Category Archives: employee policies

House Passes Comp Time Bill

Hourly workers who’ve had to juggle shift schedules with picking up their kids from school or daycare or attending college classes while holding down a full-time job may have cause to cheer a bill that was passed earlier this week by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Working Families Flexibility Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R.-Ala.), would allow employers to give their workers paid time off in lieu of time-and-a-half pay (i.e., “overtime pay”) when they work more than 40 hours during a single week. The bill  now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Utah) has introduced a similar measure.

The House bill, which had strong Republican support, was touted as a way to “codify” flexibility for employees.

“I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than giving them more control over their time so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and their families,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R.-Wash.) at a press conference held by Republican House leaders, reports CNN.

House Democrats were universally opposed to the bill, giving it zero votes. Six House Republicans also voted against it. The bill’s chances of passing the Senate appear uncertain at best: It will need to garner votes from at least 8 Democrats  as well as all 52 Republican senators in order to avoid a filibuster and make it to the desk of President Trump, who’s indicated he will sign it.

“This is nothing but a recycled bad bill that would allow big corporations to make an end-run around giving workers the pay they’ve earned,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) in a statement. Several similar bills have been passed by the House in recent years but died in the Senate.

The National Partnership for Women & Families has also strongly criticized the bill, saying that it would put too many restrictions on employees’ ability to decide when they’d want to use their paid time off.

If it became law, the Working Families Flexibility Act would give workers “a false and dangerous choice between overtime pay now and time off later when they work more than 40 hours in a week,” writes NPWF Vice President Vicki Shabo in The Hill. “It does this by giving employers the right to hold onto employees’ overtime wages for months, while giving employees no guarantee that they will be able to take their ‘comp time’ when they need it.”

 

Sad State of Parental Leave

Tuned into a pretty interesting, if not depressing, Facebook Live session on Wednesday. Seems the at-least-slow progress in paid parental leave we’ve been writing about here on HRE Daily and on our HREOnline website isn’t as promising as some think.

At least that’s according to the Society for Human Resource Management, which released during the session its National Study of Employers — a self-described “comprehensive look at employer practices, policies, programs and benefits that address the personal and family needs of employees.” (Here’s the press release for those of you who don’t have the time for an entire study right now.)

Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, talked during the session about the study’s key findings — namely that, despite reports from well-known companies (such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Ernst & Young — see our own posts linked above) announcing their expansions of paid-parental-leave benefits, the average amount of caregiving and parental leave provided by U.S. employers has not changed significantly since 2012.

Specifically, over the past 11 years, the number of organizations offering at least some replacement pay for women on maternity leave has increased from 46 percent to 58 percent. But the study also found that, among employers offering any replacement pay, the percentage offering full pay has continued to decline, from 17 percent in 2005 to 10 percent in 2016.

In fact, of all employers with 50 or more employees, only 6 percent offer full pay. In addition, daily flexibility, the kind needed for emergencies, has gone down actually, from 87 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2016, a statistic Galinsky called “critical.” She added:

“The fact that that kind of flexibility has gone down is a critical [and alarming] finding.”

According to Galinsky, HR has a major role in turning this around. As she put it during the session:

“Flexibility is now the norm. HR should be thinking this way. It used to be, ‘Should or shouldn’t we provide flexibility?’ Now it’s a given that we should.”

Unfortunately, she said, HR needs to do a better job of telling workers what is offered at their organizations. The study found only 23 percent of companies making a real effort to communicate the programs they have.

Here are some other key findings:

  • Small employers (50 to 99 employees) were more likely than large employers (1,000 or more employees) to offer all or most employees 1) traditional flextime, the ability to periodically change start and stop times (36 percent versus 17 percent), 2) control over when to take breaks (63 percent versus 47 percent) and 3) time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (51 percent versus 33 percent).

  • Growth of workplace flexibility has been stable over the past four years. Out of 18 forms of flexibility studied, there were only four changes:

  1. An increase in employers that offer telework, allowing employees to work at least some of their paid hours at home on a regular basis (40 percent in 2016 versus 33 percent in 2012).
  2. An increase in employers that allow employees to return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption (81 percent in 2016 versus 73 percent in 2012).
  3. An increase in organizations that allow employees to receive special consideration after a career break for personal/family responsibilities (28 percent in 2016 versus 21 percent in 2012).
  4. A decrease in organizations that allow employees to take time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (81 percent in 2016 versus 87 percent in 2012).

In Galinsky’s words:

“Whether high-profile companies offering paid [parental] leave are out of step with the majority of employers or leading the way remains to be seen. Given our findings that 78 percent of employers reported difficulty in recruiting employees for highly skilled jobs and 38 percent reported difficulty in recruiting for entry-level, hourly jobs, these high-profile companies could be leading the way in the strategic use of leave benefits.”

And, apparently, that’s not happening. Not yet anyway.

No Movement on Maternity Leave

Despite a host of factors that would suggest otherwise, the number of U.S. women taking maternity leave has changed very little in the last two-plus decades.

So says a new study from Ohio State University, which finds that, on average, roughly 273,000 women in the United States took maternity leave each month between the years 1994 and 2015, “with no trend upward or downward,” according to an OSU statement. Fewer than half of those women were paid during their leave, the same statement notes.

Pointing to variables like an economy that has grown 66 percent in that time, and the number of states implementing paid family leave legislation over that 22-year span, study author Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at OSU’s Center for Human Resource Research, “expected to see an increasing number of women taking maternity leave. It was surprising and troubling that I didn’t.”

Zagorsky did, however, find the number of fathers taking paternity leave tripling between 1994 and 2015, “although the numbers are much smaller than those of women taking time off.”

More specifically, the number of men taking paternity leave rose from 5,800 men per month in ’94 to 22,000 per month in ’15.

In addition, Zagorsky’s study—based on data culled from the Current Population Survey, a monthly poll conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau—found that most women taking maternity leave were not paid. Less than half (48 percent) were compensated for leave in 2015. And, paid maternity leave is increasing, but only at a rate of less than one percentage point per year, according to Zagorsky.

“At that rate, it will take about another decade before even half of U.S. women going on leave will get paid time off,” he says. “This is a very low figure for the nation with the world’s largest annual gross domestic product.”

By comparison, more than 70 percent of men taking paternity leave in 2015 were compensated for their time off, says Zagorsky, who reasons that “one possible reason for this gender gap is that few men are willing to take unpaid leave to care for a newborn.”

Given that the inflation-adjusted gross domestic product went from $9.9 trillion a year in 1994 to $16.4 trillion in 2015, “it would have been reasonable to expect that some of the benefits of this large economic expansion would have gone to working women with newborn children, but that’s not what I found,” says Zagorsky.

He was equally startled by the effect, or lack thereof, that new paid family leave laws in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have had on maternity leave numbers, noting that those three states comprised 16 percent of the U.S. female labor force in 2015.

“If the laws were effective, some impact should be seen in national data,” says Zagorsky. “These results suggest we have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world as far as providing for new mothers and their children.”

 

Amex Joins Parental-Leave Parade

American Express is the latest to board the parental-leave bandwagon. It is announcing today a significant step up in its 510042321-parents-newbornbenefits, not just to new moms and dads, but to those wishing to be.

The company will be making all of its 21,000 U.S.-based regular full-time and part-time employees (the company has 54,800 employees worldwide) eligible for 20 weeks of paid parental leave beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. In addition, it will be increasing its employee benefits for fertility, surrogacy, adoption and lactation.

Kevin Cox, Amex’s chief human resources officer, calls the step a reflection of the organization’s “continued investment in the overall well-being of our employees and their families.”

The new policy covers women and men welcoming a child through birth, adoption and surrogacy. In addition to the 20 weeks of paid parental leave, birthing mothers will be eligible to receive paid, medically-necessary leave related to the birth of their child, which is generally six to eight additional weeks.

In the words of David Kasiarz, senior vice president of global total rewards and learning at Amex, who I recently reached out to about the reasoning and motivation behind this move:

“In creating our new policy, we took a thoughtful approach. We looked at a variety of published research studies and gathered our employees’ overall thoughts on our current programs. We aimed to be inclusive of the needs of our diverse employee base. Most importantly, we wanted both women and men to feel like they can take the time they need to care for their families and bond with their children.”

He continues:

“Research shows that an increase in paid parental leave has a far-reaching, positive impact on the mental and physical health of employees and their families, as well as women’s career advancement. Better health for our employees and their families is good for them and it’s good for us.”

As mentioned above, “to help ensure employees feel supported from the moment they decide to become parents through their return to work and beyond,” as its release states, Amex is also increasing a variety of existing family benefits. Beginning Jan. 1, U.S.-based employees will be eligible for:

  • Benefits worth up to $35,000 per adoption or surrogacy event (up to a maximum of two events per employee) to help with the cost of surrogacy or adoption;
  • A lifetime maximum of $35,000 for infertility treatment, including advanced reproductive technology procedures, available under the company’s health plans;
  • Free 24-hour access to board-certified lactation consultants; and
  • Free breast-milk shipping while traveling on company business.

Added to all of the above, beginning in January, expectant parents will have access to a parent concierge, who will help employees understand and navigate parental leave and the wide array of parental resources and programs available to them.

Says Kasiarz:

“We have a long history of offering benefits to support [all employees] and continually invest in their overall well-being — it’s our signature cause. We believe these changes to our parental-leave policy are the next steps forward in our journey.”

Amex is certainly not the first to enter the parental-leave fray. A search of this site and our HREOnline.com site features numerous predecessors — “new-economy” companies (such as Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix) and older ones (such as Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs). IKEA announced its expansion just last week.

Both searches also offer insights into the challenges still plaguing new working parents and the growing need for companies to find new and better ways to retain them.

As Kasiarz puts it:

” … parenting has changed — traditional parenting responsibilities have evolved and more LGBTQ families are having children. We feel the new policy strikes the right balance between our employees’ and our business’ needs.”

I anticipate — well, certainly hope — we’ll see more and more employers thinking along these lines.

Coming Soon: ‘Facebook at Work’

facebookThere was a time not so long ago when most employees were blocked from accessing Facebook while at work. My, how times have changed: Next month, companies will be paying Facebook so their employees can use “Facebook at Work,” a suite of business communication tools that’s designed to compete with the likes of Slack and Microsoft Yammer. The new application has been in beta testing with large companies such as Royal Bank of Scotland, and its capabilities could include the use of artificial intelligence technology to “read the mood of employees, including how they feel on certain topics,” according to USA Today.

Although those two products and others such as Salesforce’s Chatter are well-established brands with large customer bases, the sheer familiarity of Facebook’s user-interface (Facebook has 1.71 billion active users) may give it an advantage in the marketplace, writes TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden.

Its advantage lies in the fact that Facebook at Work’s user interface, functionality and even sign-in are all based on Facebook. That makes it instantly easy and familiar to use for many professionals, who will already be at least familiar with the workings of the social network, if not using it on a regular basis. (And that is crucial in a landscape where many companies have struggled to get their workers to engage well on their in-house “conversation” platforms.)

Unlike the other services, Facebook at Work will be offered to clients on a “per seat” pricing model rather than a flat fee, which could make it more affordable for smaller companies, reports ZDNet’s iGeneration. Facebook has not disclosed any specific pricing information yet for the service.

Facebook at Work is part of a trend in which companies are trying to spur greater employee use of enterprise software by making it more simple and user-friendly, like Amazon, Google and … Facebook. It will be interesting to see its full suite of capabilities at the official launch, scheduled for Oct. 10 in London.

The Democratic Party Platform: A Cheat Sheet

ThinkstockPhotos-476244660Turnabout is fair play — at least when it comes to politics in 2016. Last week I gave you a rundown on HR-related provisions in the Republican Party platform. Now it’s time for the Democrats.

Reflecting the unusual character of this year’s race, the document — formally approved on Monday — contains many direct attacks on GOP candidate Donald J. Trump. In some cases the narrative has to stretch a bit to do so. In declaring the party’s support for small business, for example, the platform says:

“The Democratic Party will make it easier to start and grow a small business in America, unlike Donald Trump, who has often stiffed small businesses—nearly bankrupting some—with his deceptive and reckless corporate practices.”

Anyway. Back to HR. Following are the main provisions of interest.

Minimum Wage: Language in the platform on the federal minimum wage reflects some tension between the party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton favors a raise from $7.25 an hour today to $12, leaving states and cities to set higher minimums. Her now-vanquished rival, Bernie Sanders, pushed for $15. What emerged in final platform language was a compromise: $15 … “over time.” The party also calls for eliminating minimum-wage exemptions for tipped workers and those with disabilities.

“No one who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty. … We should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and index it [to inflation].”

Employer incentives: The party also favors federal support for employers who “provide their workers with a living wage, good benefits, and the opportunity to form a union without reprisal.” The language doesn’t specify the form of this support, but suggests such employers would get preference in existing programs.

“The one trillion dollars spent annually by the government on contracts, loans, and grants should be used to support good jobs that rebuild the middle class.”

‘Card Check’: The platform reiterates a long-held argument in favor of allowing unions to organize workplaces where a majority of workers have signed cards indicating approval — with no election. The idea, called “card check,” has been proposed in Congress for more than a decade, so far without success.

The provision is part of a larger argument the party makes in favor of stronger legislative and regulatory support for labor unions.

“A major factor in the 40-year decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits have been under attack at all levels. … We oppose legislation and lawsuits that would strike down laws protecting the rights of teachers and other public employees. We will defend President Obama’s overtime rule, which protects of millions of workers by paying them fairly for their hard work.”

Mandatory Arbitration: Federal regulators have been going after companies that require workers to sign arbitration agreements that waive their rights to sue or join class-action suits. The topic got a big boost this month with news that former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is citing such a clause in the contract of former Fox commentator Gretchen Carlson to keep her sexual-harassment lawsuit out of court.

The 2016 platform adds the cause to a list of labor measures.

“We will support efforts to limit the use of forced arbitration clauses in employment and service contracts, which unfairly strip consumers, workers, students, retirees, and investors of their right to their day in court.”

Paid leave: After a passing reference to the party’s support for gender-based pay equity, the Democratic Party platform gets more specific about laws that would mandate family and medical leave.

“Democrats will make sure that the United States finally enacts national paid family and medical leave by passing a family and medical leave act that would provide all workers at least 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or address a personal or family member’s serious health issue. We will fight to allow workers the right to earn at least seven days of paid sick leave. We will also encourage employers to provide paid vacation.”

Profit-sharing: Suggesting a program that may appeal to some employers, the party also backs an unspecified government incentive to some that provide profit-sharing bonuses to employees.

“Corporate profits are at near-record highs, but workers have not shared through rising wages. … we will incentivize companies to share profits with their employees on top of wages and pay increases, while targeting the workers and businesses that need profit-sharing the most.”

International trade: Trade policy is a sore subject for both parties, with Trump and Sanders railing against NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Democratic Party platform walks a narrow line, calling for tougher bargaining — without shutting the door on the TPP.

“Trade agreements should crack down on the unfair and illegal subsidies other countries grant their businesses at the expense of ours. … These are the standards Democrats believe must be applied to all trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Immigration: The 2016 party platform reaffirms longstanding calls for comprehensive immigration policy reform — but makes no mention of increasing employment-based visa allowances to help companies recruit talent abroad.

“Democrats believe we need to urgently fix our broken immigration system—which tears families apart and keeps workers in the shadows—and create a path to citizenship for law-abiding families who are here, making a better life for their families and contributing to their communities and our country.”

A Glimpse Inside a Strange Corporate Culture

At Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, employees are expected to familiarize themselves with “a little white book” written by the firm’s founder, Ray Dalio, that’s filled with more than 200 of his “principles” on life and business. Aside from the overtones of Chairman Mao and his little red book, a New York Times story that’s based on documents from a filing against Bridgewater by the National Labor Relations Board and interviews with former employees and people who’ve done work with the $154 billion company suggests there are other odd practices at the Westport, Conn.-based firm.

An employee who filed a complaint earlier this year with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities likened the company in his complaint to a “cauldron of fear and intimidation,” the Times reports. Employees are under constant video surveillance, all meetings are recorded and security guards regularly patrol the building, all as part of an effort to “silence employees who do not fit the Bridgewater mold.”

Employees in some units of the company are required to lock up their personal cell phones when they arrive at work, the sources tell the Times.

Such secrecy and surveillance sounds, and probably is, uncomfortable, but then again hedge funds do tend to be secretive places with enormous amounts of money at stake. But at Bridgewater, the practice appears to have been taken a step further, with meetings between employees and managers not only routinely recorded but also shown to other employees. For example, new are shown videos of confrontations between executives and managers in an effort to “give new employees a taste of Bridgewater’s culture of openly challenging employees and putting them on the spot,” the Times reports. In one such video (which is no longer shown, according to the former employees), a confrontation between executives and a female manager ends up with the woman breaking down and crying. That certainly must have made for a memorable onboarding experience.

The employee who filed the initial complaint with the state commission was Christopher Tarui, an adviser to large institutional investors, who contended that he was sexually harassed by his male supervisor. In his complaint, Tarui said he did not report the conduct “out of fear it would become public because of the firm’s policy of videotaping confrontations between employees.” He ultimately complained to Bridgewater’s HR department, he said, because his supervisor gave him a bad performance rating despite the fact he’d been promoted and given a pay raise a few months earlier. Tarui said in his complaint that the firm promised to investigate, but management tried to persuade him to withdraw his allegations.

Tarui said all of his meetings, including his meeting with HR to complain about the alleged harassment and a subsequent meeting with top executives, were recorded and “widely shared” with managers at Bridgewater, the Times reports.

“The company’s culture ensures that I had no one I could trust to keep my experience confidential,” Tarui said in the complaint.

He filed the complaint in January. However, in March both Tarui and Bridgewater jointly asked to withdraw the complaint from consideration by the Connecticut human rights commission, which halted its investigation. The Times notes that Bridgewater employees (as at many companies) are required to settle disputes through binding arbitration.

However, the Times reports that in a related action, the NLRB later filed a separate complaint against Bridgewater accusing the company of “interfering with, restraining and coercing” Tarui and other employees from exercising their rights through confidentiality agreements that all employees are required to sign once they’re hired. The Times obtained the NLRB complaint and Tarui’s initial complaint through a Freedom of Information Act request. In a statement to the Times, Bridgewater said “we are confident our handling of this claim is consistent with our stated principles and the law.”

Should Employers Say No to Pokémon Go?

By now, the Pokémon Go phenomenon has quickly swept the nation (yours truly excepted) into a fever of using smartphones and tablets to “find” and “capture” digital creatures from the Pokémon universe that virtually appear at specific locations in the real world.

(If you need any proof that it’s not just a game for kids to play, Forbes contributor Paul Tassi has been posting tips and tricks on its site for all the business world to see and use.)

Now, it may sound like an odd — or perhaps paranoid — question, given the seemingly harmless nature of the game, but could Pokémon Go actually have negative effects on employers and organizations, beyond a dip in worker productivity?

Well, of course it could, according to a few different sources.

According to the International Association of IT Asset Managers (IAITAM), fans of the game “do not include the corporate professionals who deal with Information Technology Asset Management (ITAM) designed to keep phones, tablets, and other devices secure in the workplace.”

And that’s why the group has called on corporations to ban the installation and use of Pokémon Go on both corporate-owned, business-only (COBO) phones/tablets and “bring your own device” (BYOD) phones/tablets with direct access to sensitive corporate information and accounts.

Here’s IAITAM CEO Dr. Barbara Rembiesa discussing the dangerous world that players enter when tracking down the fanciful creatures on the phones, tablets, etc.:

Frankly, the truth is that Pokémon Go is a nightmare for companies that want to keep their email and cloud-based information secure. Even with the enormous popularity of this gaming app, there are just too many questions and too many risks involved for responsible corporations to allow the game to be used on corporate-owned or BYOD devices. We already have real security concerns and expect them to become much more severe in the coming weeks.

The only safe course of action, she advises, is to bar Pokémon Go from corporate-owned phones and tablets, as well as employee-owned devices that are used to connect to sensitive corporate information.

The group outlines three of its greatest concerns when it comes to the game:

* DATA BREACHES. The original user agreements for Pokémon Go allowed Niantic to access the entire Google profile of the user, including their history, past searches and anything else associated with their Google Login ID. This has since been corrected, but for COBO devices the result was, by definition, a data breach. It is unclear of the extent of data breaches that took place prior to the changes, what happened to the information accessed, and how that information was stored and/or destroyed. Further, there is nothing that would prohibit Niantic Laboratory from once again seeking access to all or some of this information.

* RISKY KNOCKOFF COPIES. There are now reports that some versions of the Pokémon Go app available from non-official app stories may include software allowing cyber crooks to remotely control the user’s phone or tablets. Unsophisticated users may not understand that third party app providers should be avoided due to the risks involved. The online security firm Proofpoint already has detected knockoff Android copies of Pokémon Go in the wild containing a remote controlled tool (RAT) called DroidJack.

* ENCOURAGING BAD BEHAVIOR. One of the most important things for employees using COBO devices, in particular, is the need to stick with approved software and apps. Pokémon Go must be considered a “rogue download,” which is any software program downloaded onto a device that circumvents the typical purchasing and installation channels of the organization. Rather than simply banning Pokémon Go, corporations should also use this as a learning opportunity to encourage maximum employee understanding of the rationale against rogue downloads, particularly the security risks they represent.

Also lending his voice to the chorus of concern is Philippe Weiss, Chicago-based lawyer and managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work.

Weiss offers managers five “valuable strategies to safely manage Pokémon Go perils” at work:

Prioritize Performance over Pokémon: Start watching your employees’ timeliness and attendance with greater attention than usual in the coming weeks. Follow-up on even small delays in work/task completion while the Pokeman Go craze is upon us. – Note any employees walking around with gazes fixed on their smartphone screens (and exhibiting an accompanying semi-spaced-out demeanor). – Train your managers to know when and how to safely tell employees: “Pokemon STOP!” (And train them not to set the wrong example, themselves, by playing Pokemon Go during work time).

Train on Pokemon Go Protocols: Give security people and managers simple scripts to use when they encounter any wandering/errant players. The key is to “Respectfully Reroute” players, quickly and safely.

Patrol Possible Player Pathways (especially if you operate any outdoor facilities): Regularly check all doors, gates and access ways to unauthorized areas to confirm that they are effectively secure. (And do not leave any hazards exposed. You don’t want distracted players falling into a floorboard gap followed by a 30 foot drop to the sub-basement.)

Use the Power of Your Policies: Remind everyone at work about your electronic device policy and ask that smart phones be turned off at all meetings. Don’t cede your power to the Pokemon.

Consider the Potential Poke-Payoff: On the plus side, if your store or business is near (or is itself) a Poke Stop or Pokemon Gym, you most likely have already seen increased foot traffic. Businesses can also purchase an in-game module called a “lure” to attract Pokemon (and thus, more players/potential customers) for a 1/2 hour period.  However, be ready for the possible resulting Poke-mayhem. If that happens, take steps to ensure that your own employees continue to focus on their work.

“The phenomenon is here,” Weiss notes, “but Pokeman GO need not mean that Performance STOPS!”

The Political Season and the Workplace

There's no reason political discussions at work can't be civil and respectful.
There’s no reason political discussions at work can’t be civil and respectful.

Next week, the Republicans will hold their nominating convention in Cleveland — today, the party released a list of speakers at the event, who will include former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s an unconventional list of speakers for a political convention, but that’s fitting because it’s been a thoroughly unconventional political season and will no doubt only get stranger still as Election Day approaches.

The anger and controversy the season has generated is resonating at many workplaces, of course, and today CareerBuilder released a survey of thousands of workers and managers that finds three in 10 employers and nearly one out of five employees have argued with a co-worker over a particular candidate this election season. Donald Trump has been the subject of most workplace arguments (13 percent), followed by Hillary Clinton at 8 percent.

Thirty percent of managers and 17 percent of employees have argued with a co-worker over a political candidate, the survey finds, and younger workers (ages 18 to 24) are the most likely to engage in heated political debate at work, at 24 percent.

In his campaign, Trump has stressed that political correctness is “killing our country,” and many employees share his concern: 50 percent of employees and 59 percent of managers say the American workplace has become “too politically correct,” with more workers saying it has hindered their business (34 percent) vs. the 22 percent who say it makes their business stronger. One third of employees (33 percent) say they’re afraid to voice certain opinions because they feel they may not be considered politically correct.

Of course, “political correctness” is a notoriously fuzzy term, and what some may consider overly PC behavior others would describe simply as common courtesy. In fact, PC behavior can actually boost productivity on male/female work teams, a 2014 study by Cornell ILR finds.

A few companies have fired employees for their political activity, prompting a conservative organization to call on large U.S. companies to publicly commit to respecting their employees’ rights to express their political opinions. That said, HR obviously needs to remind IT employees (who are the most likely to engage in political debates, at 47 percent, according to the CareerBuilder survey), manufacturing workers (37 percent), professional/business services employees (30 percent) and everyone else that –questions of free speech aside — if you can’t discuss a topic calmly and respectfully, it’s probably best to just leave it alone.

A Lesson on Politics in the Office

ThinkstockPhotos-153920586Some of the biggest events at this week’s SHRM 2016 Annual Convention and Exposition had little to do with HR. One was a concert Tuesday night by the band Train. The other was a highly entertaining discussion about politics between pundits Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

I don’t know about Train — I didn’t go, but it’s hard to imagine that the performance had much instructive value. On reflection, though, I think Begala and Carlson had a lesson for HR practitioners.

They didn’t make their point explicitly, but rather by modeling a healthy way for colleagues to disagree. The takeaway: Political discussions — including those playing out every day in company lunchrooms — don’t have to be divisive.

It’s a natural concern, particularly this year. An unusually heated and dramatic presidential race has passions running high, and employers naturally don’t want workers distracted by conflict in the workplace.

A SHRM study released as the conference began Sunday in Washington, D.C., found 26 percent of HR professionals responding said employees are more vocal about their political opinions this year. The survey found 72 percent of employers discourage political activity in the workplace, but only 24 percent have a written policy.

Companies can ban bullying or active campaigning in the office. But a SHRM news release quotes Edward Yost, an employee-relations expert with the organization, saying they generally “cannot have policies that prohibit all political discussions,” without running into issues with the National Labor Relations Board.

Here’s where your company culture gets tested. If workers are going to disagree on political issues, you want them to do it the way Begala and Carlson do — with empathy, humor and respect for other views.

Begala is a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and longtime Democratic political consultant. Carlson is a commentator on Fox News and founder of the conservative news site The Daily Caller. The two co-hosted CNN’s political talk show “Crossfire” more than a decade ago and often appear together on stage as they did Tuesday morning at the SHRM conference.

In some ways their presentation was a comedy show, with the men gently poking fun at each other — and themselves. But they had serious and substantive disagreements.

Carlson’s main point was that the nation’s elites on both sides of the aisle have missed the rise of middle-class economic anxiety that fueled the rise of presumptive GOP nominee Donald J. Trump. And he freely included people like himself in that blame.

“Where I live, there is literally no downside to mass immigration,” because high-income jobs are not threatened, he said. “Immigration is a no-cost way to feel good in my neighborhood.”

Begala agreed that both parties have “failed a whole lot of people in Youngstown,” using that city as a proxy for white middle-class families whose livelihoods are threatened by a changing economy. But the answer is not to demonize immigrants, as he contends Trump is doing. Instead, “we have got to find a way to lift up the poor and middle class.”

Both men acknowledged each other’s perspective and recognized that neither Democrats nor Republicans had all the answers — basic elements of any healthy political discussion.

The nation’s polarized political environment has led many to feel “a contempt for people who disagree with them,” Carlson said. “There should be a space for sincere, honorable disagreement.”