Is One Watchdog Better Than Two?

The Trump administration wants to combine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with another federal watchdog agency—and both worker and business groups are worried.

The issue got attention on Wednesday as new Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta testified before a House subcommittee about how President Trump’s proposed budget will affect his department.

Among other proposals that would cut Labor department spending by 20 percent overall, Trump’s budget also proposes merging the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs into the EEOC, an independent agency.

Acosta told skeptical Democrats on the panel that the merger made “common sense” and would not hurt workers, the Associated Press and other news organizations reported.

Off Capitol Hill, the merger idea has drawn fire from communities that often disagree—business leaders and worker-rights advocates. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition that includes labor unions, the ACLU and others, wrote the administration and Congress on May 26 that the merger would effectively shutter the OFCCP by folding it into the EEOC.

“Both OFCCP and EEOC help advance and protect equal employment opportunity, but they are distinct in their enforcement approaches and expertise, and they should remain separate,” said Leadership Conference CEO Wade Henderson in a prepared statement. “We strongly urge Congress to reject this proposal, which would lead to an erosion of key civil-rights protections for working people.”

Though the merger idea got an early boost from the business-friendly Heritage Foundation, some corporate leaders agree with critics that the agencies should remain separate. Some, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, fear the merger would create a mega-regulator with too much power.

”There is a fear in the business community that this newly formed grouping might result in the worst of all worlds from both agencies,” said Randy Johnson, a chamber senior vice president, in a prepared statement. He noted that the EEOC has legal powers the OFCCP does not.

The ‘Why’ Behind Wellness Programs

It isn’t always about the money.

Or, at least it’s not when it comes to why many companies offer wellness programs, according to a new survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

For its new Workplace Wellness 2017 Survey Report, the Brookfield, Wisc.-based nonprofit organization polled 530 members of the IFEBP as well as the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists and the National Wellness Institute.

Overall, more than 90 percent of these organizations offer at least one wellness initiative. Among them, 75 percent report that improving overall worker health and well-being is their company’s No. 1 reason for doing so, with just one in four saying that controlling or reducing health-related costs is their primary motivation for implementing wellness programs.

As for what these wellness initiatives consist of, “traditional” offerings such as free or discounted flu shots “continue to gain steam,” according to an IFEBP statement.

But the aforementioned report also highlights some “popular emerging wellness benefits” that employers are weaving into their wellness initiatives, such as chiropractic services coverage, currently offered by 62 percent of respondents. In addition, 59 percent said they provide employees with opportunities to participate in community charity drives and events, attend onsite wellness-related events and celebrations (58 percent), and take part in wellness competitions such as walking/fitness challenges (51 percent).

Whatever form a wellness program takes, the effort seems to be paying off for many organizations. More than half of the responding companies that measure their wellness offerings, for example, say they’ve seen a decrease in absenteeism since putting a wellness program in place. An even larger number (63 percent) indicate that they are experiencing financial sustainability and growth in the organization, while 67 percent say their employees are more satisfied and 66 percent report increased productivity.

“Employers are realizing that wellness is not just about cutting healthcare costs, because wellness is not only about physical health,” says Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at IFEBP, in a statement.

“Embracing the broad definition of wellness has led to a tremendous impact on organizational health and worker productivity and happiness.”

It would stand to reason that a happier, more productive workforce translates to a bigger, better bottom line, of course. And, for those HR and benefits leaders who haven’t yet made the business case for developing workplace wellness programs, the numbers to emerge from this report could certainly provide them with some strong ammunition.

Report Targets Walmart Policies

Walmart’s absence control program “punishes workers who need to be there for their own families,” according to a new report released late last week.

The report, “Pointing Out: How Walmart Unlawfully Punishes Workers for Medical Absences,” was produced by A Better Balance, an advocacy group that supports legislators across the nation in “researching, drafting and testifying on behalf of bills to help workers care for themselves and their families without risking their paychecks,” according to its website.

“Walmart disciplines workers for occasional absences due to caring for sick or disabled family members and for needing to take time off for their own illnesses or disabilities,” the report states.

“Although this system is supposed to be ‘neutral,’ and punish all absences equally, along the lines of a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy,” the report continues, “in reality such a system is brutally unfair. It punishes workers for things they cannot control and disproportionately harms the most vulnerable workers.”

The group based its findings of alleged illegal behavior at the superstore chain on conversations with Walmart employees as well as survey results of over 1,000 current and former Walmart workers who have struggled due to Walmart’s absence control program.

“Walmart may regularly be violating the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by failing to give adequate notice to its employees about when absences might be protected by the FMLA and by giving its employees disciplinary points for taking time to care for themselves, their children, their spouses or their parents even though that time is covered by the FMLA,” the report states.

In response, Walmart told the New York Times that it had not reviewed the report but disputed the group’s conclusions, and said that the company’s attendance policies helped make sure that there were enough employees to help customers while protecting workers from regularly covering others’ duties.

“We understand that associates may have to miss work on occasion, and we have processes in place to assist them,” Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart, said. The company reviews each employee’s circumstances individually, he said, “in compliance with company policy and the law.”

Ready for More Immigration Audits?

With tougher immigration rules on the front burner in Washington, nearly every employer should be prepared for a visit from ICE agents sooner or later, warns an immigration lawyer who defends employers.
With President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” policy increasing scrutiny of employer-sponsored work visas like the H-1B, “I do believe we’ll see increased enforcement with respect to audits and site visits,” says Montserrat Miller, a n employment attorney partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP in Washington who specializes in helping employers with immigration issues.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents aren’t just targeting packing houses and other businesses with a history of hiring undocumented workers, Miller says. And they’re no longer just looking for “criminal aliens” and gang members, common targets of ICE workplace enforcement operations under previous administrations.

Any business with workers who have “H” or “L “visas—commonly issued to let foreign citizens work in the U.S. for a sponsoring employer—should be prepared for a sudden visit by ICE agents looking to see that all the paperwork is in order, Miller says.

“Everybody has the potential to be detained if they’re not authorized to be in the United States,” she says. (Watch for more coverage of changes in immigration law, including a Human Resource Executive® magazine cover story to be published this month that looks at how employers are affected.)

Miller says it’s key to be prepared for these visits. First, she says, make sure people on the front lines, such as receptionists, know what to do when an agent arrives. They also should know what documentation ICE agents are required to present when they arrive, she adds, and whom to summon for help, including HR leaders and legal counsel.

Employers, Miller says, should also determine before any site visit where agents may and may not go to inspect company records.

Employees with work visas should be familiar with details provided on their visa applications “so they don’t accidentally say something [to agents] that raises questions” during a site visit, according to Miller.

The bottom line:”You need to have a plan in place.”

SHRM Names Taylor to Post

As many of you know, Society for Human Resource Management CEO Hank Jackson announced his retirement in January, after 12 years at the helm of the world’s largest HR association.

Johnny Taylor

The expectation by some was that the Alexandria, Va.-based group, with 285,000 members globally, would officially announce his replacement around the time of its annual conference later this month. Well, the suspense ended yesterday with the appointment of Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a familiar face in SHRM circles, as the new SHRM president and CEO, effective this November.

Taylor is currently president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a national organization representing nearly 300,000 students attending 47 publicly supported, historically black colleges and universities. He’s been in that role since 2010.

Before TMCF, Taylor worked for IAC/InterActiveCorp, first as senior vice president of HR for IAC/InterActiveCorp and later as president and CEO of one of IAC’s operating subsidiaries. Prior to that, he was a litigation partner and president of the HR consulting business for the McGuireWoods law firm; executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Compass Group USA; and general counsel and senior vice president of HR for Viacom’s Paramount Pictures Live Entertainment Group.

Taylor served as SHRM’s board chair in 2005 and 2006. (Gerry Crispin, principal and co-founder of CareerXroads, recalled that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Taylor, who was board chair at the time, was “instrumental in honoring many of the HR leaders who reached out to help those who had to leave the area for other communities.”)

Johnny was Chair of the Board of SHRM when Katrina hit N’Awlins and instrumental in honoring many of the HR leaders who reached out to help those who had to leave the area for other communities.

In making the announcement, SHRM Board Chair Coretha M. Rushing called Taylor a “visionary leader and accomplished HR strategist who is committed to the continued advancement of the profession … .”

SHRM board member Patrick Wright, meanwhile, said Taylor will be a great successor to Jackson.

“Johnny has such a breadth of experience: HR, legal, operational, strategic, for profit, not for profit, etc.,” said Wright,  a professor in the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.  “He brings to SHRM a vision for the organization and an even larger vision for the profession. I look forward to working with him.”

It’s been a busy year in terms of leadership changes at HR professional associations. SHRM’s announcement follows the appointment in April of Scott Cawood as president and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based WorldatWork.

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.”

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.”

This Just In: Change is Awful

The saying goes that “change is inevitable.” But when it comes to the workplace, Americans would rather have none of it, according to the results of a brand-new survey from the American Psychological Association.

Employees in the U.S. who’ve been affected by change at work are more likely to report chronic work stress, less likely to trust their employer and more likely to say they plan to leave the organization within the next year compared to those who haven’t been affected by organizational change, according to the APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey, which is based on responses from 1,500 U.S. adults and was conducted on behalf of the APA by Harris Poll in March.

Half of American workers report having been affected by organizational change within the last year, are currently being affected by such change or expect to be affected by it within the next year, the survey finds. Workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change (55 percent vs. 22 percent), and more than four times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work (34 percent vs. 8 percent).

Workers reporting recent or current change also were much more likely than other respondents to say they experienced work/life conflict and felt cynical and negative toward others during the workday (35 percent vs. 11 percent) and ate or smoked more during the workday than they did outside of work (29 percent vs. 8 percent).

There’s plenty more in the survey results, much of it dispiriting and depressing. The upshot seems to be that too many U.S. workplaces appear to be afflicted with leaders who’ve adopted a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. However, this article that ran in McKinsey Quarterly a number of years ago (published by the consulting powerhouse McKinsey) offers some interesting food for thought that holds true today. One of its important points, as you may already know, is that people need to understand the point of change–why something is being changed, their role in helping the change succeed and how all of it will lead to better conditions for both themselves and the larger organization. The theme is that while change may be inevitable, the negative side effects shouldn’t be and don’t have to be.

 

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.

Of Job Interviews and Stress

Do you remember your last job interview? Was the experience a pleasant one? If you’re like most people, the answers are A: yes, and B: No. After all, regardless of how nicely you’re treated during the interview — a receptionist who greets you warmly by name, interviewers who appear to have fully read your resume, etc. — the fact is that this is a process that may determine not only your livelihood but also who you’ll be spending the majority of your waking hours with (and yes that sounds sad, but it is what it is). So considering all that, it may not be surprising if even the memory of the experience makes your heart beat a little faster and your palms get a bit sweaty.

All of this can be a good thing, said psychologist Kelly McGonigal during her keynote presentation earlier this week at Indeed Interactive in Austin, Tex. The conventional wisdom about stress is that too much of it leads to overeating, high blood pressure and a host of other maladies and behaviors that will ultimately result in a shortened lifespan, said McGonigal, a Stanford University researcher whose 2014 TED Talk titled “How to Make Stress Your Friend” garnered nearly 5 million views. However, stress is and always has been a part of life, she said — it’s how we choose to respond to it that determines its effect on our health.

“The advice we typically give to each other during a really stressed-out moment, like before a job interview, is ‘Take a deep breath,’ ” she said to attendees packing the ballroom at the Austin J.W. Marriott. “Yes, most people say that — and they’re wrong. A better piece of advice is, what if instead of trying to suppress the stress, we view it as energy that we can harness?”

McGonigal cited research conducted at the University of Wisconsin that tracked 30,000 Americans over the course of eight years. The researchers found that subjects with a lot of stress had a 43-percent increased risk of dying — but only if they believed stress was harmful.

“The people who perform best under pressure aren’t actually calm, but they view that stress as energy that can actually help them,” she said. “Your body and brain have a whole repertoire of stress responses, many of which are helpful and healthy. If you choose to embrace that anxiety, it actually transforms the biology of fear into the biology of courage.”

People tend to perform better when they’re told prior to a major event that feeling anxious is natural and that it can actually help them — not just in job interviews, said McGonigal, but in a wide range of activities such as athletic competitions, during tests and even in karaoke contests (something to keep in mind for your next happy hour).

“Not everyone does this naturally, although everyone has the capability to do this,” she said. “You can access the biology of resilience in stressful situations.”

Researchers at Columbia Business School conducted an experiment in which participants were put through a mock job interview by interviewers who’d been coached to be very cold, give no positive feedback whatsoever to the interviewees  and interrupt them regularly, said McGonigal. One group of interviewees was shown a video prior to the interview that explained the damaging effects that stress can have on health. The other group was shown  a video about how stress can be performance-enhancing and can help people emerge from a difficult situation stronger and better-equipped to handle adversity. The participants who saw the positive video experienced higher levels of hormones (oxytocin, in particular) that help us react positively to stressful experiences, she said.

In another experiment focused on job applicants, this one at the University of Michigan, researchers counseled one group of participants to think about how — if they got the job — it would allow them to help others or express their values in a way that would contribute to the greater good. Members of this group were much more likely to be rated by people who watched the interviews as  confident and competent and as someone they would like to work with than those who hadn’t received the pre-interview counseling.

So, what’s the lesson here for recruiters and talent-acquisition leaders?

“Every step of the hiring process can be viewed as contributing to the community, values and mission of the organization,” said McGonigal. “One could view your own role as part of that, of helping to connect people with the organization and the community that it’s part of. And every moment that you choose to view as the next step in bringing this about also helps create a psychologically healthy state for you.”