Category Archives: HR profession

No Confidence Crisis in HR Job Market

If you’re an HR professional seeking new career opportunities, the results of a recent Society for Human Resource Management survey should offer some encouragement.

And, if you’re an HR leader hoping to keep your team intact through the ongoing economic recovery, these same findings may be cause for just a bit of concern.

The Alexandria, Va.-based organization’s recent poll of 423 human resource professionals examined hiring trends in the HR profession as well as HR professionals’ faith in their own job security and ability to find work elsewhere.

Overall, 88 percent of participants expressed some level of confidence that they could land a new position if necessary. This figure represents a 3 percent increase from December 2014, and a 9 percent jump from January 2014, according to SHRM’s Summer 2015 HR Jobs Pulse Survey Report. Of that 88 percent, 59 percent said they were “somewhat” confident, and 29 percent described themselves as “very” confident in their ability to find another job.

That self-assurance was seen at the higher levels as well, where 89 percent of executive-level, senior-level and mid-career level respondents expressed “some degree of faith that they could find work if necessary.”

While many respondents report being content in their current roles, 28 percent of those surveyed said they are already looking for a new job. Among this group, 24 percent indicated they were voluntarily seeking greener pastures. Another 22 percent said they were either “likely” or “very likely” to start a job search within the next 12 months.

And what has this group eyeing the exits? No surprise here: 37 percent of those who are currently looking or plan to be in the next year cited more compensation as the primary reason. Another 33 percent noted better career advancement opportunities, with 32 percent saying they were in search of better overall organizational culture.

The brimming confidence in the HR job market seems well-placed, at least in terms of opportunities with large employers. Just 1 percent of small companies (99 employees or less) are recruiting for HR positions, but 65 percent of organizations with 25,000 or more workers are now hiring for HR jobs, according to the SHRM report.

On the whole, fewer than three in 10 (27 percent) of respondents said their organizations were currently hiring for HR-related positions.

But, it only stands to reason that that number is higher among large companies, where employers and HR job seekers alike figure to benefit from the rebounding job market, said Jen Schramm, SHRM manager of workforce trends, in a statement.

“Hiring for HR positions depends greatly on the size of the company,” noted Schramm. “Larger companies employ more HR professionals, so it makes sense that they are more likely to report that they are trying to fill HR positions, especially during a jobs recovery. Improvements in the job market are also making HR professionals more confident about seeking out new opportunities for themselves.”

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Turnover and the Hourly Workforce

A new  survey of service-industry workforces and operations to determine how organizations are managing their hourly employees finds that turnover continues to be one of the business sector’s biggest challenges, with respondents reporting year-over-year turnover increases of 39 percent for hourly workers and a staggering 314 percent increase in turnover for managers.

That’s according  to the 2014-2015 How Hourly Workforces Work survey — conducted by Charleston, S.C.-based The PeopleMatter Institute — which also reports annual turnover rates for hourly employees to be 49 percent, with an average cost of $4,969 per employee.

Now in its fourth year, the survey was completed by 974 individuals, representing all sectors, business sizes and roles in the service industry.

“With a still-uncertain economy, rising turnover and increased competition, the survey reveals a number of challenges impacting the industry, said Nate DaPore, CEO and President of PeopleMatter.

DaPore also said it also “shows that the companies adopting advanced workforce management technology are best suited to address these challenges head on and to ensure a more effective approach to managing their hourly workforces.”

While triple-digit turnover rates for hourly workers may not be very surprising, the 314-percent increase in turnover for managers should be a clear signal to HR leaders who manage hourly workforces that more attention needs to be paid to both training and retention efforts at the manager level.

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EEOC Sues UPS Over Religious Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission recently sued United Parcel Service, Inc., claiming the country’s largest package delivery company violated federal law by discriminating against employees’ religious rights.

The EEOC complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that the company has failed to hire applicants and promote employees who wore either long beards or long hair due to their religion. The company’s policy requires supervisors and employees who come in contact with customers to shave their beards and also prohibits male employees in such positions from growing their hair below collar-length.

As an industry giant, UPS supports a sophisticated HR department that oversees roughly 300,000 employees nationwide. What went so wrong?

According to an EEOC statement, there were many examples of religious discrimination over the years. It mentions a Muslim who applied for a driver position in Rochester, NY. The man, who wore a beard as part of his religious observance, was told “he had to shave to get the position,” that “God would understand,” and that “he could apply for a lower-paying job if he wanted to keep his beard.” EEOC also pointed to Muslim and Christian employees at other UPS facilities who were “forced to shave their beards while they waited months or years for UPS to act on their requests for religious accommodation.”

Likewise, a part time load supervisor in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who was a Rastafarian, also did not cut his hair because of his religious beliefs. His manager told him that he did not “want any employees looking like women on (his) management team.” Apparently, the 1960s memo about gender equality has not reached everyone yet.

Rastafarians at other UPS facilities around the country were also denied positions. Some waited years for their requests for religious accommodations to be granted before getting positions they wanted.

Seems like we’ve been down this path before – companies blamed for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Just last June, for instance, the US Supreme Court accused Abercrombie & Fitch violated a Muslim woman’s religious rights when it refused to hire her for a store sales job because she wore a headscarf.

In this matter, “UPS has persistently enforced its appearance policy even when that policy conflicts with the religious beliefs of it applicants and employees,” states Robert D. Rose, the regional attorney for EEOC’s NY District Office. “No person should be forced to choose between their religion and a paycheck, and EEOC will seek to put an end to that longstanding practice at UPS.”

Not to fast. UPS is defending its employment practices, claiming they are legal and respect and accommodate religious differences. Automated forms for requesting religious accommodations are even posted on it website, www.upsjobs.com, adds Susan Rosenberg, a UPS spokesperson.

“UPS has for many years had protocols for employees to request religious accommodations including variations for appearance and grooming guidelines (i.e., hair length, beard) or work schedule adjustment for prayers,” she explains. “The company will review this case, and defend its practices that demonstrate a proven track record for accommodation.”

Stay tuned. This battle has just begun.

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CDHPs Are Closing the Satisfaction Gap

employee health 1Traditional health insurance plans may still be the most popular option among employees, but consumer-driven plans are beginning to catch on with the workforce.

That seems to be the biggest takeaway from new data coming out of the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Along with Greenwald & Associates, the Washington-based non-profit research institute recently conducted a survey of nearly 2,000 adults between the ages of 21 and 64, who had health insurance through an employer or purchased health insurance on their own, either directly from a carrier or through a government exchange. According to EBRI’s report on the findings, employees enrolled in traditional health plans are expressing greater satisfaction with their coverage than those in consumer-driven health plans, “but the ‘satisfaction gap’ appears to be narrowing.”

Generally speaking, 61 percent of traditional-plan enrollees described themselves as “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their health plans, compared to 46 percent of those in CDHPs, and 37 percent of employees enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

According to EBRI’s Paul Fronstin, however, overall satisfaction rates have been on the upswing among CDHP enrollees in recent years, while the opposite is true for those participating in traditional health plans.

Cost differences may help explain the emergence of this trend, notes Fronstin, the director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the aforementioned report.

Forty-eight percent of traditional-plan participants said they were “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their out-of-pocket costs when EBRI conducted this same poll in 2014. At that time, 19 percent of high-deductible health plan enrollees said the same, as did 26 percent of CDHP participants. In terms of contentment with what they’re paying out of their own pockets, satisfaction rates for all three groups have been trending upward since 2011, according to EBRI.

In addition, employees in CDHPs or HDHPs were less likely than those in traditional plans to recommend their health plans to friends or co-workers, and were less apt to stay with their current plans if given the option to switch plans—as was the case in past years, according to EBRI.

But, as the survey found on a broader scale, “the percentage of HDHP and CDHP enrollees reporting they would be extremely or very likely to recommend their plan to friends or co-workers has been trending upward,” the report notes, “while it has been flat among individuals with traditional coverage.”

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EEOC’s ‘Historic’ Workplace Discrimination Ruling

In case you missed it late last week, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal under federal law.

“This historic ruling by the EEOC makes clear they agree workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, much like gender identity, is illegal,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA.

“While an important step, it also highlights the need for a comprehensive federal law permanently and clearly banning LGBT discrimination beyond employment to all areas of American life.”

The EEOC’s decision “is going to put an end to the vapid superficial treatment that this legal question has been getting for so long,” Greg Nevins, counsel for Lambda Legal’s southern regional office in Atlanta.

Many employers over the past few years have settled EEOC charges filed by workers alleging sexual orientation discrimination, Nevins said.

“I think there will be some employers that want to fight this, but there are already a lot who have said ‘we’re not going to be the ones arguing that employers can discriminate against gay and lesbian men and women,’ ” he said.

It will be very interesting in the coming weeks and months to see which organizations — if any — decide to challenge the EEOC’s ruling.

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EEOC Revises Pregnancy Bias Guidance

In case you missed it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued an update of its Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, along with a question and answer document, which are available on the EEOC’s website.

The updates to the Guidance are limited to several pages about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Young v. UPS, issued in March 2015:

The updated Guidance reflects the Supreme Court’s conclusion that women may be able to prove unlawful pregnancy discrimination if the employer accommodated some workers but refused to accommodate pregnant women. The Court explained that employer policies that are not intended to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy may still violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act if the policy imposes significant burdens on pregnant employees without a sufficiently strong justification.

The decision in Young does not affect most of the July 2014 EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues and therefore the following topics remain the same:

  • the PDA’s application to current, past, and potential pregnancy;
  • termination or refusal to hire someone because she is pregnant and other prohibited employment actions based on pregnancy;
  • application of the PDA to lactation and breastfeeding;
  • prohibition of forced leave policies;
  • the obligation to treat women and men the same with respect to parental leave policies; and
  • access to health insurance.

The Court’s opinion did not address the effect of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 on workers with pregnancy-related impairments. Therefore that discussion in the Guidance also remains the same. The Guidance notes that, “Changes to the definition of the term ‘disability’ resulting from enactment of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 make it much easier for pregnant workers with pregnancy-related impairments to demonstrate that they have disabilities for which they may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.”

Alexis Knapp, a Houston-based shareholder at Littler, says the guidance gives numerous examples of the EEOC’s view that employers who provide flexibility, leave, modified duty, and more to non-pregnant employees will be expected to extend those same opportunities to pregnant employees, in order to avoid an unlawful difference in treatment “because of” pregnancy.

She says the EEOC also encourages employers to look beyond the requirements of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and into the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws that may provide additional protections to employees who suffer from pregnancy related conditions.

“I think the message to employers,” she says, “is that, while we still have defensive strategies to draw from when challenged, the starting point is that we need to be having the conversation with the employee and engaging her in an interactive process about what her limitations are, how long she anticipates those limitations will last, and whether we can find a way to enable her to work safely in light of those limitations.  The answer may not always be ‘yes,’ but the conversation has to happen and must be in good faith. ”

But, she adds, there are additional things that HR needs to consider as well as a result of the new guidance.

“First, although this starts to sound repetitive after a while, we must be training our managers and supervisors about these obligations,” she says. “These conversations about pregnancy and potential accommodations begin (and often stay) at the line supervisor level—between an employee and to whom she reports.  We have to be wary of the manager or supervisor who responds ‘We don’t do that here’ or ‘This job doesn’t allow that.’  It is true that there will be times when a reasonable accommodation will not be available, or that it poses an undue hardship, but that is not a decision to be made in a vacuum without the benefit of someone who understands the organization’s obligations under the PDA and ADA and other applicable laws. ”

At an even more basic level, she adds, managers and supervisors need to know that the most casual conversation with an employee can give rise to these obligations, without the employee needing to use any magic words or, without them even knowing those protections exist.

“We also need to be revisiting our policies, she says, “and not just policies on light duty — as we learned from Young and the EEOC’s Guidance — but our attendance, accommodation, FMLA, leave, paid time off and other related policies that might contain unintentional — but nevertheless — impermissible differences in how we treat employees.

“In fact, it is not just about pregnant female employees, but it also includes policies that contain unlawful distinctions between men and women in the provision of parental leave, or caregiver policies that are narrowly defined to only apply to women,” she says.  “The EEOC has made it clear that these too will be a focus of their enforcement from here forward. “

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Saying Goodbye to Same-Sex Benefits?

ThinkstockPhotos-533697873In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s recent Obergefell v. Hodges decision—which guaranteed same-sex couples throughout the U.S. the right to marry—HRE’s Maura Ciccarelli pondered what this landmark decision would mean for employers and HR leaders.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans was apparently wondering the same when it recently surveyed 258 companies in an effort to gauge how the ruling would influence employers’ approach to offering benefits.

Overall, 53 percent of responding employers said they believe the ruling will have an effect on their organizations. (In total, 57 percent of the companies surveyed reported offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners at the time of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.)

Take a closer look, however, and the impact figures to be negligible.

For example, just 4 percent of those surveyed by the IFEBP said they anticipate the Supreme Court’s same-sex ruling would be “extremely” impactful, while 6 percent said the ruling would be “very” impactful, and 43 percent indicated the ruling would have “somewhat” of an effect.

Among the companies currently providing same-sex benefits, more than 70 percent said they are likely to continue offering them. Of the remaining respondents who said their organizations are unlikely to continue making benefits available to same-sex domestic partners, nearly all (93 percent) said they only provided such benefits in the past because same-sex couples couldn’t legally marry; which is no longer the case. Forty-four percent of these companies pointed to administrative complexities—documentation, tax and payroll issues, for instance—as the main reason why they plan to discontinue same-sex domestic partner benefits, with 19 percent citing cost as the biggest factor in their decision.

Likewise, the Brookfield, Wisc.-based provider of employee benefits education, research and information asked those who said they plan to continue providing same-sex domestic partner benefits why they have chosen to do so. Fifty-three percent of these employers said they “provide benefits to opposite-sex domestic partners, and want to be equitable,” and 53 percent reported a desire to attract and retain quality employees as the No. 1 driver. Forty-two percent indicated their organizations “recognize all kinds of families,” with another 36 percent saying they feel offering benefits to employees in same-sex domestic partnerships is simply “the right thing to do.”

It seems the majority of employers are in agreement with this group, at least according to this IFEBP poll. Julie Stich, the organization’s director of research, noted as much in a recent statement.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s decision to make same-sex marriage legal, many employers are deciding to continue offering benefits to unmarried domestic partners,” said Stich.

“They see providing benefits—to both same- and opposite-sex domestic partners—as a way to ensure employees and their loved ones are happy and healthy.”

 

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HR, Training and the ‘Gig’ Economy

New survey data finds few organizations are investing in their employees’ training and development these days, and I’m beginning to think the “gig economy” may have something to do with it.

Saba, a global provider of talent management solutions, just released additional findings from its spring Global Leadership Survey, in which it found that a mere 13 percent of companies worldwide invest in talent-management programs to further employees’ growth and career path.

For those companies that are providing training, only 35 percent are offering career development opportunities online. And, according Saba, the majority of employees (57 percent) are simply getting their training from “on the job” experience.

“Understandably, companies are focused on bottom line growth and results,” said Emily He, Chief Marketing Officer at Saba. “Unfortunately, many organizations don’t consider the career development of their employees a part of that growth equation — but they should. ”

However, a piece in today’s New York Times titled “Rising Economic Insecurity Tied to Decades-Long Trend in Employment Practices,” shows how the rise of the “gig economy”  (think Uber or Lyft, for examples) is changing all sorts of expectations — including compensation and training — on both the employers’ and workers’ sides.

According to the NYT piece, tens of millions of Americans are now involved in some form of freelancing, contracting, temping or outsourcing work:

The number for the category of jobs mostly performed by part-time freelancers or part-time independent contractors, according to Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., a labor market analytics firm, grew to 32 million from just over 20 million between 2001 and 2014, rising to almost 18 percent of all jobs. Surveys, including one by the advisory firm Staffing Industry Analysts of nearly 200 large companies, point to similar changes.

So perhaps it’s no wonder that companies are devoting less time to training programs when they only expect to use such workers for short-term projects:

Since the early 1990s, as technology has made it far easier for companies to outsource work, that trend has evolved beyond what anyone imagined: Companies began to see themselves as thin, Uber-like slivers standing between customers on one side and their work forces on the other.

The piece also includes David Weil’s — who runs the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Labor Department — description from his recent book, The Fissured Workplace, of how investors and management gurus began insisting that companies pare down and focus on what came to be known as their “core competencies,” such as developing new goods and services and marketing them.

Far-flung business units were sold off. Many other activities — beginning with human resources and then spreading to customer service and information technology — could be outsourced. The corporate headquarters would coordinate among the outsourced workers and monitor their performance.

“In the past, firms overstaffed and offered workers stable hours,” said Susan N. Houseman, a labor economist at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. “All of these new staffing models mean shifting risk onto workers, making work less secure.”

The NYT piece notes that, while only representing a limited corner of the nation’s approximately $17.5 trillion economy, other types of workers are watching with trepidation how organizations are moving toward the “gig economy” model.

Indeed:

…[E]ven many full-time employees share an underlying anxiety that is a result, according to the sociologist Arne L. Kalleberg, author of Good Jobs, Bad Jobs, of the severing of the “psychological contract between employers and employees in which stability and security were exchanged for loyalty and hard work.”

While outsourcing and “gigging” jobs may cut organizations’ short-term costs in some areas (such as training and development efforts)  Saba’s He nonetheless emphasizes the need for companies to invest in training their workforce if they expect to succeed in the long run:

“Not only is talent management and training an integral part of workforce development, it’s proven to be a driving factor in the long-term growth and success of an organization.”

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Explaining the Unpaid Internship Enigma

judgeIf an intern is for all intents and purposes a regular employee, then should he or she still be considered an intern?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently attempted to answer this existential question, or at least help clear up the confusion over whether interns should be treated as employees—and paid as such.

On July 2, the aforementioned appeals court—which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont—ruled in the case of Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc., in which plaintiffs Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman claimed that Fox Searchlight and Fox Entertainment Group violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law by failing to pay them as employees during their internships, as required by FLSA and NYLL minimum wage and overtime provisions.

In June 2013, Glatt and Footman—who interned on the set of the 2010 Fox Searchlight film Black Swan—were granted partial summary judgment by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which found that Glatt and Footman were indeed employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.

In reaching its decision, the court relied on a version of the Labor Department’s six-factor test to conclude the interns had been improperly classified as unpaid interns as opposed to employees. At the time, the DOL filed an amicus brief imploring the appeals court to adhere to the department’s test requirement that each of these factors—the internship is similar to training that would be received in an educational environment and the intern does not displace regular employees, for instance—is met before considering an internship unpaid.

The Second Circuit Appeals Court, however, recently opted to “decline [the] DOL’s invitation,” according to court documents, in which the appeals court described the test as “too rigid for our precedent to withstand.”

Rather, the court agreed with the defendants’ assertion that “the proper question is whether the intern or the employer is the primary beneficiary of the relationship.” To conduct the “primary beneficiary” test, the court focused on two issues—what the intern receives in exchange for his or her work and “the economic reality as it exists between the intern and the employer.”

In sending the case back to district court for further proceedings, the appeals court decision “delineates when and under what circumstances an intern must be treated—and more importantly, paid—like a regular employee,” says Mark Goldstein, a New York-based attorney and member of Reed Smith’s labor and employment group.

By making this distinction, the Second Circuit addressed an issue that “had been a thorn in employers’ sides for the past several years,” says Goldstein.

The test used by the Second Circuit Appeals Court differs from the DOL’s “all-or-nothing” approach, which essentially required that an intern be treated as an employee “every time the employer derived a benefit from the intern’s work,” Goldstein told HRE.

Under this new standard, an intern is not categorized as an employee “simply because he or she performs work for the company, or because the company derives a benefit from the intern’s work, as the DOL had attempted to argue,” he says.

Moreover, the Second Circuit “appears to have made it much more difficult for the plaintiff’s bar to obtain class and collective action certification in lawsuits brought by former interns,” in ruling that the question of an intern’s employment status is a “highly individualized inquiry,” says Goldstein.

“This alone may spell the end of the recent barrage of unpaid intern lawsuits.”

Even in light of the court’s employer-friendly decision, though, now would be a good time to assess internship programs “to ensure that such programs satisfy all applicable judicial and regulatory guidance,” says Goldstein.

“Unpaid internship programs still pose risks—including not only potential liability for wage and hour violations, but also potential tax- and benefits-related penalties—that must be weighed before an internship program is implemented.”

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Clawback Provisions Getting Sharper

That’s the latest headline to emerge from Mercer’s most recent Financial Services Executive Compensation Snapshot Survey, which shows that 78 percent of companies are making changes to their executive pay programs as a result of difficult market conditions.

According to Mercer, the most popular changes planned are the strengthening of clawback conditions (47 percent), strengthening the link between performance management and compensation (44 percent) and increasing the use of non-financial measures (31 percent) in reviewing performance.

The survey reviewed the pay practices of 55 global financial services companies — banks, insurers and other financial services companies — based in 15 major countries in Europe, North America and Asia.

The report is intended to provide an update on key global changes and practices in financial services compensation programs, according to Mercer, and is designed to capture the latest changes or anticipated changes to compensation programs among major financial services companies.

According to Vicki Elliott, a senior partner at Mercer:

“Financial services HR teams and remuneration committees are being challenged to find ways to structure pay to engage, motivate and retain high-performing staff while being mindful of regulatory requirements and public pressure.

“Since 2008,” she says, “we’ve seen a steady change in approach as companies actively tie rewards more closely to risk and multi-year performance.”

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