All posts by Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson is a senior editor at Human Resource Executive magazine.

EEOC: HR Leader Wrongly Fired

The American Dental Association illegally fired both its CHRO and chief legal counsel after they alerted the association board about employment discrimination occurring at the Chicago-based trade group, says the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The agency on Friday announced a $1.95 million settlement with the association to resolve charges that the group illegally retaliated against the the chief legal counsel, Tamra Kempf, and the association’s  chief HR official, whom it did not name.

The two had raised concerns about violation of laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age and disability, the EEOC said, without providing details.

Beyond the discrimination, the retaliation was of great concern, said Julianne Bowman, director of the EEOC’s Chicago District office.

“The position of the EEOC is that human resource  professionals and in-house lawyers who advise their employers to abide by anti-discrimination laws are engaged in protected activities, and any retaliation against them for doing so is illegal,” Bowman said in the EEOC statement.

The dental association contended the two former employees’ complaints are “without merit,”but said it settled to avoid the costs and risks of a trial.

In addition to the fines, which will go to the former employees, the association agreed to take “proactive measures” to prevent future discrimination and retaliation. It also will provide training in discrimination law for employees in the association’s Chicago headquarters,the EEOC said.

Another Casualty at Fox News

Board members at 21st Century Fox this week took dramatic steps to end what was shaping up to be an epic HR train wreck at the media giant.

On Tuesday they dismissed Bill O’Reilly, popular host of “The O’Reilly Factor,” the  top-rated show on its top-rated cable outlet, the Fox News Channel. News stories recently have detailed sexual-harassment complaints that have piled up against O’Reilly, costing the network at least $13 million in settlements so far and more in than 50 advertisers as the unflattering headlines tarnished the Fox News brand. It was the latest chapter in a story that began with the ouster of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes last summer over similar allegations of rampant sexual harassment problems at Fox News.

The New York Times, which started the latest chain of events on April 1 by publishing the first accounts of sexual-harassment complaints against O’Reilly, said the decision to fire him was made by Rupert Murdoch and his two sons, who hold controlling interests in 21st Century Fox after an internal investigation found that several women had reported inappropriate conduct by O’Reilly. Murdoch, executive co-chairman of the 21st Century Fox board, also has been acting CEO of the Fox News unit since Ailes was fired in July 2016.

The decision came in a terse announcement: “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.” The deal included severance payments of up to $25 million, several news organizations reported.

O’Reilly, who was in Italy on vacation when the news of his dismissal broke, expressed disappointment in a series of short statements that alluded to his longstanding contempt for “political correctness.”

“Over the past 20 years at Fox News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history, which has consistently informed and entertained millions of Americans and significantly contributed to building Fox into the dominant news network in television,” O’Reilly said in one statement published by Entertainment Weekly late on Tuesday. “It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today. I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”

 

Another Strange Turn at Fox News

The news hasn’t been kind to Fox News lately.

As a messy sexual harassment scandal began unfurling last year, the television network and its corporate parent, 21st Century Fox, were battered with unflattering headlines. Besieged with employee  suits alleging a systemic culture of sexual harassment and retaliation, the company had to spend $20 million last fall to settle claims from former star anchor Gretchen Carlson. Months earlier, Fox also had spent $40 million in a deal to dismiss network CEO Roger Ailes. Other sex-harassment cases against the company remain pending. But new ones keep coming.  Most recently, the storm returned after The New York Times on April 1 reported that sex-harassment claims were piling up against Bill O’Reilly, host of the news channel’s most popular show. The network has paid five women a total of $13million to settle their claims, the Times reorted.

Once again, Fox’s image took a beating.  So did revenue: This time, advertisers left the channel to preserve their own reputations. As a high-profile law firm conducted an investigation on behalf of management, some news outlets reported O’Reilly could be ousted.

We can only imagine how challenging life is today in the Fox HR department.

We may not have to wonder. If one news report is true, HR leaders at 21st Century Fox took a bold step to change the company culture: they launched a training program that features a video that Americans have come to know well: The infamous “Access Hollywood”outtakes featuring host Billy Bush exchanging salacious banter with now-President Donald Trump.

The newspaper reported  that Fox has shown the tape as a regular part of employee seminars warning against sexual harassment.

Hollywood Reporter said employee reaction has at times been incredulous: “There was an audible gasp in the room, like, ‘Can you believe this is happening?’”one tipster told the newspaper.

Using Data To Defend H-1B Visas

As the federal government this week began accepting H-1B visa applications for 2017, Trump administration officials sent new signals that they will more carefully scrutinize employer use of the popular tool for recruiting skilled workers.

Meanwhile, a new study disputes the idea — espoused by the president himself –that employers use H-1B visas to hire “cheap labor” from overseas, undercutting Americans who would like the jobs.

The study, by the job site Glassdoor, concluded that foreign workers with H-1B visas on average earn nearly 3 percent more than Americans holding comparable jobs. Overseen by Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain, the analysis compared salaries reported on H-1B applications with those reported by Glassdor users for comparable jobs.

While a study in the 1990s suggested that wages for computer scientists were hurt by an influx of H-1B workers at the time, the current data show “there’s no evidence that H-1B workers are paid any less” than America counterparts today, Chamberlain writes.

Overall, the foreign workers earn 2.8 percent more, the study found.The pay gap varied by job title and location; for example,H-1B workers were more likely to earn less than their American counterparts in Washington, D.C. than in other major U.S job hubs.

But the program remains a target for critics, including many in the Trump administration, who say it hurts native-born workers by creating a back door for foreign applicants.UnderTrump, the federal government has begun to tighten regulations that govern the program. Last week, for example, officials said computer programming jobs, long a popular use forH-1B visas, would no longer automatically qualify.

It’s unclear what further restrictions may follow. But just this week immigration officials vowed to redouble enforcement efforts against employers that skirt the rules. “Too many American workers who are qualified, willing and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged,”said a statement issued Monday by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

On Social Media and Return to Work

Employers are understandably worried when workers use third-party social media sites such as Facebook to communicate with each other about work matters.

A recent personal experience has given me a different perspective. In some cases, I believe, these social platforms can provide benefits for both employers and workers.

I was diagnosed with a brain tumor late in November and had surgery on Dec. 2, followed by intensive physical rehabilitation to restore nerve-muscle connections on my left side.

I immediately used Facebook and LinkedIn to update my professional contacts. And I have reaped big benefits from support offered by colleagues at HRE and from former co-workers at other publications around the nation.

That support helps me tap into the power of my network for encouragement and will speed my return to productivity. That suggests to me that these social-media tools may have real value to employers who want to support sick and injured workers and help them quickly get back in the saddle.

‘Persuader’ Ruling Helps Employers

Barack Obama hasn’t yet turned the Oval Office over to Donald Trump, but already one of his administration’s signature pro-labor rules has been scrapped. Not by the new president, but by a federal court.

Gavel banging
Gavel banging

U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings  in Lubbock, Texas, on Nov. 16 made permanent an earlier temporary injunction halting the Department of  Labor’s controversial “persuader rule.” That rule, announced in April, expanded an existing requirement for employers  to disclose in government filings when they hire legal counsel to combat unionization drives. Under the new rule, disclosure was necessary even if those lawyers only provided advice on how companies should persuade workers to oppose representation. It was one of several pro-labor rules or standards set recently by Obama-administration agencies, including the DOL, EEOC and NLRB.

“It’s a good result,” says Jeff Londa, a Houston-based labor and employment attorney with Ogletree Deakins who led the legal effort to set aside the rule.  As a result, “We’re back where we were.”

Business groups that joined several states in seeking the order included the National Federation of Independent Business, whose members are generally small employers.

But larger companies also will benefit from Wednesday’s ruling, Londa says. Though more likely than small firms to  have their own attorneys on staff,  larger employers still “typically go to outside counsel” for training and advice on company policies  “when there’s a lot on the line” in a major union organizing campaign, Londa says.

The “persuader”rule had  stirred widespread objections not only from employers, but also from lawyers, who said it breached the attorney- client privilege.

The Labor Department had filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit after Cummings issued a preliminary injunction on June 27. That appeal is now mooted b this week’s permanent injunction, Londa says. That means “it would clearly be on the shoulders of a new administration” to appeal again  — unlikely, given Trump’s position on the Obama administration’s labor regulations. And given the GOP’s strong showing in Senate and House races on Election Day, Congress is not likely to intervene to revive the “persuader” rule, he notes.

“The inclination of the new Congress would probably be against the new rule,” Londa says. “I’m not sure they would get involved.”

 

 

 

What Now for Labor Relations?

Trump_by_Gage_SkidmoreUnions have had a pretty good ride during the Obama administration. That’s about to change, and it’s not hard to imagine a new age of labor strife dawning as Donald Trump settles into the Oval Office.

The Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board under Obama have favored rules that ease union organizing efforts. The agencies also have applied many standards that typically apply in a collective-bargaining relationship to nonunion workplaces as well.

Trump, however, is expected to embrace a traditional GOP pro-business stance. That makes it likely his agencies will be less friendly to unions. So, too, for federal judges and justices that ultimately rule on many tough legal issues involving labor. Trump also supports national right-to-work legislation. Does all that mean we’re headed for a more antagonistic relationship between management and labor generally?

Not necessarily. The Trump-labor relationship is complicated.

At least one union leader is talking tough. “We must pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and stand strong,” says Matt Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents workers in the movie industry. “We must demonstrate solidarity in an unprecedented way by locking arms as Brothers and Sisters.”

Of course, union members did not vote universally for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton; exit-poll data suggest over 40 percent of the union vote went to her opponent.  Indeed, labor unions are as diverse as the industries they organize. At least one union leader welcomed the election of Trump, hailing him as a potential savior of jobs: Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers.

“Working families in our nation’s coalfields are very concerned about their future, and they made their voices heard loud and clear yesterday,” Roberts said. “President-elect Trump has spoken many times about addressing the serious economic disaster that is affecting large areas of Appalachia and other coal-producing areas of our country by putting coal miners back to work. No one is more interested in doing just exactly that than the UMWA.”

And Dennis Williams, president of the United Auto Workers, on Thursday also emphasized areas of agreement with the incoming president, according to Automotive News.

“Obviously, we’ll work with him on NAFTA. We agree that NAFTA needs to be renegotiated or ended,” Williams said. “We are prepared to work with him on a jobs bill and an infrastructure bill.”

There you have it: Part of Trump’s agenda aligns with union interests, and part does not. We’ll soon see what that means for the climate of labor relations in America.

New Honors for Six Leaders in HR

The National Academy of Human Resources inducted its latest class of fellows Thursday night in New York City, honoring five high-profile HR leaders and scholars at the organization’s annual meeting.

2016 Fellows of the National Academy of HR, from left: Benito Cachinero-Sánchez, Mark Huselid, Mirian Graddick-Weir, Susan Schmitt.,Michael D’Ambrose, Boris Groysberg.
2016 fellows of the National Academy of HR, from left: Benito Cachinero-Sánchez, Mark Huselid, Mirian Graddick-Weir (distinguished fellow), Susan Schmitt, Boris Groysberg, Michael D’Ambrose.

The academy also elevated Mirian Graddick-Weir of Merck & Co. to the rank of distinguished fellow. First named a fellow in 2001, Graddick-Weir earned the latest honor for her record as “a true human-resources superstar,” said William J. Conaty, a former senior vice president of HR at General Electric who himself was named a distinguished fellow in 2007.

Graddick-Weir is executive vice president of human resources at the Kenilworth, N.J.-based  pharmaceutical giant, which employs 68,000 people in 90 countries. In 2006, she joined the company from a similar role at AT&T, where she held several posts over a 20-year career. With other honors that include being named Human Resource Executive® magazine’s HR Executive of the Year in 2000, she also holds a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology from Pennsylvania State University.

In thanking members of the academy, Graddick-Weir called on HR leaders to recognize their role not only in helping employees and employers thrive, but in helping society tackle social challenges. Some of those challenges, she noted, are especially evident in the United States this year as the nation prepares to choose a president.

As HR professionals, “we have an incredible opportunity to play a leading role” in helping people grow professionally and succeed economically, Graddick-Weir said. She hailed companies that have invested in education and training, and those that have committed to addressing pay inequities and unconscious bias in hiring and promotion.

“What an exciting time it is to be a chief human resources officer,” Graddick-Weir said. “We have an enormous opportunity to … shape the workplace of the future.”

Also honored at the event, held at the Waldorf Astoria New York, was the academy’s 2016 class of fellows:

  • Benito Cachinero-Sánchez, senior vice president for human resources at E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., a global chemical company based in Wilmington, Del. Before joining the firm in 2011, he held leading HR jobs at companies that include Lucent Technologies and Johnson & Johnson.
  • Michael D’Ambrose, senior vice president and CHRO of Archer Daniels Midland Co. He joined the Chicago-based agricultural giant in 2006 after top HR posts with First Data, Citibank and other companies.
  • Boris Groysberg, a professor at the Harvard Business School whose research focuses on management of human capital. He’s the author of three books, including Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance.
  • Mark Huselid, distinguished professor of workforce analytics at Northeastern University. His research focuses on the interplay of HR management systems, corporate strategy, workforce differentiation and firm performance. He is author or co-author of several books, including The Differentiated Workforce: Transforming Talent into Strategic Impact.
  • Susan Schmitt, senior vice president of human resources at Rockwell Automation. Before joining the Milwaukee, Wis.-based industrial-technology company nearly a decade ago, Schmitt held senior HR roles with Kellogg Co., the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and others.

So Where Are We on H-1B Visas?

Here we are one week ahead of the presidential election, and it’s still clear as mud what the result could mean for one issue of great interest to HR: the future of employment-based immigration.

Athinkstockphotos-523158854s I wrote in our Sept. 2 cover story, the prospects for employers are not especially positive either way. With trade agreements in the political crosshairs and rising concern about how foreign workers may put residents out of work, this is not a good year to promise companies more access to talent from abroad.

But both candidates have been elusive on the subject. This spring, for example, GOP  nominee Donald Trump appeared to stake out contradictory positions, first proposing a higher bar for companies sponsoring worker visas and later announcing that “I’m changing,” recognizing the need for skilled workers, particularly in the tech industry.

More recently, Politico’s Morning Shift blog points out, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Trump surrogate, suggested in Iowa that a Trump administration might stop issuing H-1B visas entirely.

“We shouldn’t be bringing in people where we’ve got workers,” he said at a campaign event, according to the Des Moines Register. “I don’t think the republic would collapse if it was totally eliminated.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has kept a low profile on the issue, though she appears more open than her rival to supporting the tech industry’s need for workers. Her campaign, for example, promises a President Clinton would support “stapling” a green card to certain advanced degrees earned in the U.S. by foreign workers in STEM fields.

But neither candidate addressed the issue in the three presidential debates, leaving companies that depend on foreign workers left to guess what policies they might pursue.

As befits a story important to the tech industry, there is a way to use data to get a sense which candidate might be best for the industry. The data-heavy political blog 538 this week looked at contributions from Silicon Valley to the two campaigns.

With 95 percent of the money from these donors, Clinton outdistances Trump by a huge margin. That might signal optimism about her policies on employment-based immigration.

Or it could mean something else entirely. After all, Silicon Valley is in the heart of ultra-blue California.

Walking the Talk on Time Off

thinkstockphotos-163664798Bad bosses discourage workers from taking time off. Good bosses encourage it. The best bosses also get out of the office and use their own vacation days.

That’s the takeaway from the latest report by Project Time Off, a feisty little offshoot of the U.S. Travel Association that likes to remind us of how bad Americans are at taking vacation.

As we’ve noted here before, Project Time Off has chronicled the startling decline of vacation usage in the U.S.  In 2015, the estimated average for an American worker was 16.2 days a year, down from a long-term average of 20.3 days from 1976 to 2000.

The group’s latest report — produced with analysis by Oxford Economics of government data and survey results from marketing firm GfK  —  looks at the evident hypocrisy of managers who pay only lip service to the idea of taking time off.

The good news is that 93 percent of managers surveyed say they believe employees benefit from vacations. Almost as many say they actively encourage workers to take time off. But only 41 percent used all their own time in the previous year.

Why that matters: Research makes a compelling case that how managers treat their own vacation time has a powerful effect on workers, says Ron Friedman, a psychologist, author and consultant who studies the subject.

Writing last year in the Harvard Business Review, Friedman summed it up like this: “When managers forgo vacation time, it not only places them squarely on the road to burnout, it also generates unspoken pressures for everyone on their team to do the same.”

And that not only deprives workers of a break that helps them perform, but also deprives the organization of “fresh perspectives and creative solutions” they bring back, he writes. “Simply put, you’re far more likely to have a breakthrough idea while lounging on a beach in St. Martin than you are while typing away in your office cubicle.”

There’s also a financial cost, in the form of accrued vacation time as a balance-sheet liability. The Project Time Off study looked at 10-K filings by public companies to conclude they collectively have $272 billion in vacation liabilities on their books.

Why are so many managers unwilling to use all their time? Of course some people really do have crushing loads of work that no one else can do. And sometimes — if you’re launching a company, say — it really does make sense to power through a tough year with few days off.

But those cases are rare. If Reed Hastings of Netflix, Jim Moffatt of Deloitte and Barack Obama of — well, you know — can take vacations, c’mon — what’s so special about the rest of us?

Here are some of the real reasons, I suspect, that some managers routinely skip vacation. And none of them, I’ll warn you, are flattering:

  • They’re inefficient and unproductive. They tend to run around in circles and waste everyone’s time. They don’t get much done. So they feel a need to catch up by skipping their vacation.
  • Obsessive tendencies. They spend every day pushing their folks to compete. They can’t take time off or their numbers will tank. So they don’t.
  • Free-floating anxiety. The world is changing. Who knows? Their job might disappear overnight, or a rising star might replace them. Or someone might notice they are dispensable.
  • They really don’t have anything else to do. It’s sad, but I’ve known managers who gave everything up for work. They really don’t have much of a family or a life outside the office. For them, vacation is no vacation.

None of those apply to you, right? So do yourself — and your people — a favor. Take that time.