of wage and hour regulations. It played a key role in the Obama Administration but is currently facing budget cuts. Under the Trump Administration several rule rescissions have occurred. One regards the use of drug testing for unemployment; because the resolution was overturned it will allow states to determine if drug testing is a criteria for unemployment compensation. Another big rescission was of the Persuader Rule. The Persuader Rule stated that anytime an employer engaged a lawyer for advice or anti-union campaign guidance, the law firm had to report their fees to the NLRB. In July the DOL rescinded this rule.

In 2017 the DOL announced the withdrawal of two Administrative Interpretations regarding independent contractors and joint employers, both AIs were unfavorable to employers. The independent Contractor “test will no longer start with the presumption that all workers are employees”. This will give more decision making control to the employer. As for the Joint Employer, the DOL will likely return to requiring the employer to have direct control in regard to hiring/firing, compensation, and scheduling over the worker.

The DOL also made changes to the Overtime Rule, increasing the salary threshold for exemptions. However, states and business sued, saying that the DOL had overstepped its authority and the rule was overruled. In August of 2017 District Court ruled in favor of the businesses and states, stating that the DOL had in fact exceeded its authority. The Trump led DOL has abandoned any appeal of that decision and is expected to offer its own amendments to current overtime regulations.


The third agency Mr. Davison discussed is the National Labor Relations Board, an agency created in 1935 with the purpose of administering the National Labor Relations Act. There are a few instances where a change of course from the NLRB is possible, the first being use of company email. In 2017 the NLRB affirmed its decision to require employers to allow all employees to use company email for collective bargaining and to engage in concerted activity. This could potentially be changed by the new board. Another possible change involves the many cases about confidentially, non-disclosure, and social media policies in employee handbooks. These policies could be considered an employer trying to suppress an employee’s right to concerted activity. The NLRB has sought to protect these rights.

Next, in the Columbia University case the NLRB ruled “students serving as teaching and research assistants at private universities were employees under the NLRA.” This decision is expected to be reversed. There have also been efforts to do away with the “Quickie Election” rule which shortened the time period for an election to be held. The final possible change regards class action waivers. Since 2012 the NLRB has consistently struck down arbitration agreements that prohibited employees from bringing class actions suits regarding their employment. This was considered a violation of Title XII. After a ruling by the Supreme Court and a change by the Trump DOJ, this is expected to change.

Two bills to watch in the near future are the National Right-to-Work Act and the Raise the Wage Act. The National Right-to-Work Act will “block employers and unions from including mandatory dues provisions in collective bargaining agreements in the 22 states where right-to-work is not already law.” The Raise the Wage Act was introduced by Democrats to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour. According to Mr. Davison this will probably not pass, but there will be some kind of change.

Mr. Davison noted the case of Villa v. CavaMezze Grill. The Plaintiff for this case was a low level manager for the defendant restaurant. She was told by a former employee that the former employee was sexually harassed by the Director of Operations of the restaurant. After an investigation the restaurant deemed the story untrue and fired the Plaintiff. Even though the Plaintiff only reported what she had been told, the court found she had not engaged in protected activity and ruled in favor of the defendant. This case is important because there has historically been an erosion of employer rights and this case ruled in favor of the employer.

Mr. Davison provided some very valuable information that can be used by companies and organizations large and small. Thank you to Matthew Davison and Baker Donelson for providing this information for our organization and local manufacturers.

Important notes:
The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Matthew Davison of Baker Donelson, but was not written by Mr. Davison. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided.

The full video of Mr. Davison’s presentation is available for members only here.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Matthew Davison or Baker Donelson should be relied upon as legal advice, nor was any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

It’s difficult to not have heard of the #MeToo movement, a platform to draw attention and action to the seriousness of the problem of sexual harassment and assault. The movement has created a zero tolerance reaction to sexual harassment like we’ve never seen before. As a manufacturer, it’s important that you have the information you need to ensure that both your company and your employees are protected when it comes to sexual harassment and assault. We asked our friends at Baker Donelson Law Firm to lead a Lunch & Learn training for manufacturers to help them understand how to handle sexual harassment complaints, what their policies should say, and how to handle allegations. The information was provided by Matthew Davison and Trey Range with Baker Donelson. The training was led by Trey Range.

Harassment Lunch & Learn

Trey began the training by talking about some of the scandals that have been publicized recently. Many of the issues shared were obviously over the line, but not all of them were. Not all sexual harassment scenarios are obvious. If you want to make a difference, you need to focus on the “small” or “borderline” issues as well as the large issues.

Keys to Successfully Handing Sexual Harassment Complaints: Take all complaints seriously, even if they are 20 years old. Even though the statute of limitations may have expired for a complaint, the instance can still have negative affects on the company. When a complaint has been brought forth, do a prompt and thorough investigation. Take appropriate remedial action. A “slap on the wrist and move on” mentality is no longer acceptable. It is important for the company to show that they acted upon the issue. Be sure to report back to the complaining party and let them know what has been done.

Anti-Harassment Policy: Have a clear and well-drafted anti-harassment policy that is posted and regularly communicated. You can post the policy on your website, in the same place you post state and federal required posters, in the break room, etc. Employees should know about the policy. The policy should be included in your employee handbook. Be sure to have a signed acknowledgement from each employee. A company has an obligation to do their best to enforce issues. An Anti-Harassment Policy should include:

  1. A statement prohibiting all forms of unlawful harassment.
  2. Examples of behavior that constitutes harassment.
  3. A complaint procedure.
  4. A statement prohibiting retaliation.
  5. Consequences of violating the policy.

Reporting Options: Take a look at your policy. It should require employees to report inappropriate behavior. It should include verbiage like “must report” rather than subjective words like “should” or “can”. Provide a minimum of three reporting options. Options could include reporting to HR, reporting to a manager, calling a hotline, etc. Train employees on their obligation to report! Make sure employee do more than just sign a statement of understanding of your policy. Train the employees, in person, especially if your policy has been revised.

Have you seen some of these high profile cases being reported and wondered, “Could this happen to my company?” The unfortunate reality is, it very well could, so be prepared. Have a “Harassment Investigation Checklist”:

  • Decide whether outside counsel is needed.
  • Interview the accuser (who, what, where, when).
  • Interview witnesses.
  • Interview accused.
  • Make a determination.
  • Weigh legal risks, costs, and related factors.
  • Take appropriate remedial action, if warranted.
  • Follow up to ensure that the remedial action is effective.
  • Document the results/do NOT include legal conclusions.

Navigating the Realities of the Instant News Cycle: Traditionally, most companies declined to comment on active investigations to litigation. The current climate, ultra-short media cycle, and social media, requires an updated approach. Have a plan/point person for dealing with unwanted publicity about harassment claims. Issue a statement advising that the company does not tolerate harassing or unlawful conduct, that the company takes all complaints seriously, and that you are in the process of investigating the allegations. Take the conversation offline.

Considerations in Settlement of Sexual Harassment Claims: Is the settlement preferable to litigation? If you settle, include a confidentiality clause and liquidated damages provision. Be aware that confidentiality covenants can be breached, so be sure to have a provision that says what will happen if a breach occurs. Have a plan for dealing with harassment settlements that go public. Consider if the instance is a pattern or a single instance. Patterns can show a problem. Currently, a bill is being debated that would ban confidentiality clauses for sexual harassment settlement agreements.

Trey provided some very valuable information that can be used by companies and organizations large and small. Sexual harassment is a serious issue that requires intentional and careful attention and consideration both in prevention and in the handling of issues. Thank you to Matthew Davison, Trey Range, and Baker Donelson for providing this information for our organization and manufacturers local.

Important notes:
The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Baker Donelson. All information was sourced from the presentation provided.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Baker Donelson should be relied upon as legal advice, nor were any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.  Sexual harassment policies and investigations should be tailored specifically to each company and its employees and prepared and handled on a case by case basis by attorneys competent in employment law.

Would You Go Driverless?

We are always excited to see what is “coming around the corner” when it comes to the manufacturing industry. The advancement of technology over the years has greatly impacted the face of manufacturing in southwest Virginia. Today, we wanted to discuss a very interested advancement: driverless cars.

Driverless cars have been a human dream since Leonardo Da Vinci designed a hypothetical one in the late 1400’s. This may still seem like something straight from futuristic science fiction, but advanced technologies in sensors, mapping, and computer power are quickly making it a reality. Driverless cars are already being tested by major automotive manufacturers, with the goal for release as early as 2021. In other words, within the next five years you might be able to request a driverless ride from your cell phone.

Lady Phone Female Young African Woman Black

Ford is the latest automotive company to begin testing driverless vehicles. They are investing in a trial of delivery vehicles in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The vehicles are made to look driverless, but for now will still be driven by humans. Ford is testing the response to the vehicles to see if people are willing to walk to the vehicle and pickup their own products and how consumers respond to the idea of a robotic vehicle. Currently Ford is partnering with Dominoes for food deliveries and Postmates for takeout, groceries, and other purchases.

Ford is also testing a fleet of self-driving cars in the same area. The cars are powered by Argo.AI a self driving startup. Those cars are using cameras and sensors with the purpose of creating high-definition maps of the area.

The information gathered during these two trials will be used in the 2021 launch of Ford’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. The vehicles will be used to transport people during rush hour and then rather than sitting idle during off hours, they will be used during those times for delivery of goods.

The cars will of course need cleaning and tune-ups, so Ford has also planned an “operations terminal” for the cars to return to and be serviced as needed. This will likely be done by Ford dealerships.

Ford isn’t the only automotive company moving towards a self-driving fleet. Nissan Motor Company, Toyota Motor Corp., Alphabet Inc., and General Motors are all working towards the same goal. So how will this impact automotive manufacturing jobs? With the current auto industry trends manufacturing will continue to need more designers. As people become passengers on a driverless commute the interior of the vehicle will have to change as well. The interior of a driverless car could be used as an office space, a place to sleep, and traveling with pets or packages needs to be accounted for. The interior of the car could also be turned into a traveling gym, easily enabling exercises like rowing, chest-flys, and pull downs, all exercises that could be done with resistance bands or weighted straps attached to the car interior. Manufacturing will need designers to create these new environments.

We are excited about this new development, the interesting technology jobs it will bring, and its potential to impact our region. Autonomous vehicles will pave the way for other new technologies (maybe even flying cars!). Manufacturing is moving forward into new frontiers – what an exciting time!

As the technology of cars become ever more complex, manufacturing will also need more engineers and software developers. Self-driving cars require extra sensors and cameras to replace human eyes and reflexes, as well as specific technology to make the hardware and software work together.

How do you feel about this new fleet of autonomous cars? Would you go driverless? Start a conversation with us on Facebook and let us know!

8 “Soft Skills” Employers Look For

Hiring managers are looking for more than just “hard skills” when they hire a new candidate, they are also looking for “soft skills”. Hard skills are the skills you learn in school or on the job, such as welding, data analysis, or typing. Soft skills are non job specific, personal attributes that can be improved through personal development.

In addition to the hard skills employers are looking for some of the most desired soft skills are:

  1. Work Ethic – Hiring managers are looking for candidates who will put in the energy and effort to be good employees. Employers want workers who are reliable and take initiative with minimal supervision.
  2. Communication – Employees need written and verbal communication skills to thrive in the workplace, because these skills influence how a person is perceived. You will also be more successful if you can clearly articulate the details of a project to both co-workers and management.
  3. Teamwork Skills – In addition to communication, the ability to work as part of a team is also important. A company’s success is based on the sum of its employees, and hiring managers want employees who can be team players.
  4. Organization – The ability to effectively plan projects and daily tasks is a highly desired soft skill. Properly planned projects are more time and cost efficient. Fellow employees never want to feel as though their time is being wasted because of somebody else’s haphazard planning.
  5. Time Management – Along with organization, time management is also important. Employees who properly manage their time tend to be more efficient and productive than employees who do not.
  6. Punctuality – If you are properly managing your time you will be punctual. Nobody likes to be kept waiting whether it is for a meeting or your portion of a project. Punctuality shows respect and consideration for the time of other people.
  7. Problem Solving – No matter how much you plan problems will always occur. The ability to offer creative solutions to those problems is a valuable asset to any company.
  8. Friendly Personality – Be nice. It really is that simple. Nice people are better perceived, and easier and more pleasant to work with. Employers want workers who will encourage and support their colleagues, and have a positive attitude towards their work.

HA0521 - Bedford staff and M1. A set of images  of HA staff in the Bedford office and new section of M1, north of junction 9. March 2010

We have plenty real life stories of employees who lack soft skills. We have often heard employers complain about employee use of cell phones on company time. This shows poor work ethic and lack of time management skills. Another common issue is employees showing up late to work or lack of punctuality. A complaint we often hear from hiring managers is job candidates showing up not properly dressed for interviews. Appropriate attire and grooming are another way to communicate your desire and willingness to work. And while all of these things may seem like common sense, we hear them over and over.

While soft skills aren’t necessarily learned skills, knowing what hiring managers and employers are looking for will give you the opportunity to work on your own soft skill set.

Employers, what are you looking for in an employee? Start a conversation with us on Facebook!