Category Archives: time and attendance

Biometrics and New Privacy Concerns

A recently filed class action suit in Illinois could be the signpost for “a new employment law frontier,” according to at least one law firm.

As recently reported by Holland & Knight, a class action suit pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois centers around the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which was passed in 2008 to prohibit the gathering and keeping of individuals’ biometric information without his or her prior notification and written permission.

In Baron v. Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., et al., the plaintiff alleges that the supermarket chain violated BIPA by failing to meet the legal requirements to obtain and retain employee fingerprints the company used for timekeeping purposes.

Holland & Knight attorneys called biometrics an “emerging area” of employment law, as more employers begin to use the technology to log employees’ hours. Damages available under laws such as BIPA make this fertile ground for class actions as well. For each violation of BIPA, a prevailing party may recover the greater of actual damages or $1,000 for negligent violations of the Act, the attorneys note, adding that plaintiffs may recover the greater of actual damages or $5,000 for “reckless or intentional violations.”

With legislation comparable to BIPA already on the books in Texas, and states including Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire and Washington considering similar bills, employers would be wise to tread carefully when and if they introduce biometrics to their places of business.

“Laws like BIPA will become more relevant to employers and of increasing interest to the plaintiffs’ bar as the use of biometric data, such as the use of fingerprints or thumbprints for timekeeping purposes, becomes more prevalent in the workplace,” according to Holland & Knight.

“With the increasing awareness of such laws by the plaintiffs’ bar, it is important that employers using or considering the use of biometric data in the workplace ensure compliance with any state or local laws governing the use, retention and destruction of that data.”

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.

Make Those Vacation Plans Today

Just a heads up that, if you’d like to join forces with the Entertainment Benefits Group and Project: Time Off in encouraging employees to take all their vacation time, today (Tuesday) is the day to get them poring over their calendars.

Both groups have joined together in a Jan. 31 “call to action” for more American workers to get a “jumpstart on planning their vacation,” according to this release from the EBG. In the words of Brett Reizen, president and CEO of EBG:

“[Our] mission is to bring fun and happiness to people’s lives by providing employees nationwide direct access to special offers on top travel and entertainment products across the country. Living in a work-driven culture where vacation and time off is essential, we embraced the chance to … foster work/life balance, boost employee happiness and increase productivity in the workplace.”

(EBG, a U.S. corporate travel and entertainment benefits program, will support the initiative by providing employers and their employees access to exclusive offers on premier travel and entertainment experiences through its corporate programs division — TicketsatWork, Plum Benefits and Working Advantage.)

PTO’s release on the big day tomorrow is full of some stats from a recent survey it conducted that you might find interesting — if not alarming — such as:

“Americans leave 658 million days unused each year. The single-most important step workers can take is to plan their time off in advance. Yet less than half — 49 percent — of households set aside time to plan the use of their vacation time each year.”

Also, according to the PTO research, 51 percent of those who plan their vacation took all of their time off, where just 39 percent of non-planners did, and 69 percent of planners took a week or more of vacation time, where just 46 percent of non-planners did.

We’ve posted our own vacation red flags and statistics for employers here on HRE Daily, including the huge number of “under-vacationed” employees and some of the reasons for it, such as the fact that others in the workplace — managers and co-workers — tend to shame vacation-takers.

If reading up on the merits of enforcing or, at least, encouraging the taking of all allotted vacation time, consider these additional stats from PTO’s research:

  • The time spent planning correlated with greater happiness in nine categories, including:

    • 85 percent of planners report they are happier with their relationships with their significant other, compared to 72 percent of non-planners.
    • 69 percent of planners, compared to 60 percent of non-planners, report being happy with their relationships with their children.
    • 81 percent of planners say they are happy with their financial situation, compared to 71 percent of non-planners.
    • 90 percent of planners are happy with their professional success, compared to 82 percent of non-planners.

Now, whether taking vacations led to this increased happiness and success or happy, successful people are the ones more likely to take all of their vacation time is unclear.

What is clear, to me anyway, is employers have nothing to lose and a lot to gain, including in employee productivity and engagement, by making sure employees are getting out of the office as much as they’re entitled to.

The Tall Costs of Short Workdays

Fans of shorter workdays may not like the recent news out of Sweden regarding the country’s attempt to scale back the length of the workday there.

A two-year experiment cutting working hours while maintaining pay levels for nurses at an old-age home in the Swedish city of Gothenburg is now nearing the end, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

While the take away was largely positive, with nurses at the home feeling healthier, which reduced sick-leave, and patient care improving, Bloomberg reports the city “has no plans in making the measure permanent or broadening it to other facilities.”

To do that, Bloomberg reports, it would need much more money and even help from the national government. To cover the reduced hours for the 68 nurses at the home it had to hire 17 extra staff at a cost of about 12 million kronor ($1.3 million).

“It’s associated with higher costs, absolutely,” said Daniel Bernmar, a local left-wing politician responsible for running the municipality’s elderly care. “It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.”

The Gothenburg experiment has been closely watched globally, with labor activists touting progressive Sweden as a role model in shortening working hours.

For those of you wondering if such an innovative idea could take hold here in America, Bloomberg’s got your answer here.

In Search of a Shorter Workweek

You say you’re looking for a job where the workweek is short and work/life balance is cherished?

Well, if you’re reading this at an IP address in the United States, then you may need to pack a suitcase in addition to a briefcase in order to find a job that fits that description, according to this recent post on Quartz:

Reducing the workweek has long been deliberate public policy in a number of European countries, including France, the Netherlands, and Germany. It also seems to be a rule of thumb that technological leaps come with shorter working hours. This happened dramatically in the U.S. a century ago—the standard workweek dropped to about 40 hours by the 1930s, from more than 60 in the 1870s. More recently, South Korea reduced its average workweek to 41 hours from 48 between 2000 and 2014.

There is, of course, variation in workweek hours among all rich countries, the Quartz piece notes. In fact, Germans work about 26 hours per week, according to numbers from the Organisation for EconomicCo-operation and Development, while the Japanese work 33 hours on average.

Meanwhile, “Americans spent around 34 hours per week at work, longer than any of the most technologically advanced OECD nations except Ireland.”

Many of us Americans would argue we already spend MORE than 34 hours at work per week, so why hasn’t the United States followed Europe’s lead?

For one, cultural values. America prides itself on a certain ambition that encourages long hours; to Americans this might make French workers seem lazy, while to Europeans it might seem that America is materialistic and status-obsessed.

Also:

America’s unions are also far weaker than Europe’s, making it difficult for low-earning workers to demand a bigger share of the country’s economic pie, whether that manifests as cash or time off.

Just another something to think about while you’re computing how many more hours you need to log before your next weekend begins.

Do You Walk the Talk of Work/Life Like This One?

Headshot - Shani Godwin
Shani Godwin, Communiqué USA

I just got off the phone with Shani Godwin, the fascinating CEO of a small business in Smyrna, Ga., called Communiqué USA — and, rather than wait another minute before getting her whole work/life approach into a post, I’m typing now. That’s how much her message has inspired me.

She caught my eye in an initial email spelling out the details of a policy she implemented many years ago — long before France announced its new law last April banning all employees from emailing for work past 6 p.m.

In Godwin’s case, she disallows her employees to email for work past 7 p.m. on weeknights and throughout the weekends. And she’s been doing that — and much, much more — almost since she founded her company 14 years ago because of her sincere belief that your employees are only as good as the people you allow them to be.

And that, she would tell you, includes parents who need to be at a bus stop at 2:30 p.m., or a T-ball game for an entire afternoon, or a school play or doctor’s appointment. It includes elder-caregivers who need to tend to Mom or Dad, or a spouse or significant other, or God forbid, a loved one in hospice.

It also includes any and all employees who are sick for however long it takes them to get well (I was talking to Godwin the day she returned from being out for a full week with the flu), or who might simply be feeling burned out and in need of time away from the office or maybe a two-week vacation. (If you’re wondering how far afield this vacation concept is, read Mike O’Brien’s HRE Daily post about the upsurge among millennials of what’s being called “vacation shame.”)

“People loan themselves to the job every day,” says Godwin. “If I can’t give back so these people can enjoy the first 18 years of a child’s life, then what good am I and what good are they?” In fact, she chooses to have happy, balanced employees instead of what seems to still dominate the corporate American workforce (drained, overworked and always-on, 24/7, workaholics. ) She insists on it. She even makes her email policy and work/life commitment part of every client contract.

“We don’t finalize any assignment involving clients and employees until all details are clear and agreed upon,” she says. “If the person we’re assigning the contract to needs to be at the bus stop at a certain time every day, it’s written into the contract. So is the fact that no one from our company will be getting back to the client via email past 7 p.m. or on weekends.”

How do clients feel about that? They seem to be more accepting than employees, it seems.

“We have to be very strict and policing sometimes about keeping to this commitment to balance,” Godwin says. “Employees, employers, society in general, we’re all connected. To truly have balance, you need strict boundaries, and you need to adhere to them. It’s never been the clients who need reminding; it’s actually the employees. We have to say, ‘Hey, we saw you sent that email at 8 p.m. … don’t do that again.’ ”

In the last year, “the company has grown, project by project, from five employees to 15,” she says. Albeit still a very small company, it’s big enough now to demand a more systemic, structured, formalized and policy-driven approach if everyone is going to really adhere to her be-good-to-yourself and be-free restrictions. “For my staff,” she says, “I encourage them all to decide to what extent they want to work.”

That means, if work builds up and there’s too much for an employee with small children to handle, given his or her work/life-balance criteria, Godwin says, “we just hire someone else to fill that need and our message to the current employee is, ‘Thank you for doing your personal best to create another job for another person to come in.’ Rather than simply ‘rewarding’ them with more work [which no doubt goes on in corporate America far more than we think, methinks], we create another job so that person is still protected and able to pick up her kids every day.”

So where does this most-unique position in business come from? All the way back to when Godwin was a member of corporate America herself, with advertising and marketing stints at Bell South and Chick-fil-A, as well as other large employers.

“Fourteen years ago, I could not envision how I could possibly keep up the schedule I had and ever have a life, or ever even entertain the thought of having a family.”

She remembers asking herself back then, “How can I really be there for ballet classes and baseball games? That’s simply not going to happen.”

“I personally believe we have no company without our employees and if they’re happy and living balanced lives, they’ll be energized and productive, and the clients will be treated well,” says Godwin.

“There no sense in bugging someone to give you [a report or piece of information] while they’re attending a funeral” or involved in a birth … or even just a kid’s activity.

“It’s been a personal decision for me to put people before profit,” she says, and it appears to be paying off in terms of retention, morale and employee-satisfaction results.

Could it work in the same corporate America she left 14 years ago? I guess we won’t know until we try.

A Few Lessons from a Few HR-Related Fiascos

I thought this might be a good post the day before New Year’s Eve. Consider these Key Lessons from Recent HR Fiascos that O.C. Tanner’s 499235312 -- fiascosDavid Sturt and Todd Nordstrom posted on their company blog a while back some good reminders heading into the new year that what you think might work in the world of management and HR can easily backfire. So tread and think carefully before implementing your wonderful 2016 workforce-management ideas.

In all fairness and full disclosure, Sturt’s and Nordstrom’s first lesson isn’t really a fiasco unleashed by human resource professionals, but it does speak to HR’s compensation oversight and what can go very wrong with a good idea.

Remember Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments, who announced his plan to raise the company’s minimum wage to $70,000 in order to do his part to lessen the pay gap between CEOs and the average worker? I spoke with Sturt about this. It seems Price had gotten hold of a Princeton University study back in 2010 indicating that, “when people were trying to meet their needs and they made generally less than $75,000, there was less contentment, happiness and a sense of well-being,” Sturt says.

But when you go over that amount, “the happiness quotient doesn’t rise in accordance and in step with raised increments,” he says. So Price brought top salaries — including his own — down while raising the minimum to a happy $70,000. Problem was, he didn’t run it by the other principles, including his own co-founder brother, who filed a lawsuit against Price that is now pending.

Sturt and Nordstrom write:

“As one disgruntled ex-employee of the company told the New York Times, it isn’t exactly fair for top performers to be compensated the same as slackers. That undermines motivation for people to go above and beyond. Whether you agree with this assessment or not is neither here nor there. At the end of the day, Dan’s good intentions brought him negative publicity, and he had to suffer the consequences.”

Then there’s the Amazon fiasco. We’ve all probably read the criticisms published in the New York Times of its hard/harsh-driving culture. What was behind it were all the metrics and measurements that were simply established to raise performance and productivity. Problem was, as the two write, “numbers don’t reveal the whole picture: not for employee engagement, not for performance, and not for [the] ability to lead and execute.”

The other culprit at Amazon, Sturt tells me, was HR itself. In his words, “Seems like HR got overrun there.” Amazon’s HR leaders did not have the self-confidence and guts, he says, to march into the offices of the CEO and other top leaders and voice their concerns — and they had to have had some, given their skills in people perceptions. “If HR isn’t stepping up,” he says, “then who is? Of course they’re taking their cues from the top, but it’s an important role for HR to be a company-culture fiduciary, if you will.”

Granted, he does see boldness growing among top HR leaders in general: “I do see it in personally strong chief human resource officers. You bump into them and you know their CEOs look at them as partners. You know they’re co-creating a culture that is both human and performance-driven.” Problem is, there still aren’t enough of them out there.

Sturt says he is seeing a fundamental shift among all top leaders, many of whom are now questioning, ” ‘What kind of place are we promoting as a place to work?’ ” And that, he says, “is creating an opportunity for HR leaders to really speak to that, and talk about principles and purpose; things that weren’t necessarily on the discussion board” a short while ago.

And No. 3 on this list of HR fiascos to mull? The fact that unlimited paid vacation and unlimited parental leave — and who hasn’t heard about this lately? (think Netflix, GE and, once again, Amazon) — come with strings attached. As Sturt and Nordstrom write,

“Offering all the paid-time-off in the world won’t fix your overworked employee problem unless the rest of your culture supports employees who take time off instead of punishing them.”

Sturt actually came back from a worldwide business tour and “saw the same kinds of things being played out in Bangalore, for instance,” he tells me. “They have the same problem we have in the states: If you really take that time, offered though it may be, you really aren’t a team player. [Those left holding the new parent’s bag, for example], are also left questioning why ‘I have to do your work.’ ”

His recommendation to HR?

“Just be mindful of the broader cultural norm you’re trying to set and weigh the initiative against it. You might make lots of changes without fitting them into the ultimate corporate goal.

“You may end up ‘Frankensteining’ it, with a bolt here and a stitch there, and you end up with a monster.

“Think before you say, ‘We gotta do this or we won’t compete’ [with all the bandwagon-hoppers].”

“The Work Day’s Over — We Mean It!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slight Differences in Employers’ Holiday Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why study them at all?

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

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

 

Not So Fast on the Netflix Good News, Says Group

Invariably, any large company — especially one that’s in the news — attracts its detractors as well as its fans. Just try “Googling” “anti-494368457 -- mother and infantWalmart websites” and see what comes up on the nation’s largest employer.

So no surprise, really, that Netflix’s recent announcement — that it would offer unlimited leave to new moms and dads, allowing them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption — has yielded an “anti-stir.”

A women’s group calling itself UltraViolet just rolled out an ad campaign last week against what it claims are Netflix’s discriminatory practices in not opening its new leave program to the poorest among its ranks instead of just the wealthiest. (Here’s the actual petition for those who want to join the fight.)

According to an emailed announcement about this new uprising, “more than 47,700 UV members have demanded Netflix give its hourly workers the same ‘unlimited’ parental-leave benefits that workers who make $300,000 receive.” As Nita Chaudhary, UV’s co-founder, puts it:

“People are taking notice that Netflix is expecting praise for extending parental leave to its higher-paid employees, yet it doesn’t extend those benefits to the hourly employees who need it most.

“It’s important that Netflix set an example for the rest of employers and companies nationwide: With one in four moms going back to work less than two weeks after giving birth, Netflix can turn the tide by giving ALL employees equal benefits — not just reserve those benefits [for the wealthiest ones].”

The women’s group contends this exemption was somehow left out of the company’s announcement, the latter of which has certainly been reverberating positively throughout the business community, as this feature about the move in Fortune indicates. And this, from BuzzFeed News, indicating other big Silicon Valley companies have been following suit — including Microsoft and Adobe — in announcing similar unlimited paternity leave programs since Netflix’s announcement.

Indeed, I saw no mention of any exemption in the announcement. Nor was it mentioned in Andrew R. McIlvanie’s blog post that included news of the announcement. (Though that post does examine the problem of unlimited leave policies being launched in corporate cultures that don’t support them … which may or may not be the case at Netflix.)

I did reach out to the company about all this, and got the following back from a company spokesperson:

“Across Netflix, we compare salary and benefits to those of employees at businesses performing similar work. Those comparisons show we provide all of our employees with comparable or better pay and benefits than at other companies. For example, medical and life insurance for DVD workers exceeds market standards. All DVD employees including hourly are also eligible for a minimum of 12 weeks off for maternity or paternity leave. We are regularly reviewing policies across our business to ensure they are competitive and help us attract and keep the best employees.”

Nothing on the UV ad campaign. Nothing on any exemption in its new policy. Like so many other big-splash initiatives and subsequent fallout, I guess we’ll just have to let this one play out.