Category Archives: HR profession

Man Sues Over Skimpy Suit?

Thanks to our good friends at the New York Daily News (via AP) for digging this story out of the sands of New York’s beaches.

It involves a 61-year-old lifeguard who is suing the state after he says he was unfairly fired as a lifeguard because he refused to wear “skimpy swim trunks” for the annual lifeguard test:

Roy Lester tells the New York Daily News he was forced out of the job after 40 years in 2007 when he wanted to take the swim test in biking shorts instead of the tiny swim trunks.

He filed a lawsuit against the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in 2009. The lawsuit had been dismissed but was reinstated by an appeals court last week.

Lester is a triathlete, but says no one his age should be wearing tiny trunks. He says the bathing suit requirement was aimed at getting rid of older lifeguards.

State officials declined to comment.

While the story itself may seem a bit humorous to most, it should also caution HR leaders that older workers can still be an asset to your organization even if they don’t necessarily look good in a bathing suit.


Women in IT

A troubling new report from across the Great Pond finds that  women continue to face a bleak outlook when it comes to advancement in the world of IT.

According to Women’s Careers in the Technology Industry 2011 Report:

61% of this year’s respondents have more than 10 years experience in the technology sector, yet only 26% have reached senior management or board level, with most staying at junior or mid-level management.

Many feel that they are being passed over for promotion in favour of male colleagues. These results indicate that the big strides towards equality that we had hoped for in 2007 have not yet happened and that the gender balance in the workplace still has a long way to go.

The report is a follow-up to the U.K.-based group’s 2007 survey and also finds a rift between women when it comes to how they think they should act in order to advance: 

“Women in the technology sector appear to be split on whether or not it’s necessary to act like a man in order to get ahead. 52% disagree with the statement, while 47% think that it’s necessary to level the playing field by behaving in a masculine way. This could be another load bearer of the infamous glass ceiling, as there is no general consensus on what kind of behaviour results in career success.”

Moore’s Law states that the rate of technological advance doubles every two years. It remains a real shame that women in the IT field have yet to find the formula to advance their careers at the same rate.

Coping — or Not — With Government Regulations

Business has been up in arms against some of the aggressive moves by the National Labor Relations Board for some time, including its efforts to significantly shorten the amount of time employers have to respond to union-organizing campaigns (see a recent HREOnline story here: “New Rules Outrage Employers“) as well as its highly publicized efforts to prevent Boeing from opening a manufacturing facility in a non-union state (see “Pro-Union Overreach?”).

Of course, it’s all part and parcel of the Obama administration’s efforts to more strictly regulate business. The administration’s pro-worker/anti-employer efforts are something that many — but certainly not all — have argued are reasons this recession is lingering on. They argue employers — especially smaller employers — are holding off hiring due to uncertainty over goverment regulations.

Just the other day, in fact, casino mogul Steve Wynn — not a small employer, certainly — who calls himself a Democratic businessman, told a group of investors that Obama was “the greatest wet blanket to business, progress and job creation in my lifetime.”

And Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus recently told the Investors Business Daily: “Every day you see rules and regulations from a group of Washington bureaucrats who know nothing about running a business. And I mean every day. It’s become stifling.” He said it would be impossible for a company like Home Depot to begin and prosper if it was started today.

Back in Congress, in an effort that will probably fail, Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, introduced a “Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act” in the House of Representatives.

It immediately drew support from the National Association of Manufacturers — which also is no big surprise.

NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons noted that a recent poll of members found that 69 percent of the 1,000 respondents said the “NLRB’s actions will negatively affect their ability to create jobs.”

In response to some of this building criticism, Obama previously issued an Executive Order (PDF) telling agencies to make their regulations “more effective or less burdensome.” (see “Scrutinizing the EEOC’s Regulations“), but I don’t think too many businesspeople think that’s an order that’s going to followed to the benefit of business.

Changes to FLSA Urged Before Congress

The notion of modifying the Fair Labor Standards Act to bring it up-to-date with today’s more mobile, flexible and technology-driven workforce took a step forward last Thursday in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

The hearing was chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and included statements by J. Randall MacDonald, senior vice-president of HR for Armonk-N.Y.-based IBM Corp.; Nobumichi Hara, senior vice president of human capital for Phoenix-based Goodwill Industries of Central Arizona (speaking on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management); Richard L. Alfred, partner at Seyfarth Shaw in Boston; and Judith M. Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project in Washington. Here’s a link to the hearing’s agenda, plus full testimonies of all who participated.

Almost everyone in attendance urged for revisions to the law’s exempt and nonexempt definitions, overtime regulations and other wage-and-hour stipulations that they say prevent employers from competing in today’s marketplace.

Hara cited an example in which his company would have to pay overtime to a group of employees in the first week of their proposed biweekly schedule even though the second week (a lighter schedule) would have satisfied the two-week hourly requirement. “SHRM believes the FLSA hinders employers’ abilities to provide the flexibility that millions of nonexempt employees want,” Hara said.

MacDonald, who also chairs the HR Policy Association (representing more than 300 CHROs of the nation’s largest companies) testified that “there are areas of major disconnect between this 70-year-old labor law and today’s rapidly changing workplace environment.” (Here’s a link to his testimony.)

“The business world of 2011 barely resembles that of the 1930s and 1940s, while our primary labor law is becoming ever more outdated, having barely changed in all that time,” he said. “Simply put, this law is now a job killer. It yields advantages to global competitors without commensurate payback to U.S. workers.

“If nothing is done to make necessary reforms,” MacDonald said, “we sustain a disincentive for job growth in America, hampering employees’ opportunities and giving U.S. employers another reason to invest elsewhere. … The disconnect between the FLSA and the modern workplace will continue to grow, increasing tensions between employers, employees and regulators, with the only true beneficiary being the plaintiff’s bar.”

MacDonald urged Congress to make six specific changes to the law, including updating the definition of computer employees to include more duties, expanding exemptions to include “well-compensated, commissioned inside salespeople” and allowing a broad pre-emption of state and local wage and hour laws.

“Why is it,” MacDonald asked, “that a 70-year-old law, enacted in a different century, which was based on a different model of the U.S. economy, and at a time that pre-dates global competition and nearly all technology we use today, should not be modernized, clarified and made relevant for today’s economic realities?”



A New ADA Category?

Who knows if it would fly here — after all the United States does now have a much less rigid definition of disability — but in Sweden, a restaurant dishwasher qualified for disability based on his love of heavy-metal music.

According to The Local, an English-language Swedish newspaper, Roger Tullgren, 42, from southern Sweden, will receive state benefits to supplement his income since his heavy-metal addiction has dominated so much of his life, causing him to lose previous jobs.

” ‘I have been trying for ten years to get this classified as a handicap,’ ” Tullgren told The Local. ” ‘I spoke to three psychologists and they finally agreed that I needed this to avoid being discriminated against.’ ” 

 According to the article, Tullgren skips work so he can attend rock concerts — about 300 a year. After losing his previous job, he relied on welfare, but a session with an occupational psychologist led to an assessment in which “his heavy metal lifestyle was classified as a disability.”

 “The manager at his new workplace allows him to go to concerts as long as he makes up for lost time at a later point. He is also allowed to dress as he likes and listen to heavy metal while washing up.”

Well, back to reality, maybe this wouldn’t qualify as a U.S. disability, but I wouldn’t bet any money that it might not pass muster as a religion: An employee could seek accommodation for services in accordance with the Book of Black Sabbath — or whatever.

401(k) Is Only Retirement Plan for Many Workers

Have you ever wondered just how important a role the 401(k) plays in the retirement plans of American workers?

Well, we now have an answer: The starring (and sometimes solo) role.

According to the good folks at Fidelity Investments, 55 percent of 1,000 recently surveyed Americans say they would not be saving for retirement if they did not have a 401(k), and 19 percent say their 401(k) is their only savings for retirement.

“This research helps us better understand how Americans use their 401(k)s to help achieve their long-term retirement savings goals,” said James M. MacDonald, President, Workplace Investing, Fidelity Investments. “It also provides an interesting snapshot of the actions of workplace plan participants in an uncertain economic climate and highlights the importance of Fidelity’s wide array of financial education offerings, from online tools to one-on-one guidance.”

But the survey does offer a ray of hope on the retirement-savings front, showing that 37 percent of working respondents are “building retirement savings in an IRA”:

In addition, 33 percent are in an employer-sponsored pension plan, 28 percent have savings in bank accounts, and 28 percent have investments in stocks or bonds. Pre-retirees 55 and older are the most active users of IRAs, with 44 percent saying they utilize these retirement savings investments

But, with the overall survey highlighting just how dependent American workers are upon this retirement vehicle known as the 401(k), we can only hope that HR leaders are using all the tools in their communications toolboxes to ensure that their workers participate in retirement-savings programs whenever and whereever they are available, regardless of whether the company is matching contributions.

Otherwise, retirement may never come for many workers.

Report Suggests Widespread Discrimination Against the Unemployed

If you want a job, you’d better have one already. That’s the mindset of many employers, according to a recent analysis of job listings by the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit association of employment attorneys. 

During a four-week period earlier this spring, a NELP researcher combed through a sampling of online job postings on major career boards including, and Craigslist and identified more than 150 ads that included exclusions based on current employment status.

The overwhelming majority of these ads required that applicants “must be currently employed,” according to NELP. About half the ads were from staffing firms, the researcher found. NELP is a supporter of the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011, which would specifically prohibit discrimination against the unemployed.

The legislation’s fate is uncertain, but considering the sheer number of Americans–many of them highly skilled–who are unemployed  through no fault of their own, the fact that such legislation should even need to be considered strikes me as pathetic.

There’s just no moral justification for refusing to even consider an unemployed person for a job, and for those who would say “it’s about business, not morals,” I think an ethics refresher course is in order.

Trust in the Post-Recession Era

Just as in marriage, trust is an important component of a well-running organization.

 But a new poll by Maritz suggests that trust is waning within the walls of Corporate America.

 Approximately one-quarter of employees report having less trust in management than they did last year, and only 10 percent of employees trust management to make the right decision in times of uncertainty.

The percentage increases to 16 percent among employees 18-24 years of age who only recently entered the workforce and didn’t directly experience many of the management scandals of the past 10 years, according to the online survey of 1,857 individuals who work 30+ hours a week, are at least 18 years of age and are not self-employed.

And the feedback only gets grimmer for management:

Slightly more than one in 10 Americans (14 percent) believes their company’s leaders are ethical and honest. In addition, the poll found that only 12 percent of employees believe their employer genuinely listens to and cares about its employees, and only seven percent of employees believe senior management’s actions are completely consistent with their words.

“Employee trust is such a critical factor for success, especially given what the American workforce has faced the past several years. This data paints such a dire picture of employee trust levels, management must ask themselves how they can better engage with their people,” said Rick Garlick, Ph.D., senior director of strategic consulting and implementation, Maritz Hospitality Research Group.

“A strong indicator of management mistrust is lack of shared values,” he continued. “Companies must align their overall values as an organization with those individual values of their people. Knowing that you work for a company whose values are similar to yours drives loyalty and strengthens trust.”

So, sharing values can build trust between partners? Sounds like good advice for both marriage and business.


Posture Really May Produce Power

Before you dismiss the premise that standing up straight can actually empower you in your next conversation with your CEO, consider the fact that such a premise is actually based on a study by researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities. Here is it, as it was published in Psychological Science, appropriately entitled “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance.”

The research — by Harvard’s Amy Cuddy and Columbia’s Dana Carney, along with Columbia graduate student Andy J. Yap — is actually based on hormone levels that get triggered by certain “power poses,” according to the study.

It shows that people (both men and women) who take time to compose themselves and pose in open, confident positions experience a surge in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol. The former hormone is related to an increase in feelings of power and tolerance for risk, whereas the latter gets triggered as a reaction to stress.

As noted in a Sept. 25 story on, the researchers “have confirmed something mothers have long taught their children: Sit up straight, shoulders back, posture counts.”

So, no surprise that an employee-development company called Employee Development Systems Inc. has just come out with a new product based on this research. It’s a course, actually, entitled “Professional Presence in a Casual World,” and according to this release about it (including a link to the company at the bottom of the page), some leading global orgranizations are already using it, or at least looking into it.

“Both domestic and international organizations are taking notice of this latest research,” the release states, “implementing professional-presence training, from front-line customer-service employees to middle managers, executives and leaders.

“While the focus for each job category varies,” it states, “the general strategies stay the same. Professional presence impacts business in ways we couldn’t have imagined in the past, and at a time when organizations are looking for an edge over competition, leaders are taking advatage of the core tactics of nonverbal communications to ensure that they come out on top.”

HR executives looking for every possible way to establish themselves as strategic partners of their CEOs, equally powerful in their leadership and negotiating skills as anyone else in the C-suite … well … they might want to think about their body language before knocking on their CEO’s door.

Maybe Auto-Enrollment Isn’t So Perilous, After All

EBRI released a clarification, essentially disputing the Wall Street Journal’s angle on its story about auto-enrollment and retirement savings, which Andy wrote about earlier today.

In its statement, Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director, said the WSJ “reported only the most pessimistic set of assumptions from EBRI research and did not cite any of the other 15 combinations of assumptions in the study.”

“The WSJ also chose not to report any of the positive impacts of auto-enrollment 401(k)-type plans in the simulations that were done by EBRI,” according to the statement.

“The headline of the article reports that auto-enrollment is reducing savings for some people. What it failed to mention is that it’s increasing savings for many more — especially the lowest-income 401(k) participants,” VanDerhei said.

The entire text of EBRI’s statement, “What Do You Call a Glass That Is 60−85% Full?” is on EBRI’s blog site.