All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

Uber’s Toxic Workplace Culture

A company director shouting a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a meeting. A manager groping female co-workers’ breasts during a company retreat. A manager threatening to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat. All of these incidents — and more — are described in a fascinating front-page story on Uber’s workplace culture by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, who based his story on interviews with 30 current and former employees of the ride-hailing service and reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings.

As you’ve probably heard, Uber found itself thrust into the spotlight after former employee Susan Fowler published a blog post last Sunday about her experiences working for the company. Fowler, an engineer, said she and other women were sexually harassed and discriminated against by her manager and little to nothing was done about it, even when she reported it to HR, because the manager was a “high performer.” (Fowler’s descriptions of her interactions with Uber’s HR department are particularly damning: For example, when she noted to an HR representative how few women were in her engineering department, the rep allegedly told her that she shouldn’t be surprised by the ratio of women in engineering because people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.)

Fowler and other current and former Uber employees told Isaac that HR would excuse poor behavior by their bosses because the managers in question were top performers who benefited the health of the company. The company’s culture — set by Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick — emphasizes getting ahead at all costs, the sources told Isaac, even if it means undermining co-workers and supervisors. One group in particular that was shielded from accountability was “the A-Team,” the sources said, a group of executives close to Kalanick.

Since Fowler went public with her accusations, Kalanick has brought in former Attorney General Eric Holder and board member Arianna Huffington to conduct an independent investigation of the issues Fowler raised. He said the company would release a full diversity report shortly and that 15.1 percent of the engineering, product management and scientist roles at Uber were held by women and that that number “has not changed substantively in the last year.”

In a statement to the Times, Uber CHRO Liane Hornsey said “We are totally committed to healing wounds of the past and building a better workplace culture for everyone.”

Hornsey, who joined Uber in January (its former HR chief, Rene Atwood, left in July to join Twitter) and who will assist with the investigation, spent nine years as Google’s vice president of global people operations. Hopefully she’ll be able to put her experience and expertise to good use at a company that appears to sorely need it.

A Bad Day for Puzder and Unions

Andrew Puzder (photo by Gage Skidmore)

He’s outta there — Andrew Puzder is, at any rate, having withdrawn his name from consideration as President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor. Trump introduced today Alexander Acosta, dean of Florida International University College of Law and a former member of the National Labor Relations Board, as his new DOL nominee. Puzder’s nomination had been plagued by controversy from the start. Current and former employees of CKE Restaurants, where Puzder serves as CEO, accused him of vastly underpaying workers and denying them benefits at the company’s Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains and musing aloud that he wished he could replace them with robots. Matters were not helped by an investigation by Capital & Main that uncovered a widespread pattern of abuse, harassment and discrimination of and against CKE employees at the chain-store and corporate level. Six cases were filed against the company by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “far more than any other large burger chain on a per-revenue basis, with the exception of Sonic Drive-In,” the website reported.

Puzder enjoyed strong support from many in the business community, as our story in December reported. However, Democrats were strongly against him. “Puzder’s disdain for the American worker, the very people he would be responsible for protecting, is second to none,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., told CNN.

What really appeared to sink Puzder’s nomination, however, was the revelation that he’d employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper and the allegations of brutal domestic abuse against his ex-wife (although she’s since denied that the abuse took place) that culminated in the release on Politico of an Oprah Winfrey episode that featured the ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, in disguise describing details of the abuse she’d said she’d suffered. A number of Republican Senators informed the White House that they would no longer support Puzder, who announced his withdrawal yesterday afternoon.

Labor advocates cheered Puzder’s withdrawal, but they’re probably not happy about the closely-watched vote that took place yesterday at Boeing’s South Carolina plant, in which workers voted overwhelmingly against joining the International Association of Machinists union.  More than 2,000 of the 3,000 workers eligible to vote voted no, while only 700 voted in favor, CNN reports. Had the workers voted in favor of the union, it would have marked a big change in South Carolina, a right-to-work state with the lowest union membership rate of any state in the country, at 1.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The union had previously called for a vote at the plant in 2015 but canceled it amid doubts about worker support. Now it will have to wait for a year before calling for another election, per National Labor Relations Board rules.

Boeing had argued strongly against unionization, with management saying the union would call for costly strikes and was not needed. However, the IAM had argued during its campaign that workers at the South Carolina plant were paid wages that are 36 percent lower than their counterparts at Boeing’s heavily unionized plants in Washington state.

Boeing management expressed victory. “We will continue to move forward as one team,” Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president in charge of Boeing South Carolina, said in a statement.

In his own statement, IAM lead organizer Mike Evans said: “We’re disappointed the workers at Boeing South Carolina will not yet have the opportunity to see all the benefits that come with union representation.”

Facebook Boosts Bereavement Leave

In 2015, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg died unexpectedly at the age of 47. On Tuesday, his wife — Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg — announced that the social networking giant will now give employees up to 20 days of paid bereavement leave in the event of an immediate family member’s death and up to 10 days for the death of an extended family member.

“People should be able both to work and be there for their families. No one should face this trade-off,” Sandberg wrote in a Facebook post announcing the new policy. “Amid the nightmare of Dave’s death when my kids needed me more than ever, I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility. I needed both to start my recovery.”

Sandberg also announced that the company will offer up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick relative and three paid days for employees to care for a relative with a short-term illness, such as  a child with the flu.

Facebook’s generous bereavement policy puts it far ahead of most — if not all — U.S. employers. Although 80 percent of U.S. companies have bereavement policies, they offer an average of only four paid days of leave for the death of an immediate family member, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Paid Leave in the Workplace survey. There is no federal law requiring employers to give workers paid time off to grieve for the death of a loved one.

Obviously, most companies don’t have the financial resources of Facebook (which is also locked in an arms race with other well-funded Silicon Valley companies for tech talent) and probably won’t be emulating it anytime soon, if ever. But I hope that Sandberg’s announcement gets HR and other company leaders to seriously think about the support they currently offer to grieving employees and consider giving more. Here at HRE, we have several colleagues who’ve suffered the loss of a close family member within the last year and a half.  No amount of time off can make up for such a loss, but simply giving employees the support and the time necessary for attending to the so-called “business of death” — making funeral arrangements, resolving legal and financial issues, comforting other family members — means a lot.  And that often requires more than three or four days.

 

Labor Market Continues to Tighten

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest official employment report shows that businesses added 227,000 workers last month and the unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.8 percent, while the January national employment report from ADP’s Research Institute shows that private-sector employers adding 246, 000 jobs in January. The BLS report beat estimates by economists surveyed prior to its release by Reuters, who’d predicted the report would show a gain of 175,000 jobs.

The BLS and ADP employment reports are based on different methodologies, as CNBC’s Mark Fahey has noted: ADP counts all employees who are listed as active on an employer’s payroll, while the BLS surveys companies to tally employees who are actually paid. The reports differ by 40,000 about half the time, he wrote.

“The U.S. labor market is hitting on all cylinders and we saw small and mid-sized businesses perform exceptionally well,” said ADP Vice President Ahu Yildirmarz, the co-head of the payroll-processing giant’s Research Institute.

That’s not to say everything’s rosy on the employment front: Yesterday, outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas released its monthly jobs-cut report, which shows U.S. companies made nearly 46,000 job cuts in January — up 37 percent from December, when layoffs totaled 33,627.  However, while last month’s tally was the highest since last April (64,141), it’s a year-over-year improvement from January 2016, when employers announced 75,114 job cuts. This January’s job reductions were concentrated  in retail, which accounted for 49 percent of the job cuts, while retail and energy accounted for the much of the cuts in January 2016. Macy’s led the pack last month, announcing plans to close 68 of its stores and reduce its workforce by 10,000 workers.

“Overall, it was a solid holiday shopping season, but several retailers, including Macy’s, were unable to capitalize on stronger consumer confidence and spending,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

ADP’s report, based on payroll data compiled from its 411,000 U.S. clients, shows that mid-sized businesses with between 50 and 499 employees added the most jobs in January (102,000). Large companies with 500 or more employees added 83,000 jobs, while small businesses (those with between 1 and 49 employees) added 62,000 positions.

“2017 got off to a strong start in the job market,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, which helps ADP produce the report. “Job growth is solid across most industries and company sizes. Even the energy sector is adding to payrolls again.”

The BLS report finds that January’s robust employment numbers did not lead to increases in workers’ pay, with a year over year increase of 2.5 percent, compared to 2.9 percent in December.  A smaller-scale study,  Glassdoor’s Local Pay Reports — which monitor salaries for approximately 60 job titles across multiple industries — finds that the annual median base pay in the United States grew by 3.2 percent year over year in January to $51,360.

The positive sentiment on jobs is reflected in Gallup’s latest Job Creation Index, which measures U.S. workers’ perceptions of their workplace’s job climate. The JCP’s January score of +34 is the highest in its nine-year history, Gallup reports. That score compares to JCIs of -5 in January and April of 2009, when the country was in the depths of the Great Recession. Gallup bases the JCI on a daily, randomized sample of employed U.S. adults’ perceptions of their workplace’s hiring-and-firing activity.

Discriminatory Dress Codes in the U.K.

Over on the other side of the Atlantic, a storm is brewing over the unequal treatment of women in the workplace. The United Kingdom has a law in place — the Equality Act of 2010 –intended to prevent such treatment. However, that apparently hasn’t stopped U.K. employers from ordering their female employees to wear high heels, dye their hair blonde and dress themselves in revealing outfits. That’s according to a recent report by the British Parliament, undertaken in the wake of a petition signed by more than 150,000 people calling for a law that would ban organizations from requiring women to wear heels at work. The parliamentary investigators received complaints from hundreds of U.K. women who said they were subject to sexist dress codes by their employers.

As reported in yesterday’s New York Times, Nicola Thorp started the petition after she was sent home without pay from her job as a temporary receptionist for refusing to comply with an order that she get herself a pair of shoes with heels that were at least two inches high. Turns out that Portico, the receptionist-services firm that formerly employed Thorp, had quite an extensive employee dress code that covered just about every aspect of a woman’s appearance, including hair (“regularly maintained hair colour — if individual colours hair — with no visible roots”), makeup (“makeup worn at all times and regularly reapplied … “) and footwear (“Heel height normally a minimum of 2 inches and maximum of 4 inches, unless otherwise agreed by the company”). The code even suggested the palette of nail polishes that was acceptable. Portico said it changed its policy after Thorp raised the issue, the Times reports.

Thorp told the Times that part of the reason she started her protest was concern for the health effects of wearing high heels throughout the workday: “The company expected me to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I told them that I just wouldn’t be able to do that in heels.”

Thorp is hardly alone in her concern about the physical effects from being forced to wear high heels all day: “We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by the wearing of high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply makeup,” the report said. It cited longstanding medical evidence showing that women who wear high heels for long periods of time can suffer physical damage, including stress fractures.

U.K. lawmakers expressed concern that the Equality Act has not been effective in preventing employers from applying sexist dress codes. The report calls for “urgent action” by the government, including increased financial penalties for employers that break the law. However, Thorp said she wasn’t satisfied, telling The Guardian she was “absolutely chuffed to bits” that the report’s recommendations didn’t go further.

“The petition took off and I was very pleased to see the debate over heels grow to one about clothes, and continue moving on to other aspects of how women are treated in a work environment,” she told the paper. “We now need to see the government take these recommendations on board. The law should not just be changed but enforced.”

Under current U.K. law, instructing women to wear high heels at work “isn’t necessarily sex discrimination, ” Julia Wilson, an employment lawyer at Baker McKenzie, told British newspaper The Independent. “If [members of Parliament] want clear rules and fines for companies in relation to dress code practices, that is likely to require a change in the law.”

EEOC Releases Stats on LGBT Bias

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 91,503 charges of workplace discrimination in in fiscal year 2016 — the second year in a row that the number of charges has increased, the agency reports.  The EEOC says it resolved 97,443 charges of discrimination and secured more than $482 million for victims of discrimination through voluntary resolutions and litigation last year.

That’s according to the EEOC’s just-released annual summary of its enforcement and litigation data for the previous fiscal year, which this year — for the first time ever — includes detailed information about workplace discrimination charges filed by LGBT employees. The agency reports that it resolved 1,650  charges and recovered $4.4 million for LGBT individuals who filed sex discrimination charges with it during fiscal year 2016.  The number of such charges filed by members of the LGBT community has steadily risen since the EEOC began collecting this information in 2013, with 4,000 charges filed between then and 2016.

The agency has been a strong advocate of workplace rights for LGBT employees, arguing that the protections afforded workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act extend to sexual orientation. In 2015, it ruled in favor of David Baldwin, a former Federal Aviation Administration employee who charged the FAA with discriminating against him because he is gay. In that case, the EEOC concluded that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation  is indeed “sex-based” discrimination and therefore falls under the protection of Title VII.

It’s filed supporting briefs in a number of federal lawsuits by members of the LGBT community against their employers, including that of Kimberly Hively. Hively, a former adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, claims the college refused to allow her to interview for a full-time position or extend her contract because she is a lesbian. In late November the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in her case and is expected to issue a ruling later this year. According to reports, the 7th Circuit judges expressed sympathy toward the arguments put forth by Hively’s legal team. Should the court rule in her favor, it would be the first U.S. appellate court to expand Title VII’s protections to LGBT individuals.

Job Candidates’ Strange Behavior

One job candidate told her interviewer that if he wanted to get to heaven, he’d hire her. Another asked where the nearest bar was located. Then there’s the candidate who  bragged about being in the local newspaper for allegedly stealing a treadmill from someone’s house. It’s that time of year again: CareerBuilder has released its annual list of the strangest interview mistakes hiring managers say they’ve witnessed while assessing job candidates, based on a survey conducted on its behalf late last year by Harris Poll among approximately 2,600 HR and hiring managers.

Some other examples of strange interview mistakes:

  • Candidate ate a pizza he brought with him (and didn’t offer to share).
  • The candidate asked to step away to call his wife to ask her if the starting salary was enough before he agreed to continue with the interview.
  • Candidate invited interviewer to dinner afterwards.
  • Candidate said her hair was perfect when asked why she should become part of the team.
  • Candidate ate crumbs off the table.
  • Candidate asked the interviewer why her “aura” didn’t like the candidate.

This year’s survey finds that half (51 percent) of employers say they know within the first five minutes of an interview whether a candidate is a good fit for an open position, virtually identical to the findings from last year’s survey (50 percent).

Of course, candidates are also scrutinizing their potential employers during the interview process, and some don’t like what they see. The Execu|Search Group’s 2017 Hiring Outlook, for example, finds that 34 percent of working professionals say their job interviewer could not convey the overall impact their role has on the company’s goals, and that 45 percent did not feel their interviewer made an effort to introduce them to the company culture.

And when it comes to strange experiences, think of the poor candidates who find themselves struggling to answer the bizarre “brainteaser” questions asked by some companies during job interviews, which was the subject of a  Glassdoor report last year. Among the more notable questions:

  • What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer? (Trader Joes, position unspecified)
  • How would you sell hot cocoa in Florida? (J.W. Business Acquisitions, for a human resources recruiter position)
  • How many basketballs would fit in this room? (Delta Air Lines, for a revenue management co-op position), and:
  • Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses? (Whole Foods Market, for a meat cutter position)

 

Gartner to Acquire Major HR Firm

Stamford, Conn.-based IT consulting firm Gartner will acquire CEB, the research and advisory firm that has a large HR consulting practice, for approximately $2.6 billion in cash and stock along with assumption of $700 million in CEB net debt. The transaction was unanimously approved by both companies’ boards of directors.

The combined organization will employ more than 13,000 employees serving clients in more than 100 countries; Gartner and CEB had pro forma revenues of $3.3 billion over the last 12 months ending Sept. 30, the companies said. Gartner plans to expand CEB’s services into the mid-market segment and develop a suite of new syndicated research and advisory products based on CEB’s expertise in HR, along with sales, finance and legal. CEB — previously known as the Corporate Executive Board — has traditionally focused on serving large companies.

CEB’s research and experts have frequently been cited in HRE stories, including today’s news story by Carol Patton on using technology to improve performance-management reviews. It presented a general session on using big data to find talent at last year’s inaugural Talent Acquisition Technology Conference.

“We are excited about joining forces with CEB, a world-class company we have long admired,” said Gartner CEO Gene Hall in a statement.

Under the terms of the agreement, CEB shareholders will receive a combination of cash and Gartner stock for a total value of $77.25 per share, a premium of 25 percent compared to CEB’s closing stock price on Jan. 4, the last day prior to the announcement.

NY Removes Barrier to Hiring Ex-Cons

Insurance companies in New York State will soon be barred from denying full coverage for crime-related losses to companies that hire ex-convicts — even if the crimes in question were committed by employees with criminal histories — thanks to a new rule signed by Gov. Mario Cuomo during the last week of December.

The new regulation — the first of its kind in the nation, reports Reuters — is designed to make it easier for companies to hire ex-convicts. Approximately 2.3 million New Yorkers have criminal records, according to the state.

Many insurance companies regard ex-cons as high risk and will deny or limit coverage to companies for sustained losses related to loss or theft committed by an employee with a criminal record, under the assumption that the employer should have known it was taking a risk by hiring the person. This discourages companies from hiring ex-cons, the governor said.

“This first-in-the-nation action will further break down artificial barriers that prevent previously incarcerated New Yorkers from obtaining work and turning their lives around,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The new regulation, which takes effect on July 1 2017, lets businesses obtain the coverage so long as they adhere to a state law that applies to hiring people who have criminal convictions — including considering whether a prior criminal offense is related to the duties an employee will perform, reports Reuters.

“So long as every business owner follows the letter of the law, we should encourage more companies to hire prospective employees rather than punish someone for a mistake in the past,” said Maria Vullo, superintendent of the state’s Dept. of Financial Services, in a statement.

 

Holiday Bonuses Up This Year

the best gift- money. Gifts on wooden background.The holidays will bring a little extra cheer for many workers this season, with two thirds (66 percent) of companies planning to award year-end bonuses and gifts, according to a survey from Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That’s up from 50 percent from Challenger’s 2015 holiday bonus survey.

Another survey, this one from recruiting firm Accounting Principles, finds that 75 percent of companies will award bonuses this year. Thirteen percent of companies will provide bonuses of between $1 and $99, 37 percent  between $100 and $499, 21 percent will provide between $500 and $899, and 29 percent will be awarding their lucky employees $1,000 or more.

Credit the steadily improving economy for the rise in bonuses, says Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger. “As [the economy] continues to improve, employers will have to rely increasingly on bonuses and other perks to hold onto valuable employees,” he said in a statement.

Full results of the Challenger survey below:

Does your company award year-end/holiday bonus, perks or gifts to employees? (Check all that apply)

2016 2015
Yes, we provide a non-monetary gift to all employees (such as gift basket or extra vacation day). 14.8% 6.3%
Yes, we award a nominal ($100 or less) monetary award to all employees (cash or gift certificate). 11.1% 12.5%
We award a monetary bonus to all employees, the size of which is determined by the company’s overall performance throughout the year. 18.5% 18.8%
We award a performance-based year-end bonus to selected employees, the amount of which is determined by individual’s contribution to departmental and/or company-wide objectives. 22.2% 37.5%
No, we do not award any type of year-end/holiday monetary or non-monetary bonus/perk/gift. 29.6% 43.8%
No, we have awarded year-end/holiday bonuses in the past, but we will not be doing so this year due to the economy. 0.0% 0.0%
Other 3.7% 6.3%

 

If your company does award year-end/holiday bonus, perks or gifts to employees, please describe how this year’s distribution differs from last year.

2016
The monetary value of the year-end bonus will increase. 18.2%
The monetary value of the year-end bonus will decrease. 9.1%
The monetary value of the year-end bonus will be about the same as last year. 72.7%
We are reinstituting year-end bonus/perk/gift after one or more years of not offering such awards. 0.0%

 

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©