All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

EEOC: Retaliation, Not Race, Was Most Frequent Charge Last Year

The EEOC says private-sector workplace discrimination charges hit a new record last year, with 99,922 charges filed with the agency, compared to 93,277 in fiscal 2009. The EEOC also got a record amount of money from employers last year—$404 million, compared to $376 million in ‘09—to settle worker complaints via its enforcement, mediation and litigation programs.

As we’ve noted before, charges filed with the EEOC tend to trend up when the economy trends down.

According to the agency’s Fiscal 2010 data, all major categories of filings in the private sector were up, including charges of discrimination related to age, gender, disabilities and race. Speaking of race, the number of charges alleging retaliation under all the statutes (36,258) eclipsed the number alleging racial discrimination (35,890) for the first time in the agency’s 45-year history. Allegations based on religion (3,790), disability (25,165) and age (23,264) all increased from the previous year, while 201 charges were filed under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in its first year of enforcement.

A full summary of the data can be viewed at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/charges.cfm.

CareerXroads: “Big demand” for International Recruiters

International recruiting is hot, hot, hot, says Mark Mehler, who—with Gerry Crispin—heads www.CareerXroads.com, the Kendall Park, N.J.-based recruitment consulting firm.

CareerXroads has a job board for recruiters (“We don’t charge for it,” says Mehler) and, according to him, the volume of open positions for senior-level recruiters for U.S.-based companies is the greatest he’s seen since three years ago. “This, more than anything, tells us that hiring is about to pick up steam,” he says.

But what’s really sizzling, he says, is the job market for international recruiters. “It’s aflame,” says Mehler. “The demand is big for all over the world—Europe, Asia, India.” In fact, demand has grown so much that he and Crispin have been inspired to start planning a colloquium on international recruiting that will take place “very shortly.”  “We haven’t settled on a date yet, but stay tuned,” he says.

“International is coming on so strong that Gerry and I predict you’ll see more than a few heads of staffing at U.S. firms ending up overseas,” he says.

Economical Employee Engagement

So everyone’s got the post-holiday blues, especially at the office. What to do? Luckily, Bob Kelleher has some suggestions. Kelleher, the former CHRO at AECOM (a big consulting firm based in Massachusetts), is the recent author of Louder Than Words: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results.

Here are some of his tips for re-engaging your employees:

Consider establishing a “Communication Promise,” a detailed communication protocol in which your organization’s leadership team creates a schedule of communications over the next year that will be cascaded down from the CEO to first-line managers.

Build a learning culture, even if you have limited funds. Even if you’ve cut your training budget, writes Kelleher, things like stretch assignments, mentorships, cross-sectional task teams and lunch-and-learns are all relatively inexpensive ways to foster learning and development.

Analyze your employment brand. Keller suggests getting a cross-section of top-performing employees together to determine why people work for your company. Many companies, he writes, actually have a problem with hiring, not engagement—they’re hiring the wrong type of people to succeed in their cultures.

And, finally, host a YouTube video contest. Send out Flip cameras to every company location or department and request that employees be given a chance to pick a company value and explain on-camera “what that means to me,” and award prizes for the best videos. Hopefully, no one will produce a video like the ones from this Navy captain.

Good News for Recruiters

In what may portend a happier 2011 for recruiters, a story in today’s Wall Street Journal profiles three companies that are adding to their recruiting staffs in anticipation of greater hiring needs for the coming year.

 Sodexo USA has added three recruiters to its staff of 55 and currently has two additional openings for recruiters, according to the story,  while BASF Corp. plans to add at least four full-time recruiters in Q1 of 2011. McGladrey, a Minnesota-based accounting and consulting firm, has added the equivalent of 9 recruiters to its recruiting staff of 30 or so.

 The story cites a survey released this summer from CLC Recruiting, a unit of the Corporate Executive Board, which found that half the  companies plan to increase their recruiting staffs while 19 percent planned to shrink them through May 2011. That compares to last year’s survey, which found only 6 percent planned to increase their recruiting ranks while a quarter planned to shrink them.

 This is certainly good news compared to earlier this year, when many companies were still shrinking their learning and development staffs as well as their recruiting functions. Here’s hoping 2011 is a robust year for everyone—recruiters, employees and chief HR officers alike.

Yet Another Acquisition: Lawson Acquires Enwisen

Lawson Software, the St. Paul-based HRMS vendor, has just announced it’s acquiring employee self-service vendor Enwisen for $70 million in an all-cash transaction. Lawson says it expects the transaction to close by Dec. 31.

It’s been quite a year for mergers and acquisitions in the world of HR. The coming year will undoubtedly see many more, especially considering that analysts such as Jason Averbook of Knowledge Infusion expect 2011 will see a big shakeout of HR technology vendors.

 Here are some of the other noteworthy M&As (mostly “A”s, as in acquisitions) among HR vendors this past year:

Peopleclick and Authoria

Aon and Hewitt Associates

Towers Perrin and Watson Wyatt (announced last year but it closed this January)

ADP and Workscape

Taleo and Learn.com

SumTotal and Softscape

SuccessFactors and Inform and CubeTree

Wal-Mart v. Dukes: What’s at Stake

 Unless you’ve been vacationing in someplace really remote (like North Korea, perhaps), you’ve no doubt heard that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Wal-Mart’s challenge of the Ninth Circuit appeals court ruling that allowed the sex-discrimination class-action lawsuit against the giant retailer to proceed.

 Gerald Maatman, a partner and employment attorney at Seyfarth Shaw, says the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter may change the workplace class-action landscape permanently. Maatman has written an article that outlines what will be at stake when the high court issues its ruling, which he estimates will occur by next June.

In particular, he writes, employers can expect a clarification of the federal Rule 23 certification standards in employment-discrimination class actions overall.

Additionally, the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Dukes effectively “eliminates individual-by-individual defenses stemming from personnel decision-making by employers and turns class actions into statistical exercises,” Maatman writes. It also rejects the notion that district courts must resolve challenges to an expert’s qualifications and the reliability of the expert’s testimony in order to determine whether it’s relevant to establishing any of the Rule 23 requirements for class certification.

 “The net effect is that plaintiffs are able to certify more case, and gain the leverage that comes with a certification order,” he writes. “The Supreme Court’s disposition of this issue has enormous consequences for employers in approaching the defense and litigation of class-action claims.”

CDHPs: It’s All in the Details

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, participation in account-based healthcare plans remains low, but continues to grow: 22 million Americans are currently enrolled in consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) or high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), according to EBRI’s latest annual Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey.

Enrollment in CDHPs rose to 5 percent of the privately insured population in 2010, up from 4 percent last year. Enrollment in HDHPs, meanwhile, rose to 14 percent of the privately insured population, up from 13 percent in 2009. (CDHPs are high-deductible plans paired with a tax-favored health-savings account; HDHPs are plans with deductibles of at least $1,000 that are either not paired with an HSA or in which enrollees have elected not to sign up for an HSA.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the higher deductibles that enrollees in CDHPs and HDHPs must pay, they tend to exhibit more cost-conscious behaviors than their counterparts enrolled in traditional healthcare plans: 51 percent of CDHP enrollees and 50 percent of HDHP enrollees ask for a generic drug instead of a brand name, compared to 44 percent of employees in traditional plans.

CDHP enrollees are also more likely to participate in health-risk assessment programs and are more likely to choose doctors based on whether they use health-information technology such as electronic health records, according to the survey, which queried 4,509 adults between the ages of 21-64 with private health insurance coverage. They also tend to exhibit healthier behaviors (not smoking, exercising) than their counterparts in traditional plans, the survey found.

The last part, about CDHP enrollees being healthier, struck me as hardly surprising: After all, the conventional wisdom has been that healthier employees are more likely to choose these types of plans because they’re less likely to need healthcare services—and therefore less likely to be put off by those high deductibles. But the EBRI’s Paul Fronstin says that’s not necessarily true.

“Many employers, especially small businesses, offer only one plan, so in many cases employees enroll in a CDHP because that’s the only option,” he says.

More importantly, despite those high deductibles, CDHPs can be structured in such a way that employees can actually save a bit of money compared to a traditional plan,  he says.

“Plan design drives peoples’ behavior,” he says. “Employers can actually make it easier for employees to choose a CDHP over a traditional plan. For example, if you offer a CDHP with a $2,400 annual deductible for an employee and their spouse, with very low monthly premiums,  and a traditional plan with a much lower deductible but monthly premiums of $200, the CDHP could be the better deal, especially if the employer ‘seeds’ the HSA with $1,000 or so.”

According to the EBRI, 61 percent of employers that offer CDHPs contribute $1,000 or more to each employee’s HSA for family coverage; for employee-only coverage, 28 percent of employers contribute $1,000 or more.

Report: Many Customer-Service Employees ‘Highly Disengaged’

The Corporate Leadership Council, part of the Corporate Executive Board consulting firm in Washington, has released its latest quarterly Engagement Trends report. The report measures employees’ discretionary effort, intent to stay and engagement levels and is based on responses from approximately 618,000 workers from every geographic region in the world (with 72 percent of respondents coming from the United States).

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering that the economy continues to recover (albeit slowly), the number of employees who said they have “high levels of intent” to stay in their current positions declined in the third quarter of this year, to 22 percent,  from a high of 27 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. On a more encouraging note, the number of participants who said they put out high levels of discretionary effort was up slightly, to 6.2 percent in the third quarter, from 6 percent in Q2—this was down from 7 percent in Q4 of 2009, however.

Disengagement levels remain high, according to the survey, which found that 21.6 percent of workers describe themselves as highly disengaged—down just a bit from a peak of 22.2 percent in Q4 2009. And which corporate functions have the most highly disengaged employees? Disturbingly, it’s customer service, with 25.2 percent of workers in this function reporting that they’re highly disengaged, closely followed by finance/accounting, at 22.5 percent. Manufacturing and sales were the areas with the lowest levels of highly disengaged employees, tied at 17.1 percent.

So, this holiday season, when you’re on the phone with a customer-service rep trying to figure out why your child’s new video-game console isn’t working properly, it might help to remember that the person on the other end probably wishes they were doing something else, too.

Survey: Fewer Corporate Holiday Parties This Year

The economy may be improving (slowly), but the workplace holiday party scene is not, at least according to the annual holiday-party survey from New York-based exec-search firm Amrop Battalia Winston: 79 percent of companies plan on holding some type of holiday celebration this year, compared to 81 percent last year and in 2008. This represents the lowest number since ABW started doing the survey 22 years ago.  

For those that will be holding celebrations, just over a quarter (28 percent) say their parties will be more modest than in years past; this is on top of 49 percent who cut back on the lavishness last year.

There is a silver lining, for a very few lucky souls: 11 percent of respondents plan to hold more lavish parties, which is up from 1 percent last year and 2 percent in 2008. The survey did not specify what “lavish” means, so it could refer to a dinner of prime rib and shrimp cocktail accompanied by a live orchestra to serving crackers with cheese this time. The number planning to serve alcohol this year is also up, to 79 percent, compared with 73 percent last year. Sixty-one percent say their parties will be “at the same level” as in years past.

Most workers should not plan on bringing a spouse to this year’s celebrations: 69 percent said their parties will be “employee only,” while a quarter (26 percent) intend to invite employees and their families to gatherings.

On a sadder note, fewer than half of the surveyed companies (47 percent) are planning to get involved with charity events (donating money, food, clothing, gifts and/or volunteering), compared to 66 percent in 2009 and 74 percent in 2008. Here’s hoping they at least encourage employees to donate what they can to a charitable cause. As we all know, the need has hardly subsided.

Vegas Casino Workers Still Subjected to Smoke

If you ever want to go back in time, consider a trip to Las Vegas, where casinos remain as smoke-filled as they were in the days when you could still smoke on airplanes and in doctor’s offices. That’s because, despite the fact that Nevada—like many states—has a ban on smoking in public places, the state’s powerful casino industry has won an exception for casinos with more than 15 slot machines, i.e., every casino on the Strip.

 Now, a group of blackjack dealers and croupiers have filed a class action lawsuit against the Wynn Las Vegas  to try and force that casino-resort to install clean-air technology that will at least reduce the amount of cigarette smoke swirling about the place and into casino employees’ lungs. That’s right, they’re not even trying to seek a smoke-free workplace—they’re simply asking their employer to do a little more to reduce the fumes.

 Given that Nevada has the nation’s highest unemployment rate and that the casino industry has been absolutely hammered by the Great Recession, it’s understandable that casino employees and other state residents might be willing to give the industry a break when it comes to indoor smoking. But it’s pretty sad that blackjack dealers, cocktail waitresses and others are being forced to choose between losing their livelihoods and suffering the deadly effects of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke. At the very least, the casino industry should think about the high healthcare costs and missed work days these workers are incurring, not to mention all the non-smoking gamblers they’re scaring away. As activists with Smoke-Free gaming, an organization of casino employees who want the industry to ban smoking, have said: “What Happens in Vegas … Stays in Your Lungs.”