Category Archives: employee policies

A Word of Caution This Election Year

In case you didn’t notice, the 2016 presidential election season officially kicks off next Tuesday, when Iowa caucus-goers cast their votes for their favorite Democrat or Republican.

ThinkstockPhotos-476244660At this point, it’s anyone’s guess who will eventually win their party’s nominations. But this much is for sure: Contentious debate about the upcoming election around the workplace watercooler (and a host of issues associated with it) is only going to intensify in the coming months.

If the back-and-forth on social media today is any indication, HR leaders will want to brace for the worse. (In today’s environment, that means civil political discussions among employees escalating into heated discussions about issues involving race and religion.) But as Cozen O’Connor attorney Michael C. Schmidt recently reminded me, employers need to be careful not to overreact when things seem to be getting out of hand.

Just as employers have the right to ensure that the workplace is safe and productive, Schmidt said, employees similarly have certain rights that need to be appropriately balanced.

Schmidt, vice chair of Cozen O’Connor’s Labor and Employment Department, points out that “many states have some form of a ‘legal activities law,’ which prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee because he or she engages in certain types of political-related activities off premises and outside of working time.”

At the same time, he said, employers need to be “mindful of not imposing the company’s particular political views (and, especially, those of the company’s principals) on employees, and suggesting any link—positive or negative—between an employee’s expressed political views and compensation.”

Schmidt added that HR professionals need to “communicate to all employees that company policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and violence in the workplace also extend to political discussion in the workplace.”

The bottom line: Employers would be well advised to tread carefully as they navigate what’s increasingly looking like one of the more volatile election seasons in recent memories.

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DOL Gives a Holiday Gift to Parents

I’m not usually one for repeating content here one week to the next, but I simply had to share news of this pretty sizable gift while we’re all in the midst 510042321-- parents & newbornof the gift-giving season.

In an announcement last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor put significant money — up to $25 million in grants — where President Obama’s mouth has been in his support of working families struggling with today’s workforce realities.

Essentially, the grants will support public-private partnerships that bridge gaps between local workforce-development and child-care systems. Funded programs will enable parents to access training and customized support services needed for jobs primarily in information technology, healthcare and advanced manufacturing, though not necessarily confined to just those three.

The money, according to the DOL, will become available to these partnerships beginning in the spring and will be aimed at helping parents obtain affordable, quality child care so they can “pursue education and training opportunities leading to good jobs in growing industries.”

As U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez puts it in his announcement of the initiative:

“For too many working parents, access to quality, affordable child care remains a persistent barrier to getting the training and education they need to move forward on a stronger, more sustainable career path. Our economy works best when we field a full team. That means doing everything we can to provide flexible training options and streamlined services that can help everyone in America realize their dreams.”

This move by the government certainly underscores the attention employers and work/life experts have been paying to the needs of working parents lately. A search of this HRE Daily site, starting with my post last week lamenting the slow motion paternity leave seems to be in, along with this search of our parental-leave news analyses on our magazine’s HREOnline site, shows this push — some might even call it competition — by organizations to prove they’re family-friendly will be a hot agenda item heading into 2016.

Hopefully, employers and government agencies can come together and really start engaging in a national dialogue as opposed to each entity trying to outdo the other.

This move by the DOL seems to be a step toward that coming-together idea. It stipulates that grants up to $4 million will be awarded to partnerships that include the public workforce system, education and training providers, business entities and local child-care or human-service providers; more importantly, the release states, “all partnerships must include at least three employers.”

Personally, if this truly does lead to my kids, and my kids’ kids, having more at their fingertips than I did to survive the chaos of young parenthood coupled with work and the constant struggle to get ahead, then the gift is for me too.

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“The Work Day’s Over — We Mean It!”

clockFor some salaried professionals, the 40-hour work week may seem like one of those purple unicorns — widely talked about but never seen. Forget 40 hours — their work weeks often entail 50, 60 or even more hours, especially when you’re counting time spent on the phone or the laptop at home.

United Shore Financial Services is having none of that. At the Michigan-based wholesale mortgage firm, the policy is “firm 40″ — when 6 p.m. rolls around, everyone leaves the office to go home, and there’s to be no working from home or on the weekend, either. Of course, this also means that work hours are strictly for work, and not for perusing Facebook.

“You give us 40, everything else is yours,” Laura Lawson, United Shore’s chief people officer, tells the Wall Street Journal.

United Shore is one of several companies profiled by the Journal that have firm 40 policies in place. They include a couple of HR vendors — Bamboo HR and myHR Partner Inc. — as well. The companies believe that working longer than 40 hours does not lead to greater productivity, that in fact it is probably counterproductive in the long term.

Stanford University Professor John Pencavel agrees. His research shows that workers who routinely put in more than 40 hours per week become less productive over time, reports the Journal.

Allentown, Pa.-based myHRPartner Inc. says its firm 40 policy helps it attract talent — three open positions at the company recently attracted 663 applicants, the company tells the Journal.

As mentioned previously, however, strictly limiting work to no more than 40 hours hardly means slacking off: At software developer Never Settle, employees can be penalized for working less than 40 hours a week by losing vacation time (employees who work too many hours can also be punished thusly). At BambooHR, the COO will tell some employees “It feels like you’re not putting in the full 40.”

Interestingly, many of us may not actually be putting in the “insane” amount of hours we think we are: The Journal cites research showing that the actual number of hours worked by salaried professionals has stayed fairly constant over the years, hovering at around just over 43 hours per week. Still, that’s three extra hours that could probably be better spent.

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The Slow Death of the Desk Job

A new study, titled Death of the Desk Job based on a survey of 1,700 North American full-time employees in order to understand how the traditional workday is changing based on employee preferences — finds 70 percent would leave their job for one that offers more workday flexibility, including the ability to work remotely more often.

The study also found 55 percent of employees have more flexible work hours than they did two or three years ago. In addition, 75 percent of employees said they’re able to keep more family, social and personal commitments because they can remotely access work anytime they need.

Technology has made it easier than ever for employees to stay connected to the workplace anytime, anywhere and, as a result, employees increasingly enjoy more flexibility over their schedules, says David MacDonald, president and CEO at Softchoice, which commissioned the survey.

“We found most people really value the freedom to customize their workday – to be able to run an errand, schedule an appointment, or pick up their kids from school, and catch up on work when it suits them. Organizations that enable that kind of flexibility have become highly desirable places to work.”

Additional highlights from the study include:

•Employees don’t think their desk, or even their office, is where they do their best work: 62 percent of employees believe they’re more productive working outside the office.

•The 9-to-5 workday is passé: 61 percent of employees prefer working the equivalent of an eight hour workday broken up over a longer day, rather than in a single 9-to-5 block.

•Out of Office Alert! Has technology made us too accessible? 57 percent of employees work remotely on personal or sick days, and 44 percent of employees worked on their last vacation.

•Most organizations are enabling a mobile workforce, but not governing one: 59 percent of employees receive a device from their employer for work in and out the office, however, just 24 percent of organizations have set clear policies and expectations around appropriate work activities after business hours.

“Though many organizations enable remote work by issuing corporate devices, technology alone isn’t enough to fulfill evolving employee needs,” MacDonald says. “Not everyone has the same definition of work/life balance, so it’s up to the employer to set clear expectations around acceptable work activities beyond business hours.”

Given the scope of this survey and prior research on this topic, it’s clear that today’s (and, most likely, tomorrow’s) employees are looking for more novel ways to be productive workers while not actually at work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Employers should take note and help them find those new ways to work.  It’s a win-win.

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Slight Differences in Employers’ Holiday Plans

469599853 -- Labor DayPermit me, please, to have just a little numbers-comparison fun this Labor Day.

I couldn’t help but notice some discrepancies and similarities when this release came my way — totally expectedly, I might add — detailing employers’ plans for paying and/or granting paid days off for today’s holiday.

As Bloomberg BNA makes public prior to many holidays (including Memorial Day, which I blogged about earlier this year), its report on Labor Day expectations were uncannily almost identical — in reporting format and statistics — to Memorial Day findings, with a few strange little nuances.

Like why, if the same number of employers are providing a day off for all or most employees (97 percent), would 43 percent require some to come in on Memorial Day and 41 percent require some to come in on Labor Day? Or why would 85 percent of those asking some to work on Memorial Day provide something more than regular pay for their holiday labor, versus 86 percent on Labor Day?

What accounts for the differences? Time of year? Seasonal temperature? Seasonal business? Type of holiday?

I guess the bigger question is: Do these numbers underscore differences, or are they actually so close, they’re really similarities? I figured Bloomberg BNA’s survey research analyst, Andrew Hellwege, might be the best person to run this by since he’s most familiar with the methodology — or perhaps he’s the only one out there who would be the least bit interested in my small, admittedly game-like, puzzlement. His response:

“The minor differences in percentages between the results for the two holidays are most likely caused by statistical variation, not any substantive difference in how the holidays are treated by employers.

“In fact, [I would] emphasize … that the results for Labor Day and Memorial Day are effectively identical, statistically speaking, and that employers tend to treat both holidays the same way.”

So why study them at all?

Because it’s fun. And … come one … just a little interesting, right? I guess Bloomberg BNA would agree or it wouldn’t be sending these findings out multiple times a year.

In any event, Happy Labor Day everyone! Enjoy your day off. Unless you’re in the percentage that has to work, of course.


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Acknowledging Intersexuals in the Workplace

Here at HRE, we like to think we’re pretty well-versed in the labyrinthine lingo associated with the world’s workplace, including all manner of obscure HR term and every form of TLA (three-letter acronym).

So it came as quite a shock to me yesterday to discover a previously unknown — unknown to me, at least — term while participating in my company’s mandatory annual training sessions that addressed (among others) the old chestnuts of drugs in the workplace, IT usage, ethics, and gender, ethnic and sexual diversity.

The term in question? Intersexuals.

After some initial research (mostly the Wikipedia page for “intersex”) I found the following:

Like all individuals, intersex people have various gender identities. Most identify as either a woman or man, while some may identify as neither exclusively a woman nor exclusively a man. Some intersex individuals may be raised as a woman or man but then identify with another gender identity later in life.

That same Wikipedia page also notes that in 2015, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights described intersex people simply as being “born with atypical sex characteristics” that don’t meet “binary sex stereotypes.”

After learning a little more, the questions started popping up in my head: How can employers best accommodate such workers? How many people in today’s workforce actually identify themselves as intersexual? Which workplace bathroom should an intersexual person use?

I’ve reached out to the Human Rights Campaign as well as other experts in the arena of LGBTI issues, hoping to get some clarity on the issue in terms of how organizations can best accommodate such workers, but I’ve yet to hear back from them.

When I do, though, I’ll pass along their answers to you. In the mean time, I suppose I’ll just be thankful that I work for a company progressive enough to already acknowledge intersexuals in its work policies, even if not everyone (including me) may know they even exist.

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Do Parental Policies Work for Working Moms?

working mother 3For employers, the idea behind adopting family-friendly policies is pretty straightforward: to help workers with children juggle the demands of home and work.

And, while such policies might often be successful in that regard, there may also be some unintended consequences for the employees who take advantage of them—particularly mothers.

The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller analyzed some of those consequences this week, in a piece that looked at the effect such policies have had on working women in the United States as well as other countries. And the research she cites on the subject doesn’t paint an especially positive picture.

For instance, Miller references a new unpublished study from Cornell University’s Mallika Thomas, who found that women in the United States are 5 percent more likely to remain employed, but 8 percent less likely to get promotions than they were before the Family and Medical Leave Act became law in 1993.

Thomas, who will soon take a position as an assistant professor of economics at Cornell, attributed these numbers partly to companies’ reluctance to invest in female employees who may wind up leaving.

“The problem,” Thomas told the Times, “ends up being that all women, even those who do not anticipate having children or cutting back in hours, may be penalized.”

The issue extends well beyond the U.S. too, as Miller points out.

For example, the most recent version of a child-care law in Chile—which became effective in 2009—was intended to increase the percentage of women who work in the country, which is below 50 percent.

Maria F. Prada, an economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, authored a study analyzing the effects of the law. While she says it may ease female employees’ transition back into work and aid children’s development, it has also led to declines in women’s starting salaries in the range of 9 percent to 20 percent.

“That was thought to be a provision to help them participate in the labor force and achieve more work/family balance, and it’s doing the opposite,” according to Prada, whose study was recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

There’s more.

Miller notes a law passed in Spain in 1999, designed to give workers with children under the age of seven the right to ask for reduced hours “without fear of being laid off,” she says, adding that those who have taken advantage of the law “were nearly all women.”

A study led by Daniel Fernandez-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid, found that, in the decade since the law’s passage, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age, compared to men. In addition, employers were 37 percent less likely to promote women and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to the study, which also saw the probability of women of childbearing age being unemployed increase by 20 percent.

As Miller acknowledges, there’s no simple solution to these problems. There are, however, lessons to be learned from both here and abroad in terms of alleviating some of the unpleasant byproducts of parental-leave policies.

For example, employers in three U.S. states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—that offer paid family leave finance it through employee payroll taxes. Or, consider Sweden and Quebec, where both men and women are encouraged to take time off when a new baby arrives.

Indeed, looking at parental-leave policies as being truly gender neutral would be a big step in the right direction, Sarah Jane Glynn, director of women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress, told the Times.

“It has to become something that humans do,” said Glynn, “as opposed to something that women do.”

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Doing Good Through Better HR

doing goodChristine Bader, a former corporate social responsibility executive at BP, has an interesting piece up today at The Atlantic on the importance of a good HR department for companies that want to be better corporate citizens.

Bader, author of the 2014 book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil (judging from the title, I assume it touches at least partly on her BP experience), cites companies such as auto-parts manufacturer Lear, Google and clothing company Eileen Fisher that take innovative approaches to HR to unleash their employees’ resourcefulness and creativity.

At Lear, Bader writes, CHRO Tom DiDonato did away with basing compensation on performance reviews, “realizing that the emphasis on pay created stress and stifled the candor that people need to improve and innovate.” Instead, the company now bases compensation on market conditions and awards equity and promotions for good performance.

Bader describes Google’s efforts to do away with unconscious bias through training that not only helps its employees recognize their own biases, but encourages them to step in and intervene when they see biased behavior toward others, Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock told her. The training isn’t being done entirely out of altruism, he said: People perform better when they feel more safe at work. However, Bader writes, if people are treating others more fairly at work, one hopes that will spill over into their lives outside the office.

At Eileen Fisher, the company’s long-term plan to improve the environmental and social sustainability of its supply chain depends on an intense spirit of collaboration within the organization — one that is carefully nurtured by HR, Bader writes. Eileen Fisher’s sustainability efforts are overseen by a team of leaders from different departments within the company who meet weekly by phone and monthly in person. “Traditionally, work evolves into buckets or silos; we help connect people so they can break down the silos,” Director of Leadership, Learning and Development Yvette Jarreau told Bader.

HR still has a reputation among too many people as a bureaucratic rut — a dark hole of stifling paperwork and mindless processes, writes Bader. But for companies that are trying to change for the better, she writes, a smart and flexible HR department is crucial.


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Starbucks Doubles Down on College

Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee giant, announced yesterday it was doubling its free college tuition plan for employees to cover a full four years of college instead of two. Starbucks will offer employees faster tuition reimbursement–after every semester instead of after completing 21 class credits.

The program, in partnership with Arizona State University, offers all eligible full-time and part-time employees full tuition coverage for a four-year bachelor’s degree though ASU’s online degree program. Starbucks says it will invest up to $250 million or more to help at least 25,000 employees graduate by 2025.

Nearly 2,000 Starbucks employees have already enrolled in the program, which offers 49 undergraduate degree programs through ASU Online.

“By giving our partners access to four years of full tuition coverage, we provide them with a critical tool for a lifelong opportunity,” says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in a statement. “We’re stronger as a nation when everyone is afforded a pathway to success.”

And in a LinkedIn piece announcing the move, CEO Schultz talks in a video interview about the importance of education and his company’s role in making the American workforce a more robust and agile one within the next 10 years.

“We have a long history of under-promising and over-delivering,” he says. “We think we’ll do the same there.”

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Krawcheck Calls for Greater Diversity

Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck

The second day of SHRM’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference featured a morning talk by Sallie Krawcheck, a former high-profile Wall Street executive who’s now the chair of Ellevate, a New York-based mentoring network for women (formerly known as 85 Broads).

In describing her experiences as one of the few female leaders in an industry that continues to be dominated by white males, Krawcheck paid tribute to HR. “The first young man I had to fire threatened to kill me,” she said. “He said he would hunt me down in a dark alley. The second young man I had to fire insisted that I was doing so because I was actually in love with him. He suggested that I put him up in a love nest. So, I have a great deal of respect for what you in HR have to deal with.”

She also offered her own take on what led to the financial meltdown of 2008: “I don’t think it was greed so much as groupthink,” she said. “And what breaks groupthink? Diversity of thought.”

Krawcheck called on HR to “keep us honest, give us training on this, encourage us to have those courageous conversations where we say, ‘Dave, you interrupted Susie five times during her presentation, but you didn’t interrupt Bill once during his.’ ”

Companies today suffer from a surplus of mentoring opportunities for women but a deficit of sponsoring programs, she said, in which executives actively advocate for women in their careers. “Some companies are actually replacing their mentoring programs with sponsoring programs.”

Companies can demonstrate their commitment to diversity by making it a key developmental milestone, said Krawcheck. “Here’s a thought: Give responsibility for diversity to a high-potential white guy.”

Later on that day, a breakout session featured two board members from the National Labor Relations Board, who sought to explain the Board’s reasoning on controversial matters such as so-called “ambush elections” rule regarding union-certification elections.

“I’m told the best part of the new rule starts on page 500, where [Harry] Johnson and I write our dissent,” said Philip Miscimarra, who is — along with Johnson — one of the two Republican appointees to the five-member Board.

He and Johnson disagreed with the new elections rule on a number of different issues, particularly its dramatic compression of the time allowed between when a union files a certification petition and the election. “The [National Labor Relations Act] is silent with respect to timing,” said Miscimarra. “How fast is too fast, or how slow is too slow — it is silent on those issues.” He noted that both houses of Congress have passed a “resolution of disapproval” of the new rule — a resolution that could potentially nullify the rule should a Republican win the next presidential election and sign the resolution into law.

One of the most contentious issues the Board continues to wrestle with, said Miscimarra, is the extent to which companies have the right to restrict concerted activities by employees that could be considered as “disrespectful, discourteous or insubordinate.”

“Employers have been surprised to learn that rules they have in place for a good reason — rules that require employees to show courtesy and respect — are unlawful under our statute,” he said.  “I do hope the Board can do a better job of devising a standard in this area that people will find helpful.”


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