Category Archives: HR profession

No Break for the Burned Out

With the long Memorial Day weekend less than 24 hours away, where will you be staying as the unofficial start of summer gets underway?

For at least one-third of your employees, the answer is likely “at home.”

That’s according to a recent CareerBuilder survey of 3,215 employed U.S. adults, 33 percent of whom said they haven’t taken or don’t plan to take a vacation this year.

Not surprisingly, many workers say they could use a break, with 61 percent reporting that they are burned out in their current job, and 31 percent describing their work-related stress levels as “high” or “extremely high.”

The better news is that some of these overextended employees will still be able to find some time to get away this year. Sort of.

Among the remaining respondents who will be taking vacation sometime this year, three in 10 say they will still stay connected with work while on holiday. More specifically, 31 percent said they check work email while away, and 18 percent indicated that they would “check in” with work at least once during that time.

Workers feeling stressed out is far from a new phenomenon. And we’ve seen at least a handful of studies in recent years that have suggested many employees are leaving vacation days on the table each year, for a variety of reasons. The CareerBuilder survey, for instance, finds 36 percent of respondents saying they’ve come back from vacation with so much work to do that they wished they never left at all. Another 18 percent say taking vacation actually leaves them feeling more anguish over work.

The number of workers afraid of taking time off to recharge their batteries should be troubling.

Leaders within the organization—incidentally, the CareerBuilder poll sees senior management and vice presidents reporting the lowest stress levels of all workers—can set the tone for their teams, according to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

“If you’re a boss, it’s important that you role model how to take a vacation,” said Haefner, in a statement.

“If you’re prone to answering every email and phone call that comes through on your own vacation time, consider the example you’re setting for your team members. You need to set up an automated response email, and only respond to absolutely urgent emails while you’re away,” she continues.

“Direct all calls to an assistant or colleague at the office. Show your employees that vacation time matters to you and to your company and its culture.”

A Paid Sick Days Law Dies (Again)

In case you missed it last week, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld a 2015 trial court ruling that the City of Pittsburgh did not have the authority under state law to enact the Paid Sick Days Ordinance.

After the City of Pittsburgh passed the Paid Sick Days Ordinance, which would require employers to provide employees with a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours an employee works in the city limits, a group that included the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association and several local restaurants and businesses challenged the city’s authority to enact such legislation, according to a press release from Littler.

The challenge was based on the fact that under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh is a home rule charter municipality.

Under state law, “a municipality which adopts a home rule charter shall not determine duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers      . . .  except as expressly provided by the statutes which are applicable in every part of this Commonwealth or which are applicable to all municipalities or to a class or classes of municipalities.”

Citing an earlier Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling and its own precedent, the Commonwealth Court found that the Paid Sick Days Ordinance imposed “numerous affirmative duties” on employers and therefore was invalid and unenforceable.

The City of Pittsburgh had argued that state law permits cities to pass ordinances relating to disease prevention and control, but the Commonwealth Court noted that the provision of state law that the city relied upon applies only to municipalities that have boards of health or a department of health.  Pittsburgh has neither.

It is unclear whether the City will appeal.  While Pittsburgh’s ordinance has been invalidated, employers should remember that Philadelphia’s paid sick leave ordinance remains in effect, Littler notes.

Wearables and Wellness Programs

If you’ve been wondering how to seamlessly integrate wearable devices into your wellness programs, the Health Enhancement Research Organization has some success stories to share.

In a new report, HERO includes findings from three case studies of organizations that, combined, employ more than 60,000 people, “and whose incorporation of wearables into their wellness program reflects a comprehensive, results-oriented approach,” according to a statement from the Waconia, Minn.-based organization.

Each of the employers that participated—BP, Emory University and Ochsner Health System—took a different path to achieve positive results, but also showed some “clear commonalities” in the way they implemented wearables as part of their wellness plans, such as sound communication strategies, encouraging long-term use of wearables and making them financially feasible for employees, for example.

The report identified a handful of promising practices for organizations that have added wearables to their wellness initiatives, or are planning to do so, including giving or subsidizing devices for employees rather than requiring them to buy their own; involving spouses and domestic partners to increase participation and create a support system outside the workplace; and using a pilot program before expanding the use of wearables to include the entire workforce.

Emory relied on the latter approach when it rolled out its wearables program in 2014, with a pilot program at five sites. According to HERO, Emory made modifications and offered wearables to all Emory University and Emory Healthcare employees the following year, based on the results of the initial pilot program.

When Emory expanded the program, 6,300 Emory employees participated in the university’s Move More Challenge, with 82 percent of them remaining active for its eight-week duration. In a post-program survey, 67 percent of participants said it was the first time they used a wearable device, with 82 percent reporting that they used one every day of the challenge.

Such results only hint at the potential in using wearables as a component of comprehensive workplace wellness programs, says Jessica Grossmeier, vice president of research at HERO, stressing the need to “continue our focus on research that uncovers what works and what doesn’t.

“Early research supports that a device, on its own, will not change health behaviors over the long-term,” continues Grossmeier. “That’s why we’re focused on identifying those leading-edge strategies that employers can use to ensure an effective, safe and engaging approach for employers and individual participants.”

 

‘HR May Not Be Looking Out For You’

“Is human resources really the right place to go?”

That’s the rhetorical question Gretchen Carlson asked an audience last night while talking about the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a report on Fortune‘s website.

Carlson — the former Fox News host who sued her network’s chairman, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment last July — was addressing the 2017 class of the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership,  when she made her HR-averse remarks.

After posing the rhetorical question, Carlson  continued: “Because what I always equate it to is: Who’s giving them the paycheck?”

From the Fortune post:

“In the end,” Carlson pointed out, “if the culture’s being set from the top and it’s trickling down to the lower levels, human resources may not be looking out for you.”

Carlson’s hot take on HR may have something to do with her upcoming book, which Fortune quoted Carlson as saying contains “some new ways in which we might look” at sexual harassment, including different kinds of reporting mechanisms. The book, called Be Fierce, was inspired by the “thousands” of women who reached out to her in the wake of her suit, sharing their own stories of harassment and other abuse.

Personally speaking, I have no idea how well her book will sell, but I can well imagine a fierce — and negative — response by HR leaders at Carlson’s remarks last night.

Inquiries, Apologies and HR Lessons

Last month, we reported on an investigation into Barclays CEO James Staley’s handling of a whistleblower’s complaint at the British banking and financial services giant.

How did Staley find himself on British authorities’ radar? By enlisting Barclays’ internal security team in an effort to unmask an anonymous employee who had sent letters to Barclays officials alleging that an executive hired by Staley had “acted erratically” in a previous job.

Naturally, the bank’s leadership caught wind of Staley’s ill-conceived plan and the regulators’ inquiry that ensued. They were not pleased.

Barclays Chairman John McFarlane, for example, reportedly made his disappointment with Staley quite clear in a one-on-one meeting with the embattled chief executive. Meanwhile, the Barclays board determined that sanctions for Staley’s actions would include a “very significant compensation adjustment,” according to a statement from the bank.

Having already felt the wrath of the chairman and the board, Staley faced some pretty frustrated shareholders earlier this week.

As the New York Times reports, Staley took part in the bank’s annual meeting in London on Wednesday, where one shareholder called for him to step down from the stage upon which he and McFarlane stood to address those in attendance. Another asked that Staley step down from his role as CEO.

For his part, Staley offered an apology to investors, just weeks after going to the Barclays board with hat in hand.

“I feel it is important that I acknowledge to you—our shareholders—that I made a mistake in becoming involved in an issue which I should have left to the business to deal with,” the Times reports Staley telling investors. “I have apologized to the board, and I would today like to apologize to you as well, for that error.”

Staley is far from being out of the woods, of course. British regulators are still looking into his missteps. And that “very significant compensation adjustment” is still to come, with the board planning to make that tweak to his bonus after the investigation is complete.

Nevertheless, Staley was re-elected to the Barclays board at the recent shareholders’ meeting. And he seems to still have the support of his chairman. The Times quotes McFarlane as saying that Staley simply “thought he had a green light” to send the company’s internal security team in to identify the author of the aforementioned letters.

“He went through the green light and it was actually red,” said McFarlane, who has dismissed calls for Staley’s resignation. “The action for going through a red light is usually you do not lose your license.”

McFarlane and Staley have maintained that Staley believed he had the clearance to seek out the anonymous employee’s identity, with McFarlane saying that Staley “only wanted to contact the individual to get him or her to stop writing letters, because he believed they were malicious,” according to the Times.

Maybe so. But even Staley acknowledges that his response to those letters was out of bounds; a response that CEOs—and HR leaders—at other organizations would be wise to hold up as an example of how not to handle a whistleblower complaint.

FTC Background-Check Primer

In case you missed it, the Federal Trade Commission issued a blog article on Apr. 28 titled “Background checks on prospective employees: Keep required disclosures simple.”

According to the FTC’s blog post:

Background screening reports are “consumer reports” under the Fair Credit Reporting Act when they serve as a factor in determining a person’s eligibility for employment, housing, credit, insurance or other purposes and they include information “bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living.”

If your company uses background screening reports to make hiring decisions, here are some steps the FCRA requires you to take:

  1. Before you get a background screening report about a prospective employee, disclose to the person that you intend to get the report and then get their written authorization allowing you to do that.

  2. If the background screening report reveals something that may cause you to decide not to hire the person, you must notify them of the results of the report and provide them with a copy. Next, you have to give them sufficient time to review the report so they can challenge any elements that might be incorrect.

  3. If you ultimately decide not to hire someone based in whole or in part on the contents of a background screening report, you must provide a notice to that person that states they weren’t hired due at least in part to the result of the background screening report.

The FTC blog post says one issue employers struggle with making the required initial disclosure before they obtain the background screening report and get the prospective employee’s authorization.

But it’s easier than you might imagine:

Under the FCRA, you must provide the prospective employee with a clear and conspicuous written disclosure that you plan to get a background screening report about them and you must get the person’s written authorization that gives you their permission to compile the report. It’s OK to put the required disclosure and your request for their authorization in one document. Just be sure to use clear wording that the prospective employee will understand.

Some companies trip themselves up by using complicated legal jargon or adding extra acknowledgements or waivers, the FTC notes. Here are some examples of the kind of things that shouldn’t be in this simple document:

  • Don’t include language that claims to release you from liability for conducting, obtaining, or using the background screening report.
  • Don’t include a certification by the prospective employee that all information in his or her job application is accurate.
  • Delete any wording that purports to require the prospective employee to acknowledge that your hiring decisions are based on legitimate non-discriminatory reasons.
  • Get rid of overly broad authorizations that permit the release of information that the FCRA doesn’t allow to be included in a background screening report – for example, bankruptcies that are more than 10 years old.

That extra stuff not only makes it harder for the prospective employee to understand the main purpose of the document, but it also may violate the FCRA. Adding other acknowledgements or releases of liability is beyond the scope of what the FCRA permits in this document. If you have additional waivers, authorizations, or disclosures you want to give to prospective employees, do it in a separate document. Don’t include them in the FCRA disclosure and authorization document.

The FTC says the matter is as simple as this: “Complying with the FCRA’s disclosure requirement for the use of background screening reports is easy. You can do it in a few sentences. Just include a simple, easy-to-understand notification that you will obtain a background screening report, perhaps with a simple explanation of what information will be included in the report. The request for the prospective employee’s authorization should be in plain language, too.”

Hurting for Talent in HR?

In the never-ending quest to boost HR’s profile in the C-suite, CHROs must first surround themselves with top-notch talent in their own departments, according to new research from Korn Ferry.

The problem, the same survey finds, is that serious talent gaps exist within the HR suite.

The Los Angeles-based advisory firm recently polled 189 chief human resource officers, finding that “as the HR function becomes more strategic and high-profile, HR professionals need to step up their game when it comes to business insights and achieving results,” according to a Korn Ferry statement.

More specifically, CHROs were asked to name the skills they find are most lacking as they search for human resources talent.

A mere 4 percent reported having no difficulty finding the necessary skills to round out their HR teams. Otherwise, respondents said:

  • Business acumen (41 percent)
  • Ability to turn strategy into action (28 percent)
  • Intellectual horsepower (10 percent)
  • Analytical skills (7 percent)
  • Diversified experience (6 percent)
  • Relational skills (3 percent)
  • Technical skills (1 percent)

Of course, the role of the HR function, and the CHRO, is much more complex than it was even five short years ago, says Joseph McCabe, vice chairman of Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise.

“Disruptors such as digitization and globalization are creating an environment of constant organizational change,” says McCabe. “HR leaders must understand the business challenges that occur as a result of these disruptions, including the impact on the business strategy, and be able to quickly adapt and act.”

The Korn Ferry poll allowed respondents the chance to do a bit of self-examination as well, asking CHROs what competencies were most important to helping them handle the ever-changing environment in which they operate.

By far, the most common response was “tolerance for ambiguity,” cited by 52 percent of the CHROs surveyed. Twenty percent pointed to the confidence to make bold, yet informed decisions as most critical, followed by the ability to sustain analytical thinking and motivate others (11 percent) and the ability to listen to and accommodate others’ methods (6 percent).

The study finds that a failure to cultivate both “hard” and “soft” skills could be costly for a CHRO; a reality that respondents seem to recognize. Indeed, when asked to name the top reason that a CHRO would get fired from an organization, the largest percentage (37) said “personality issues/inability to work well with or lead others,” with 34 percent reporting that an “inability to direct connect HR efforts to tangible business outcomes” would be the most likely cause for being let go.

“Today’s CHROs are judged both on what they do and how they get things done,” says McCabe. “While it’s critical that HR must act quickly to adapt to changing business strategy, it’s also important to align their team and other key leaders to foster engagement and a shared vision.”

A National Ban on Salary History?

U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today introduced the Pay Equity for All Act of 2017 with original cosponsors Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Jackie Speier (D-CA) to prohibit employers from asking job applicants for their salary history before making a job or salary offer, according to a press release.

The bill — which was first introduced last Sept. — seeks to reduce the wage gap that women and people of color often encounter.  The bill is particularly vital after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that determined that pay disparity based exclusively on past salaries was discriminatory under the Equal Pay Act.

As you may recall from our coverage on the topic, Massachusetts, New York City, the District of Columbia and Philadelphia have passed similar legislation banning employers from seeking past salary history.  Because many employers set wages based on an applicant’s previous salary, workers from historically disadvantaged groups often start out behind their white male counterparts in salary negotiations and never catch up.

“After last week’s disappointing 9th Circuit ruling, it is critical that Congress take legislative action to ban the practice of asking for an employee’s salary history, which disadvantages women and minorities, who disproportionately carry lower salaries through their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly,” said Congresswoman Norton.  “Our bill will help reduce the wage gap by requiring employers to offer salaries to prospective employees based on merit, not gender, race, or ethnicity.”

“The 9th Circuit’s ruling represents a step backward in the fight for equal pay and only serves to reinforce the salary gap that has persisted for generations,” said Congressman Nadler (D-NY).  “To end this cycle of gender and racial pay inequality, states and localities—including New York City—have recently passed laws banning employers from asking about salary history. Congress should follow New York’s lead and ensure that people all around the country are afforded the same opportunity to break the cycle of pay inequity.”

“Forcing employees and potential employees to disclose their salary history sabotages our efforts to combat the wage gap for women and minorities,” said Congresswoman Speier. “The Pay Equity for All Act protects applicants from being frozen in pay scales unrelated to their experience, skills, and merit.”

Breaking Into the Boy’s Club

Whether it’s a result of not seeking out women workers or not being able to attract them, or a combination of factors, some fields remain heavily male-dominated.

Many of these same industries—construction, automotive and trucking, to name just three—are facing a worker shortage fueled in no small part by scores of retiring baby boomers.

It seems that at least some of these traditionally male-centric sectors are focusing more closely on female talent in an effort to fill the vacuum.

Earlier this month, for example, the Iron Workers Union and the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust began offering a new paid maternity leave benefit to members.

According to a statement from the organization, it is “the first to introduce a generous paid maternity leave benefit in the building trades,” where adequate paid maternity leave is “virtually unheard of.”

The new policy includes six months of pre-delivery maximum benefit and six to eight weeks of post-delivery benefit, according to the union. In addition, members are eligible for up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth of the child and two additional weeks for Cesarean deliveries, regardless of what was covered pre-delivery.

The Washington Post recently detailed the new Iron Workers Union policy, noting that all baby boomers will be over the age of 65 by the year 2029, which means one-fifth of the U.S. population will have reached retirement age.

Iron Workers President Eric Dean feels that offering benefits such as paid maternity leave finds the organization well-positioned for the ongoing boomer exodus.

“The whole world is suffering the baby boomer retirement tsunami,” Dean told the Post. “All the construction trades are in competition for capable people. Wouldn’t it be a distinct advantage for us to be the first?”

These trades have other issues to contend with, of course.

The same article points out that “millennials, the workers who would replace [boomers], aren’t as interested in pursuing careers in the trades.” Enrollment in vocational education has dropped over the last three decades as well, according to the Post, adding that the current opioid epidemic “has zapped some of the male workforce, because men are more likely than women to both use and overdose on illicit drugs.”

Other fields with predominantly male workforces—such as the trucking and automotive technician sectors—see such factors draining their applicant pools as well.

“There’s a shortage of high-end, heavily trained individuals who can do diagnostic work,” Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association, told the Post. “We’re graduating about 30,000 new technicians a year, mostly men, but that’s not enough to keep up with attrition.”

In response, automakers have been funneling more corporate sponsorships to groups that work to recruit female trainees, such as the Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation and the Car Care Council Women’s Board, according to the paper. Meanwhile, some trucking companies have begun to hire “female driver liaisons” in addition to creating support groups geared toward female truckers, the Post reports.

Naturally, there’s no promise that these efforts will pay off in the form of more female workers in male-dominated industries. And there’s still the long-standing, problematic perception that women “aren’t cut out” for some work; a stigma that can be extremely difficult to shake for those who do pursue careers in certain fields. But there seems to be an acknowledgement in some corners that change is needed if these industries wish to survive, as Dean told the Post.

“We have to innovate,” he said, “if we want different results.”

Trumps Appoints NLRB’s Miscimarra

In case you missed it, late last week President Donald Trump  appointed Philip Miscimarra as the permanent head of the National Labor Relations Board, a role the Republican had been holding since Trump nominated him to temporarily fill the position shortly after his inauguration.

According to Reuters, Miscimarra, a former partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, was first appointed to the Board in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama “and has routinely broken with his Democratic colleagues on key labor issues.”

We first wrote about Miscimarra back in February, when legal experts weighed in on where they thought his appointment would take the board:

Michael Lotito, a partner and co-chair of the Workplace Policy Institute at Littler Mendelson, calls the appointment of Miscimarra the “first step” in a process of returning the board to balancing the rights of employees with the legitimate interests of employers as set forth in the National Labor Relations Act.

“Over the past five years, the NLRB has reversed over 4,500 years of precedent, often over the dissent of [new chair]  Miscimarra,” Lotito says. “Now, the new administration must appoint two new members to the Board to fill the vacancies that exist.  Hopefully, that will happen soon followed by quick confirmation. Only then, with the board at full strength, will it be able to tackle critical workplace issues needing a reasoned resolution.”

Steve Bernstein, a partner at Fisher Phillips in Tampa, Fla., says that, as the NLRB’s lone Republican for the past several months, Miscimarra  has authored some of the more vigorous and compelling dissents seen in some time:

“An examination of those dissents may offer a roadmap of what we might expect going forward, as the board moves toward a return to full strength,” he says.

A number of Miscimarra ‘s dissents call for greater clarity in the standards to be applied by his agency, Bernstein says, along with a more flexible approach to evaluating employer policies that takes into account the unique justifications for the policies themselves.

More recently, Miscimarra  has applied that “common-sense” approach to a number of NLRB doctrines, ranging from the employee status of graduate teaching assistants to the supervisory status of patient care coordinators, Bernstein says. Miscimarra, he adds, also has challenged controversial decisions invalidating binding arbitration provisions and limiting an employer’s right to insist upon confidentiality in workplace investigations.

“At the same time,” Berstein says, “he has openly questioned the NLRB’s apparent departure from long-standing precedent with respect to doctrine governing the use of permanent striker replacements, along with the test for joint-employer status.”