A Tricky Legal Question for HR

The Aug. 11 march by white-supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended after a car plowed into a crowd of counter-demonstrators the next day, killing a 32-year-old woman.

Authorities have charged an Ohio man in the case, starting what could be years of legal repercussions.

For HR executives, the incident raises a legal question that is at least as complex: How can employers protect themselves when a worker participates in extremist political conduct that puts the business at risk?

That risk is painfully clear to the owners of two restaurants on opposite sides of the country. Both employed men who were publicly identified as participants in the Charlottesville rally. Both companies found themselves in the glare of unfavorable publicity as a result.

Boston-based Uno Pizzeria and Grill quickly fired a cook in a Burlington, Vermont outlet after he was identified in a news video and in social-media posts as a march participant and ardent white supremacist.

Owners of Top Dog, a small chain of hot-dog restaurants based in Berkeley, California, did not fire an employee who also was linked to the Charlottesville rally in social-media accounts. Instead, they told local news outlets, he chose to resign.

What about the First Amendment? Does it protect employees  from punishment by employers for exercising their constitutional right to free speech?

Not if they are employed in the private sector, lawyers say. The First Amendment only limits government control of a person’s speech or writing, writes employment attorney Robin Shea of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “The First Amendment doesn’t prohibit limits on speech that are imposed by private individuals, or private-sector employers.”

State or local laws may apply in some cases, “but those jurisdictions are the exception, not the rule,” she writes.

Public employers take special care, Shea notes. And employers with a collective bargaining agreement should check to see if it limits their options, Shea writes.

In any case,“Employers must also be careful not to run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act by punishing employees who may be commenting about the terms and conditions of their employment,” writes Kimberly A. Ross, a partner with Ford Harrison in Chicago.

Ross recommends that employers tread carefully no matter what. “Because of all of the complex issues to be considered, employers are encouraged to consult with their employment counsel before making any significant decisions based on their employees’ off-duty conduct,” she writes.

Shea also urges employers to be cautious: “Never take action against any employee based on ‘politics’ unless you have consulted with counsel first,” she writes.

Where’s the Best Place to Interview?

Glassdoor’s released its annual Candidates’ Choice Awards for the 100 Best Places to Interview, and topping the list are three companies that are hardly household names: #1 is Dignity Health, followed by Horizon Media at No. 2 and Cadence Design Systems coming in at third place. Rounding out the top five were Salesforce and J. Crew.

What makes for a good place to interview? Glassdoor relies on input from job candidates and employees, who rate and review their interview experience with a company, and ranks organizations based on the percentage of positive reviews they get. Dignity Health, a San Francisco-based healthcare system with 400 care centers (including hospitals) in 22 states, received a 93 percent “positive interview experience” score, while second-place winner Horizon Media got 91 percent and Cadence Design Systems got 86 percent.

Dignity Health interviewees frequently cited a “relaxed and friendly environment” during panel interviews, with one candidate who interviewed for a nursing position describing the entire experience as “wonderful and educational.” The typical interview lasted for about 30 minutes, according to the reviews. Candidates who interviewed at Horizon Media, a New York-based media-services agency, frequently cited transparency as a positive experience there, with HR generally doing a good job of keeping them in the loop regarding their status. Those who interviewed at Cadence Design Systems, a San Jose, Calif.-based IT firm that’s also on Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, the tone of the reviews was a bit more critical, with many describing a complicated process consisting of multiple technical interviews (many of the positions were for software engineer, which may explain that) and in a few cases hiring managers who were late to the interview or recruiters who failed to follow up at all. In general, however, they described the process as smooth and efficient.

Glassdoor’s Best Places to Interview includes a few well-known names as well, including Walt Disney Co. (at No. 25 on the list), United Airlines (28), Nike (34) and Starbucks (39). The length of the hiring process and interview difficulty also play a part in determining winners, says Glassdoor.

Face it, it’s tough to attract and hold on to talented employees these days, and a positive candidate experience matters more than ever. Just ask the organizers of the Candidate Experience Awards, who will hold their own awards ceremony for North American winners this October in Nashville. (And you’ll be able to hear directly from some of those winners at this year’s Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech Conference).

More Work/Life Woes?

In late June, we used this space to highlight study results implying that maybe, just maybe, employees are gaining real ground in the battle for work/life balance.

Now, not quite two months later comes research that suggests the battle might still be far from over.

The RAND Corp., Harvard Medical School and UCLA recently conducted the American Working Conditions Survey, which polled 3,066 U.S. adults. Among these respondents, roughly 25 percent say they have too little time to do their jobs, with this complaint being most common among white-collar workers.

Given this finding, it’s not surprising that many employees feel that the “intensity of work frequently spills over into their personal lives,” according to RAND. Just over 50 percent of those surveyed report feeling this way, saying that they perform at least “some work” in their free time in order to meet workplace demands.

RAND notes that many workers say they must sometimes adjust their personal lives to take care of job-related responsibilities. The opposite doesn’t seem to be true, though, with 31 percent of employees finding it “somewhat” or “very” difficult to adjust their work schedules to accommodate their personal lives.

Generally, women were more likely than men to report difficulty arranging for time off during work hours to address personal or family matters, according to RAND. Younger workers feel the strain as well, with more than one-quarter reporting a poor fit between their work hours and their social and family commitments.

Not exactly encouraging figures on the work/life balance front. But the news from this research isn’t all bad. Many employees can at least count on having some kind of support system on the job, with 61 percent of women and 53 percent of men saying that they have “very good friends at work.”

Participants were also asked whether they felt their immediate supervisor trusted them, respected them, offered praise and recognition, gets people to work together, is helpful, provides useful feedback, and encourages and supports professional development. Ninety-five percent of respondents agreed with at least one of those seven statements, with 58 percent agreeing with all seven.

All in all, “the many striking and complex findings regarding American working conditions will give social scientists, policymakers, employers and workers themselves much to consider,” the authors write, noting that they “hope … these data will contribute to a constructive debate on how to improve working conditions … .”

Indeed, the numbers to emerge from this study “suggest that there is ample scope for modifying work environments,” they conclude, “to keep workers healthier, happier and more productive.”

Want Happy Workers?

A new report by Adecco USA uncovers how employers are experimenting with ways to attract and keep skilled workers happy, with the C-suite considering pay the most important factor.

According to the report, Best in Class Workforce Management Insights,  77 percent of 500 U.S. executives surveyed for the report consider pay to be the top concern when it comes to attracting and retaining workers.

“In this candidate-driven market, the burden is on employers to offer compelling reasons for candidates to join and remain with their organizations. Right now, part of the conversation is centering around wages,” said Joyce Russell, president, Adecco USA.

“While fair pay is a key driver in securing today’s workforce, employers must also make predictions and be nimble in adopting new solutions as the meaning of ‘Best-in-Class’ continues to evolve,” Russell added.

Among the other findings in the report:

  • 77 percent of executives believe pay is the most important factor to employees.
  • More than half of respondents offer health insurance and 401(k) packages to salaried employees, and 40 percent say they now also offer “softer” benefits, like flexible schedules.
  • 47 percent of employers do not prioritize hard or soft skills over the other when vetting a job candidate, and they weigh a candidate’s happiness as early as the interviewing phase.
  • Less than half of employers are offering education courses to their employees, but 61 percent believe mentorships are of importance in determining employee happiness.

You can download the full report here.

Survey: 3-percent Raises in 2018

The economy is generally strong and low unemployment rates mean some organizations are scrambling for workers. But most companies are not planning to spend more on pay increases in 2018, according to a new survey.

Employers are prepared to open their checkbooks a bit wider to reward top performers, according to the global consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, which surveyed 819 U.S. companies in a range of industries from April through July.

Of companies surveyed, 99 percent expect to grant raises next year, according to a summary by Willis Towers Watson. The average 2018 raise forecast for most employees, including both professional and nonexempt workers, was 3 percent — the same as the average raise given in the last three years. The average expected raise for executives is about the same — 3.1 percent.

“Most companies are not under any significant pressure to increase their salary budgets in the near term,” said Laura Sejen, Willis Towers Watson’s managing director for human capital and benefits, according to a company announcement.

Employers continue to offer performance bonuses to their most valuable players, the survey found. Among companies surveyed, top performers received raises of up to 4.5 percent. Willis Towers Watson found some companies surveyed base their bonuses not only on performance, but on professional development.

“While organizations may be forecasting 3% increases, the landscape of how and when they are giving increases varies considerably,” said Sandra McLellan, North America rewards practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, according to the company announcement.

 

The Rise of ‘Side Gigs’

Have you ever taken a stroll through your company’s parking lot and noticed an Uber decal here and there on some of the vehicles? It may be that the employee drives for the ride-share service during nights or weekends, and if so he or she is far from unusual: Nearly a third of all U.S. workers (32 percent) have a “side gig” — a job outside of their regular work hours — to supplement their income, according to a CareerBuilder study released today.

Side gigs are prevalent throughout the workforce, the study finds, although women are more likely than men to have them (35 percent vs. 28 percent) as are workers younger than 35 (41 percent to 27 percent). African-American workers (46 percent) and Hispanic workers (40 percent) are more likely than Caucasian (29 percent) and Asian-American (26 percent) workers to have a “side hustle.”

Selling Amway or performing some consulting work after (or even during) work hours has long been a way for Americans to supplement the take-home pay from their regular job, but the ease of downloading an app such as Uber, Instacart (which lets you sign up for jobs delivering groceries and the like on your own time) and TaskRabbit have made it easier than ever to find side gigs. Plus, record-high levels of student debt and stagnant wages are also contributing to the allure of side gigs.

“While we continue to be at what is considered full employment, the quality and pay of jobs isn’t always what workers want, causing them to seek out new ways to supplement their full-time income,” says Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s CHRO. “We’re no longer in a world where there’s just one employee-employer relationship. It’s easier than ever to download an app that allows you to drive around passengers, pick up babysitting gigs or sell your unwanted furniture, and employees are willing to take on these extra responsibilities for cash.”

Although they’re more common among relatively low-paid employees, the appeal of side gigs spans all pay levels: One in four workers making more than $75,000 annually hold side gigs as do 19 percent of those making in excess of $100,000. Thirty five percent of workers making less than $50,000 and 36 percent of those making below $35,000 are working side gigs.

Money is not the only attractant for side gigs — dissatisfaction with one’s regular job is also a factor. More than eight out of 10 of the 3,696 full-time workers (82 percent) who participated in CareerBuilder’s survey say they’re not in their dream job, and 33 percent of those workers have side gigs. With that said, most of those with side gigs (67 percent) say they’re not looking to turn their side hustle into a regular full-time job, while 42 percent say they’re more passionate about their day job than their side gig (32 percent).

For employers, the reality of employees with side gigs would seem to be a bit of a double-edged sword: Working a job on the side leaves less downtime for the employee and could lead to greater stress and exhaustion, not to mention distraction. Then again, the nimbleness and initiative required for successfully managing a side gig could ultimately lead to a more-valuable employee, not to mention the chance to pick up more skills that can be applied to one’s regular job. Regardless of the ultimate impact, this is clearly a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon.

A Bill to Limit Microchipping

Just when you thought it was safe to go to work…

Pennsylvania State Rep. Tina Davis (D., Bucks) recently introduced a bill that would prohibit private employers and government entities in Pennsylvania from requiring employees to have microchips implanted in their bodies as a condition of their employment, according to this piece on Philly.com.

Davis floated her bill in response to news stories of a Wisconsin vending machine company asking its employees to voluntarily have an encrypted microchip inserted in their hands to log in to computers, use copiers, open office doors, and operate snack machines while at work. (We wrote about the topic here and here.)

According to Philly.com, Davis’ proposed Employee Subdermal-Microchip Protection Act would allow surgically implanted microchips only if workers made their own decision. It would require the state Department of Labor and Industry to investigate workers’ claims that they were victims of retaliation for refusing to get a chip. It also would impose fines for companies that violate the would-be law.

“My legislation will require that any employer that offers a microchip, or any kind of subdermal device to be implanted for use during the employee’s work, must make it a voluntary decision,” Davis wrote in a July 28 memo to the House of Representatives.

“An employee’s body is their own and they should have the final say as to what will be added to it. My bill will protect employees from being punished or retaliated against for choosing not to have the subdermal microchip or other technological device implanted. As technology advances, we need to make sure we provide employee protections that keep up with these advances and do not allow employers to have control over their employees’ bodies.”

Diversity Memo Causes a Stir

The tech world is chattering today about a widely circulated internal memo from a male software engineer unhappy with Google’s diversity practices.

Posted in full over the weekend by tech-oriented websites Motherboard and Gizmodo, the memo argues that innate biological differences between men and women account for underrepresentation of women in the upper reaches of the industry.

“I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ, in part due to biological causes, and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” the memo reads.

The engineer also argues that Google’s diversity practices amount to a politically liberal orthodoxy “that can irreparably harm Google.”

In response to the memo, which drew a harsh response from some Googlers on Twitter, the company’s vice president of diversity, integrity and governance offered a memo of her own. Danielle Brown had been on the job just a few weeks when the controversy erupted.

“Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate,” she writes. “We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul.”

Addressing the complaint about what the engineer perceived to be a pervasive liberal ideology at Google, Brown writes: “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

(By Tuesday, word emerged that Google had fired the engineer for violating its code of conduct.)

Candidates Want the Personal Touch

Does your candidate experience resemble this?

A new study from Randstad US bolsters this point, with 82 percent of survey respondents agreeing that they are often frustrated with “an overly automated job search experience.” Ninety five percent of the 1,200 respondents to the survey agree tech should supplement, not replace, the recruitment experience and 87 percent agree that it’s made the search process more impersonal.

The top two aspects cited by respondents as contributing the most to a positive impression of an employer (aside from an actual job offer) were “the degree of personal, human interaction during the process” and “the recruiter/hiring manager I worked with.” Factors contributing to a negative impression of an employer included the length of the hiring process and “the communication level throughout the selection process.” One-third of the respondents who said they’d had a negative experience reported that they’d never apply to the organization again and would not refer a friend or family member there.

We’ve certainly touched before on how lengthy hiring processes and lack of communication can alienate candidates and undermine employers in their search for talented candidates. But now more than ever, jobseekers want a candidate experience that’s similar to or even surpasses the one that consumer-focused companies provide to their customers.

As Randstad North America CEO Linda Galipeau says, “Employers today, and in the future, will be judged by the experience they create for prospective hires. In a technology-driven world of talent, it’s not only about how a company markets itself, but what others say about the company that has a positive impact on employer branding.”

Speaking Up in the C-Suite

A recent series of experiments, which we wrote about here at HRE, sought to get a sense of employees’ feelings about corporate leaders who base business decisions on their moral beliefs.

In that study, researchers found that workers saw executives who staked out positions on moral grounds and later changed their minds as being hypocritical, and “less effective and worthy of their support than leaders whose initial stance was pragmatic.”

So, CEOs take a chance when they choose to travel the moral high road, especially if they flip-flop on an issue in the future.

A newer survey, however, finds that, yes, there are hazards that come along with speaking out on controversial subjects. But there are also reasons to remind your CEO that saying something might be better than staying quiet, at least in the eyes of some (mostly younger) employees.

In partnership with KRC Research, New York-based public relations firm Weber Shandwick polled 1,021 U.S. adults, gauging respondents’ attitudes toward “the trend of chief executive officers speaking out on hot-button societal topics,” according to a Weber Shandwick statement.

They ultimately found that one generation of employees in particular—millennials—feel that CEOs actually have a responsibility to make their voices heard on matters that are important to society. Nearly half of millennials polled (47 percent) said they feel this way, while just 28 percent of Generation Xers and baby boomers agree. And, given the current cultural climate, it’s not exactly surprising that a larger portion of Generation Y (56 percent) feels that CEOs and other business leaders have a greater duty to take a stand on societal concerns now than they did in the past.

In addition, the report sees 51 percent of millennials saying they would be more apt to buy from a company whose chief executive spoke out on an issue they agreed with; an 11 percent increase from a 2016 Weber Shandwick survey. From an employee perspective, 44 percent of full-time Gen Y workers said they would be more loyal to their organization if the CEO took a public position on a “hotly debated current issue,” in comparison to the 16 percent of Gen Xers and 18 percent of boomers saying the same.

What exactly is the cost of a CEO’s silence? Overall, 47 percent of respondents said that some form of criticism—from the media, customers, employees or the government—would be the biggest downside to a CEO’s decision to sit out a social debate. Another 20 percent suggest that the organization could be hurt financially, while 14 percent reckon that potential job candidates would instead shy away from applying with the company. Twelve percent foresee current employees quitting.

The risk of incurring such damage apparently depends on the issue at hand. When asked which topics—all of which relate to the workplace in some way—that CEOs and other business leaders should express an opinion on, job and skills training was the most common response among all respondents, closely followed by equal pay in the workplace, healthcare coverage, maternity and paternity leave, and gender equality.

That said, there seem to be instances when executives should think carefully before entering the fray. Less than 35 percent of all respondents said business leaders should weigh in on immigration, for example, with roughly 25 percent saying the same about LGBT rights, gun control and refugees, respectively.

As a PR firm, Weber Shandwick is happy to offer tips on how to approach activism in the C-suite, of course. And this report does just that. But, however they decide to broach thorny subjects like those mentioned above, CEOs and other executives should be aware that the call for them to take at least an occasional social stand is only going to get louder.

“CEOs are expected to make a strong business case for any environmental or social issues they speak up about or which they commit time and resources to,” says Paul Massey, global lead of social impact at Weber Shandwick, in a statement. “This research tells us that millennials, more so than older generations, will also be vigilant when it comes to CEOs being held accountable for defending corporate values and conduct.”