Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘workplace’

Walmart patents technology to eavesdrop on workers

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Walmart has just patented surveillance technology which would allow it to eavesdrop on worker’s conversations and help monitor them to ensure they meet the company’s “performance metrics.”

The “Listening to the Frontend” system would collect audio data from the stores’ cashier areas, allowing it to pick up everything from beeps to conversations with customers to, potentially, conversations between workers.  It would then analyse the sounds to ensure the employee is working efficiently — and help Walmart achieve “cost savings” and “guest satisfaction.”

“We’re always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers,” a Walmart spokesperson told Buzzfeed News, who first reported the story. “We don’t have any further details to share on these patents at this time.”

It’s unclear when, or even if, Walmart will ever actually introduce this technology. But it is another example of how corporate giants are using technology in an attempt to track and control their workers — despite evidence showing that excess surveillance makes workers feel nervous and actually ends up slowing them down.

Amazon — whose profits topped $3 billion in 2017 — recently patented wristbandswhich can precisely track where its warehouse workers are, and point them in the right direction via vibration. In 2013, the Financial Times also documented how Amazon workers’ personal sat-navs set target times for them to shelve packages, and reports them to management if they’re behind schedule.

The surveillance isn’t just relegated to Amazon’s warehouses either. A 2015 New York Times story documented a similar Big Brother-esque atmosphere at Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle. In a rare internal email, CEO Jeff Bezos pushed back on the article, saying it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.”

Uber’s instant rating system is similarly stressful on workers, punishing drivers who fall bellow a 4.6.

Unsurprisingly, being constantly tracked and asked to meet robot-like targets is having a devastating effect on workers. The British GMB trade union previously warned that the kinds of “regimes” Amazon employers worked under were causing them to have musculoskeletal problems as well as stress and anxiety.

“It’s hard, physical work, but the constant stress of being monitored and never being able to drop below a certain level of performance is harsh,” Elly Baker, GMB’s lead officer for Amazon, said. “You can’t be a normal person. You have to be an above-average Amazon robot all the time.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luke Barnes is a reporter at ThinkProgress. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Narratively.

What to do when your work problem isn’t a legal issue

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

A boss starts cancelling your check-ins after you give them feedback. A co-worker routinely undermines and interrupts you during meetings. You’ve been passed over for a promotion twice. Even after speaking to a lawyer, you’re not sure what to do.

Every day, across every workplace in America, people face challenges that don’t necessarily fall into a legal category. Instead, they fall into a vast gray area where solutions are rarely black and white. These issues–while not legal in nature–affect how we show up at work, and can have a lasting impact on a career. In a recent study, over 95 percent of people surveyed faced at least one challenging situation at work. Half left their job as a result.

Meanwhile, resources to help people navigate these challenges haven’t evolved to meet the needs of our vibrant, dynamic, and diverse workforce. Employee-provided resources are largely distrusted. Nearly 80 percent of people surveyed had never used a service provided by their employer. Moreover, the rapid growth of the gig economy often leaves employees feeling even more isolated. When people don’t get the support they need they’re more likely to take a step back in their career or leave their job without having another lined up.

Empower Work is a new resource that fills this gap by putting employees first. We provide free, anonymous, and immediate support for people facing non-legal work issues. Anyone can text 510-674-1414 and connect to a vetted and trained peer counselor within minutes.

Our approach is rooted in inquiry and empathy. We provide the space to talk about your experience and work toward an outcome that feels right to you. Our goal is for people to leave the conversation feeling empowered with the tools and support they need to move forward. Over 90 percent of people say they feel better after talking to an Empower Work peer counselor.

“Thank you for being [there] for me in the midst of a truly horrible, awful, depressing work situation. You helped me figure out my next steps.” -Empower Work Texter

Our peer counselors are working professionals who volunteer their time to support people through their most difficult experiences at work. They are leaders, coaches, mentors at every stage of their careers. Peer counselors undergo a selection process and receive hands-on training that blends best practices in coaching, counseling, and business.

We believe everyone should have access to support for tough work issues. What’s tough varies from person to person. You might be grappling with the decision to take a pay cut to pursue a dream job; questioning whether your company’s values are aligned with your own; or need support preparing for a big performance review. Next time you’re facing a difficult situation or decision at work remember you’re not alone.

Having a non-legal work issue you’d like to chat about? Text: 510-674-1414. Peer counselors are available Monday-Friday, 8:30am-8:00pm PT. To learn more visit www.empowerwork.org.

About the Author: Lauren Brisbo is a social impact communications professional with over a decade of experience. She’s worked with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies to launch communications initiatives that win hearts and minds, give a voice to those less heard, and help people make well-informed decisions. She’s passionate about helping organizations promote good causes externally, and creating supportive internal work environments that help employees thrive. Lauren currently leads communications and outreach for Empower Work, a free, accessible, and immediate text hotline for anyone facing a tough issue at work.

She gave the President the finger. Employer gave her the boot.

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Juli Briskman was on her own time, riding her bicycle, when President Trump’s motorcade drove by. She expressed her personal feelings with a middle finger salute, not realizing that a news reporter had captured her gesture on camera.

She abruptly lost her job after the photo went viral on social media. Her employer, a government contracting firm, feared the Trump administration would retaliate by withholding or not renewing contracts. She has sued for wrongful termination.

Did her employer’s action violate her rights?

Briskman was forced to resign in November 2017. She has now filed a lawsuit against her employer, citing violation of her civil rights. There are limits on free speech in the workplace. But she wasn’t in the workplace. When she “flipped the bird” at the president and his motorcade, she was doing so as a private citizen.

Giving someone the finger, however uncouth it may seem, is protected speech under the First Amendment. Employers do have some leeway to discipline or fire workers if they badmouth the company or if their personal conduct violates a corporate policy.

Briskman is claiming that she was fired as a sacrificial lamb. Her employer, Akima, has government contracts. The company has not claimed that her speech violated policy or offended her co-workers. Rather, she contends the company terminated her to avoid the wrath of the White House. The stated reason for her forced resignation was that the company could lose out on lucrative contracts if she were retained. In other words, the company retaliated against her before the president could retaliate against the company.

Can an employer pre-emptively terminate a worker for what might happen?

Ms. Briskman would likely still have her job if she had given the finger to anyone other than the president of the United States. And perhaps if it had been any other president. Maybe management was pressured by the White House through back channels. Maybe they just weren’t taking any chances.

The question for the court, or a jury, will be whether Akima was within its rights to take adverse employment action against an employee for (a) private speech that could (b) potentially but not necessarily affect its future contracts.

“Working for a company that does business with the federal government should never limit your ability to criticize that government in your private time,” Briskman has stated.

This unsettled legal issue will likely come up again

In the age of social media, clashes between free speech and employment are increasingly common. What you post on Facebook or Instagram on your free time may be visible to your bosses. Anyone with a cellphone can capture your strong words or rude gestures and make you suddenly (in)famous on the internet.

It will be interesting to see where this lawsuit goes. Do you think political speech or personal opinions while you are off duty should be protected? Or should employers be able to fire workers for free speech that results in backlash against the company?

This blog was originally published at the Passman & Kaplan blog on April 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

Slate column asks readers to see the ‘upside’ of sexual harassment in the office

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Two months ago, a wave of allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein opened the door to a reckoning. In recent weeks, victims have spoken candidly about their abuse at the hands of powerful men, including Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and Roy Moore, just to name a few.

When one woman used the hashtag #MeToo to share her own experience, there were more than 12 million Facebook posts and comments with the same tag within just 24 hours.

For the first time, some (though certainly not all) abusers are facing consequences, being fired from jobs, having their shows pulled off the air, being removed from films. Women, newly assured they are not alone, are telling their stories more often and more publicly than ever before.

On Tuesday, Slate published another example of a powerful person abusing that power and thus endangering women in the workplace.

“When I was 23 years old, my boss would look down the gap at the waistband of my jeans when he walked past my desk,” Slate’s executive editor Allison Benedikt wrote. “I was an entry-level fact-checker at my first magazine job, and he was an older and more powerful editor. My career, at the time, was in his hands.”

The essay, at its start, reads like a lot of the personal stories women have bravely shared in recent weeks. Benedikt, one suspects, is adding her voice to that chorus. Instead, she goes on to describe how her boss asked her out for a drink one night at a “dark bar,” which led to more dates, a kiss, and, eventually, a marriage and three children.

Benedikt, understandably, writes that she has been thinking back about the origins of her marriage in recent weeks. But she goes on to use her personal experience to diminish the experiences of women bravely coming forward and pushing us, as a culture, to address the tight grip of rape culture on all facets of our lives, including and especially the workplace.

Benedikt writes that she has heard how horrific allegations of sexual assault and harassment have piled up alongside what she calls “murkier stories of older men ‘forcibly kissing’ younger women who didn’t want to be kissed, men planting ‘unexpected’ kisses on female colleagues, [and] men being ‘creepy AF’ in Twitter DMs.”

That Benedikt is so quick to write off the experiences of other women, to think that only horrific assaults are the problem, is dangerous. By writing it, Benedikt — and Slate, by choosing to publish it — is endangering the women in her workplace.

As the executive editor of a large publication, she’s signaling, from a powerful position in a large newsroom, that she’s comfortable writing off reports of unwanted advances as “murky.”

And her only justification for doing so is her own experience. Benedikt wonders in the essay, had she not been interested in her husband’s advances, would that have been harassment? Was it harassment even though she was, because he was her boss?

She answers those questions, writing, “Today, many people seem to think the answer is yes.” Because it is.

It was all okay, in her eyes, because she was attracted to her then-boss and future husband. But “attraction” is not the currency of harassment. Power is.

Last week, NBC fired Today Show host Matt Lauer following sexual harassment complaints from women at the network. Former talk show host, Celebrity Apprentice contestant, and current Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera defended Lauer on Twitter, tweeting, “News is a flirty business.”

The tweet — rightfully — set off a firestorm of criticism and Rivera eventually apologized. But on Tuesday, when Benedikt made the same argument, dressed up by a “liberal” outlet, she was showered with praise. Her essay was ripe with the same incredulous tone as an Associated Press story from Monday headlined, “In wake of Weinstein, men wonder if hugging women still OK.” How, the men and Benedikt ask, can we find love now? How can we find sex now? Will we be reprimanded, even fired, for workplace interactions that used to seem okay?

Benedikt is asking the wrong questions. She ought to ask: What about women who don’t reject advances from their boss out of fear of retribution — a desire to please their boss to keep their job?

Many people, in the midst of the reckoning, have looked back at previous interactions in a new light, perhaps reconsidering whether both parties consented or whether it crossed a line. But Benedikt’s essay reads as a justification for the origins of her marriage and a public declaration that, despite holding a prominent role in a prominent newsroom, she is sympathetic to powerful men crossing lines with young women whom they supervise.

It’s a public declaration of how Benedikt may handle a report of sexual harassment in the workplace. She may say, as she wrote in her column, “[W]e all make each other uncomfortable sometimes, particularly when sex and attraction are involved.”

The reckoning is bringing with it new standards: Don’t look down the gap at the waistband of your employee’s jeans when you walk past. Don’t abuse positions of power. Treat women like they’re people.

The new rules are not complicated, but for so many people, even “liberals” and women, those standards—unbelievably—seem too high. Choosing to declare as much from a position of power isn’t adding anything to the conversation. It’s dangerous.

This piece was originally published at ThinkProgress on December 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Addy Baird is a reporter for ThinkProgress on the news cycle team. Previously, she covered local politics and health policy at POLITICO New York and worked for The Charlie Rose Show digital team.

What Do Roger Ailes & Charlie Sheen Have in Common? Both Wanted to Hide Alleged Abuse of Women

Friday, July 15th, 2016

paulblandLast week, longtime Fox News anchor and host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, alleging that he sexually harassed her in the workplace. Within a day, Ailes and his lawyers asked a court to force the case into arbitration, under a special gag order that would block anyone from publicly disclosing any of the evidence in the case or the outcome of the arbitration.

The lawsuit alleges that Ailes sabotaged Carlson’s career after she “refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.” Her complaint, which can be found here, alleges that her time at Fox News was riddled with Ailes’s inappropriate references to his own sexual history and marital issues and juxtaposed with a vocal interest in Carlson as a sexual partner. Ms. Carlson further alleges that Ailes used his power against her when she denied his advances, taking several steps that culminated in her being dismissed.

According to Fox News and Ailes, none of this is true. But instead of welcoming the chance to vindicate themselves in court, they want to move the case to a secret arbitrator.

Just Like Charlie?  Just after the news came out that Charlie Sheen was HIV positive, and he publicly admitted having unprotected sex with at least a couple of partners after his diagnosis, another revelation was widely reported: he’d been requiring visitors to his home to sign arbitration clauses with confidentiality provisions. And Sheen admitted on TV that he had paid “millions” to settle claims relating to his HIV status. These revelations created a very serious possibility:  that the secrecy of his arbitration clause made it possible for him to engage in risky behavior, then pay off injured women in secret proceedings, and then repeat the whole thing. When you look at the contracts guests to his home were required to sign it’s sort of bizarre, but the upshot of the arbitration ploy was pretty much the same as it is in the Roger Ailes case: it’s a way for a powerful man to impose a shroud of secrecy over allegations of serious mistreatment of women.

And these are not the only two cases involving this kind of allegation. Today’s New York Times reports how Ailes’ effort to force Ms. Carlson into arbitration is reminiscent of the actions of the infamous former head of American Apparel, Dov Charney, who was able to force a number of cases involving allegations of sexual harassment into secret arbitration.

Secrecy as the Driving Force. From the perspective of an employee, there’s a lot not to like about being forced to sign an arbitration clause as a condition of keeping your job, or applying for a job. For one thing, as the Washington Post reported, a substantial scholarly study of many thousands of arbitration cases (and a comparable pool of court cases) discovered that workers are less likely to win cases in arbitration than they would be in court, and that when workers do recover some kind of award in arbitration, that their recoveries tend to be pretty dramatically lower than they would have been in court.

But in the Ailes case, there’s something else afoot as well. While arbitration is always far more shadowy than the public court system (it’s generally incredibly hard for a journalist or member of the public to get copies of pleadings or evidence put before an arbitrator, for example, unless one of the parties to the case send the materials to them; arbitrators often don’t issue public opinions; etc.), the Fox News arbitration clause has a specific and broadly written gag order that goes far beyond the typical arbitration clause. And in Ailes’ pleadings in a New Jersey federal court, trying to force the case into arbitration, he and his lawyers specifically complain that Ms. Carlson’s allegations have become a matter of widespread public discussion. The conclusion of Mr. Ailes’ brief stresses that arbitration is necessary to make sure that the case cannot “sully his reputation in public,” apparently without respect to whether the actual facts would justify harm to his reputation. The point is not a search for the truth and exoneration; it’s to shut Ms. Carlson up.

Hypocrisy About Transparency:  As a news organization, Fox has repeatedly called for transparency with respect to all sorts of allegations against important public figures.  For example, Fox is very jacked up to try to break up an alleged “cover up” with respect to Secretary Clinton’s emails. And Fox was extremely interested in trying to make sure that every fact came out about allegations of problems at the World Bank.

But when it comes to allegations that relate to their own chairman, they seem to be awfully keen on making sure that the evidence of the case – in moving it to arbitration – be kept secret from the public.  If the case proceeded in the public court system, by contrast, then the actual truth – whether it’s good for Ailes and Fox or not – would come out.

So What Happens Now? It turns out, as the New York Times explained in some detail, that there’s a good chance that Ailes’ strategy won’t work.  Ms. Carlson has a number of good arguments against the enforcement of the arbitration clause, perhaps most notably that Mr. Ailes is not a party to the arbitration clause or named in it.

But if Ailes does succeed, then not only is Ms. Carlson less likely to win her case, but the American public and women in the workplace will be the losers. Because once again, a powerful man accused of mistreating women in the workplace will have been able to sweep all of the facts about the dispute under the big rug of forced arbitration. It’s easy to see why every significant civil rights organization or group that advocates for workers strongly opposes the use of forced arbitration in the work place, and they all keep urging the Congress to ban these clauses.

This piece was co-written with Kenda Tucker, Communications Intern at Public Justice.

This blog originally appeared on dailykos.com on July 14, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy. Follow him on Twitter: .

New Study Reveals Just How Brutal Meat and Poultry Work Is for Workers

Friday, May 27th, 2016

elizabeth grossmanThe meat and poultry industry remains exceptionally dangerous, despite a decline in reported injuries and illnesses over the past 10 years, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. Further, says the report, the injury and illness rates reflected in Department of Labor numbers are significantly underreported. As a result, these figures do not fully represent what is actually happening within this industry that employs about 526,000—including many recent immigrants and noncitizens. The report also found evidence of workers being denied proper medical treatment on the job and that they often fail to report injuries for fear it will cost them their jobs.

Released Wednesday by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), the report notes that working conditions in the industry have not improved substantially since the GAO examined the industry in 2005. Workers in poultry and meat processing plants, says the report, “continue to face the hazardous conditions the GAO cited in 2005, including tasks associated with musculoskeletal disorders, exposure to chemicals and pathogens and traumatic injuries from machines and tools.”

“Today’s report makes clear that workers still face hazardous conditions that put their health and safety in jeopardy,” said Senator Murray on a call with reporters. “In our country every worker should be able to earn a living with dignity and without worrying that their work will make them sick or injured,” she said.

“The pain never really went away. It just went up my arms and elbows,” said former Nebraska meatpacking work Jose Gaytan on the call. “The work speeds of the plant were so fast that my hands would swell up and lock up,” he said. Gaytan described how the plant processed 1500 to 1800 head of cattle a day, so that each worker processed 250 to 300 “loins” per day—each about 80 pounds of “frozen cow meat and bones” —or almost one per minute. There were “falls slips, burns and cuts and crippling injuries to co-workers,” said Gayton. “I saw two different saw operators cut off fingers because the line was coming too fast,” he said.

Line speed is a huge problem in these plants where poultry workers typically handle 30 or more turkeys and 100 or more chickens a minute.

Omar Hassan, who worked at a Jennie-O turkey plant in Minnesota for over two-and-a-half years described how when he came back to work after a finger and shoulder industry with a doctor’s note saying he could not do the same level of work as before, the company refused to accommodate him. “I tried talking them into placing me on light duty,” he said. But the company refused, “and they fired me after that,” said Hassan, speaking on the call through an interpreter who translated from Somali.

Also contributing to the injury undercount, says the GAO, is that injuries and illnesses suffered by workers hired through labor contractors may not be properly accounted for. Contributing to these problems is the industry’s high turnover rate—“often 100 percent or more annually,” said Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney Sarah Rich.

Poultry and meat plant workers often include “refugees, undocumented immigrants and prisoners,” said Rich. These workers, she said are “often fired and treated as disposable by these companies.” And all this contributes to “a climate of fear that prevents workers from speaking out,” she said.

Musculoskeletal disorders rampant in meat and poultry processing but underreported

The GAO also reports that injuries included in official records cover only those for which workers took time off. This means they fail to account for many of the musculoskeletal disorders that are widespread throughout the industry.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that musculoskeletal disorders account for many of the injuries that create a serious injury rate for the meat and poultry processing industry that is more than 3 times higher than other U.S. industries. In a 2015 report, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found 81 percent of the poultry plant jobs it evaluated exceeded recommended limits for hand activity and that 34 percent of employees had symptoms qualifying as carpel tunnel syndrome.

“We should have no confidence about industry’s assertions about their injury rates,” says Celeste Monforton, professorial lecturer in occupational and environmental health at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. She describes a NIOSH investigation finding that a Maryland poultry plant logbooks showed only four cases of carpel tunnel syndrome over four years while NIOSH found 18 workers with those injuries at the same plant.

She also described an OSHA Alabama poultry plant investigation that found a worker who was seen 94 times by a company nurse before being referred to a physician for treatment. “The industry games the system,” says Monforton, explaining that first aid is not recorded in company logs.

Well-documented history of high hazard

“The GAO report reinforces and validates reports released by independent groups for over ten years,” says Rich, listing reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Oxfam America, by Alabama Appleseed, Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Centerand others as well as investigations by NIOSH and OSHA.

“We uncovered many of the same issues the GAO has now confirmed. Workers have told us about the same conditions that the GAO detailed in their report today,” Oxfam America senior advocacy advisor Oliver Gottfried told reporters. In addition to denial of medical care, fear of retaliation, and lack of reporting on industry logs, Oxfam America has recently reported on how poultry plant workers’ are denied adequate bathroom bathroom breaks.

Speaking in Hmong, through an interpreter, a Tyson foods poultry plant worker called May, explained that the company only allows her to use the bathroom twice per night. “That is not enough for people,” says May, who works cutting meat. She also described how people who work close to meat get chemicals sprayed on their hands and face.

In stark contrast to the report’s details, the meat industry seized on the GAO report’s note of the decline in reported injury rates—from 9.8 cases per 100 workers in 2004 to 5.7 cases per 100 workers in 2013.

The report, “highlights the greatly improved worker safety record of the meat and poultry industry over the last 10 years,” said the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) in a statement. “There is always room for improvement and we will look closely at the GAO recommendations to see how they can best be implemented in the industry,” said NAMI president and CEO Barry Carpenter.

“We are pleased to see the report emphasizes the fact that injuries and illnesses have decreased dramatically in the poultry processing industry over the past several years,” said the National Chicken Council in its statement. “Perhaps more than any other industry, the poultry industry has focused its energies on the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses, especially musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) like carpal tunnel syndrome,” said the council.

So what happens next? 

Sen. Murray voiced support for OSHA’s new rule that will provide workers with more protection from retaliation against injury reporting and improve OSHA’s access such records. “In our country every worker should be able to earn a living with dignity and without worrying that their work will make them sick or injured,” said Murray.

“We’re taking it to the public,” Berkowitz tells In These Times. “Consumers have a tremendous influence on this industry,” she says. “We are hoping consumers are starting to take a look … at the inhumane conditions of workers and that industry has to respond by lifting standards.”

And Gottfied says reporting on industry conditions is already prompting workers to seek help in speaking out about workplace health and safety.

This blog was originally posted on inthesetimes.org on May 27, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones,Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

Woman sues Walmart after being told to 'choose between her career and her kids,' then fired

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Women filing discrimination lawsuits against Walmart are nothing new. Walmart firing people for questionable and controversial reasons is also nothing new. Now a woman is suing the low-wage retail giant, saying she was fired after complaining about discriminatory treatment. Specifically, Rebecca Wolfinger says her boss told her she had to “choose between her career and her kids.”

Wolfinger’s suit focuses on what she claims was her mistreatment while working as a shift manager. She was being required to work seven days a week when she received the “career or kids” threat, she contends.

Other male shift managers weren’t on a seven-day work schedule, Wolfinger claims. Her February 2012 firing occurred after she reported her boss’ comment to a company human resource officer, the suit states.

Wolfinger was officially fired, she says, for selling Pampered Chef outside of work—but coworkers who engaged in similar activities weren’t fired. And of course a sophisticated company like Walmart doesn’t admit to having fired someone for complaining about illegal discrimination.

Several years ago, 1.5 million women who worked or had worked at Walmart attempted a class action lawsuit against the company, only to have the Supreme Court say that “[e]ven if every single one of these accounts is true, that would not demonstrate that the entire company operate[s] under a general policy of discrimination.” That’s despite evidence like this:

Many female Walmart employees have been paid less than male coworkers. In 2001, female workers earned $5,200 less per year on average than male workers. The company paid those who had hourly jobs, where the average yearly earnings were $18,000, $1.16 less per hour ($1,100 less per year) than men in the same position. Female employees who held salaried positions with average yearly earnings of $50,000 were paid $14,500 less per year than men in the same position. Despite this gap in wages, female Walmart employees on average have longer tenure and higher performance ratings.

Doubtless all just a coincidence, though. Just like Rebecca Wolfinger was coincidentally fired for something that other workers did after she reported being discriminated against.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com/blog/labor on January 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is the Daily Kos contributing editor and has been since December 2006.  She has also been the labor editor since 2011.

Thanks to Labor Board Ruling, You Can Now Use Company Email to Organize a Union

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

This week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision and a rule that could make organizing a union significantly easier for American workers.

First, yesterday the Board recognized that email is one of the primary ways that workers communicate, and that its case law and election rules needed to reflect this reality. The NLRB issued a landmark decision in Purple Communications which opens the door to allowing workers to use employers’ email systems for union purposes—and admitted that it had misunderstood in previous cases how email works. In doing so, it overturned a Bush-era Board decision, Register Guard, which allowed employers to prohibit use of company email for non-work related purposes, including organizing and union purposes, unless the employer can show special circumstances that justify specific restrictions.

In the 2007 decision, the Labor Board analogized email to other employer equipment—such as bulletin boards, telephones, photocopiers and televisions—and found that the employer had a “basic property right to regulate and restrict employee use of company property.” In dissent, Members Liebman and Walsh criticized the Board, stating that the decision “confirms that the NLRB has become the Rip Van Winkle of administrative agencies. Only a Board that has been asleep for the past 20 years could fail to recognize that e-mail has revolutionized communication both within and outside the workplace.”

Recognizing the changing nature of the workplace, Liebman and Walsh explained that email was becoming the new water cooler, and that the Board fundamentally misunderstood how email systems work. In a passage that reads almost as if written by a millennial to her out of touch grandparents, the two members explained in basic terms to the Board majority the difference between emails and more traditional communication media: “If a union notice is posted on a bulletin board, the amount of space available for the employer to post its messages is reduced. If an employee is using a telephone for Section 7 or other nonwork-related purposes, that telephone line is unavailable for others to use.”

Emails, they explained, were different, because many employees could use the system simultaneously, subject lines clue the employee into whether to read or dispose of the message, and the marginal cost for an email is almost zero.

Yesterday, the Board vindicated Liebman and Walsh’s dissent and held that the majority’s 2007 decision was “clearly incorrect,” and that it “undervalued employees’ core Section 7 [of the National Labor Relations Act] right to communicate in the workplace about their terms and conditions of employment, while giving too much weight to employers’ property rights.” Therefore, employees who have access to work email can use the email system on nonwork time to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment and engage in other organization activity.

In correcting itself yesterday, the Labor Board finally recognized the central place that digital communications has in workers’ lives. The Board recognized that email is different than other employee equipment, and that most employers tolerate the personal use of employer email. Furthermore, the number of employees that “telework” has grown exponentially, with an expected 63 million employees teleworking by 2016. Recent surveys have found that approximately one third of employees report that their employer expects them to stay in touch outside of working hours and 69% frequently or occasionally check their email outside of normal working hours.

Taking these new realities to heart, the Board concluded that email was less like a photocopy machine as it was a “new natural gathering place and a forum in which coworkers who share common interests will seek to persuade fellow workers in matters affecting their union organizational life and other matters related to their status as employees.” In shifting from an equipment analysis to an analysis that recognizes emails as a basic form of communication, the Board finally recognized the ubiquity of emails and the ways in which employer limitations effect workers’ associational rights.

And the Board doubled-down on recognizing the realities of modern communications this morning in a much-anticipated final rule that significantly changes union election procedures. The new rule includes a number of significant benefits for workers who are organizing, including postponing employer litigation over union election issues until after the election takes place to eliminating the waiting period between the time when an election is ordered and when it occurs (the time when many bosses carry out their union-busting campaigns through tactics like firings or threats of closing down a workplace).

But perhaps the most overdue change is the modernization of the “Excelsior List” rules. Prior to today’s rule, employers were required to turn over to the union an Excelsior List, which contained the names and home addresses of workers within seven days after a union election is ordered, so that the union can effectively communicate with all the workers it seeks to represent.

The new rule requires the employer to also turn over any employee email addresses and telephone numbers it possess, and shortens the amount of time management has to turn over the list to two days.

The week’s decisions are two long overdue correctives and will hopefully restore some of workers’ basic rights on the job. Given the bad news for workers from the Supreme Court earlier this week, the correctives are certainly welcome.

This blog originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com December 12,2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17442/company_email_union

About the author: Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.

11 Scrooge Approved Employee Motivation Ideas You Should Never Use

Monday, December 24th, 2012

What is the #1 way to increase motivation in the workplace? Well, we have our pet motivational theories and ideas, but we wanted to explore some of the horrible, terrible, Scrooge-approved ideas that are still floating around in the year 2012.

But back to the bad ideas. We gathered some stories from around the internet and our own personal experiences, and compiled a list of 11 Scrooge-Approved Employee Motivation Ideas You Should Never Use.

11. Be thankful you have a job

Love this one, because it’s super motivating and also a veiled threat! One employee who works at a bank relayed this story:

My employer had a manager’s meeting this afternoon. One of the things they went over was trying to get us to be more motivated. They handed out a sheet of paper and one of the bullets/topics they went over was that “We should be thankful that we have jobs and that we work here (bank) due to the economy.”

Alright! Now, anyone who is not extra motivated and working really hard to show how much you deserve this rare and elusive job, please show yourself out the door.

10. Giving orders to the minions

The days of top-down, military style management where the managers bark out orders to the workers is long gone. Or is it? There are still plenty of industries that operate this way, using micromanagement and threats to get employees in line. To these leaders, an intrinsically motivated and highly productive workforce seems idealistic and naive. Here’s a real-life quote from a retail worker:

As someone who works in a giant retail store full of dozens of managers, the managers who cooperate with me see the greatest amount of productivity from me. I’ll work way harder than what is expected of me because I enjoy feeling productive. The managers who want to build up a wall where they don’t have to cooperate with me and simply give orders…I’ll literally trick them into thinking I’ve done a lot of work by manipulating their system and then I take triple cig breaks and just sit around all day…

9. Criticize and abuse

Your employees don’t need encouragement. No one likes to be praised or told they’re good at what they do. Just keep pointing out the mistakes, making people feel bad about their work, and offering no support or constructive feedback. That’ll do the trick!

One employee writes (hilariously):

A truly Machiavellian master can abuse and personally insult people into having something to prove, driving them to work harder. While an increase in workforce intelligence is not guaranteed, your victims will move faster and try to be perfect out of sheer fear. It helps if you maintain the image of omniscience and practice walking up behind people when they’re not looking.

I’ve had bosses like that. I did not know it wasn’t normal until I got a job where the management wasn’t a reincarnation of Vlad the Impaler.

8. Blaming your lazy employees for not being motivated

Maybe you think your employees are useless. You try so hard to motivate them and nothing works – they’re just lazy, lazy employees! Here’s one manager’s response to how he tried to motivate employees:

In the end, [none of my motivation techniques] worked for an extended period of time and I got tired of trying to motivate people. I have always had a great work ethic and an ability to increase my own efficiency pretty drastically, which is how I ended up managing, but I finally gave up, did the work myself, and waited for the rare times on the big jobs where my guys realized what lazy pieces of crap they were for watching me do ten times the work they were doing and stepped up for a day to help out. I have no interest in managing people ever again. If I couldn’t do it with my efficiency-oriented mind and pretty much unlimited freedom to reward in any way I wanted then I know it’s just something I can’t do. I suspect I would have gotten better results with the rod than the carrot. Motivation through fear may not be ideal but I doubt those type of managers are doing the work themselves.

Wow. I think he pretty much nailed it when he said, “I know it’s just something I can’t do.” Blaming your employees for not being motivated or productive, and just doing the work yourself or giving up is not the solution.

7. Financial incentives

Financial motivation can be both a good and a bad employee motivation technique. It all depends on the approach. Since we’re focusing on the bad in this post, let’s see how the wrong approach to compensation incentives can backfire. The pros at Vision Link Advisory Group say this:

Most companies are disappointed in the results they get from their incentive plans because they use them in one or more of the following ways:

“Carrot and Stick” approach to motivation
Means of changing behavior
Getting people to do things they don’t want to do
Motivating people to “do the right thing”
6. The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle is commonly phrased, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” Does your company suffer from this phenomenon? Writer Oliver Thereaux says on his blog post “Why Most Managers Suck”:

Of course…any company with a hierarchy [is prone to the Peter Principle]. The main reason is that “promotion” in our industrial society, generally means “You’re really good and experienced at your job? Now stop doing it and start managing a bunch of people”.

He then shares a quote from an architect at a small tech company who, when asked about the structure of his organization, said “Everybody codes here, except for the accountant and the CEO. The latter used to code, but he was so bad at it, we made him in charge of everything else.”

Promoting employees up the ladder is a well-known employee motivation theory. But, as the poor guy in #4 will testify, not everyone is cut out to be a manager! Managing is hard…but doesn’t have to be if you’re focused on the right things.

5. Overtime

No matter how much overtime you pay your employees, eventually your tired workforce will get burned out and become completely unmotivated. Expecting your employees to work insane hours, not take vacations, and deal with constant stress is a recipe for poor production and high turnover. One young man asks for advice about helping his dad:

My father is working at a company that is requiring him to work overtime almost every day. He gets home and then they call him back. They keep threatening him that if he doesn’t do it then they will find someone who can (meaning firing him). He doesn’t have a problem with getting paid or anything like that and he’s definitely willing to work some overtime but they are just expecting him to work way too many hours.

4. Bad goals and annual reviews

Employees are not motivated by the notion that their hard work will make company owners and executives rich, organizational change consultant Paul Levesque writes on Entrepreneur. Are your employees aligned around an ultimate outcome or goal that makes them feel proud to work at your company? When individual goals, management goals, and company goals are not in alignment, you’ll see groups and individuals working against each other. Couple bad goals with rewarding effort vs. outcomes for a truly demotivating good time.

3. Convoluted mission statements

Example: It is the mission of ABC Car Gadgets to provide personal vehicle owners and enthusiasts with the vehicle related products and knowledge that fulfill their wants and needs at the right price. Our friendly, professional staff will help inspire, educate and problem solve for our customers.

That’s a great statement and, if true, the customer will be happy and the company will make money. However it’s quite a mouthful and not something you can easily repeat or rally around. No one gets up in the morning and says to themselves, “Today I’m going to provide personal vehicle owners and enthusiasts with the vehicle related products and knowledge that fulfills their wants and needs at the right price . . . Hooray!”

2. Flexibility and other gimmicks

Or as we like to say, “Flexibility is the new F word.” No matter which way you slice it, flexible work programs fail. Why is that? Because managers hate “managing flexibility” (oxymoron!) and employees are wary of when, how, and if they should even use flexibility options.

Here’s a recent example of the failure of flexibility programs at Bank of America. We predicted the fall of this program when it began seven years ago. Now, we know there are many factors that play into B of A’s decision to cut flexbility and remote work programs. But our take is quite simple: programs focused on flexibility will always, always fail because they aren’t focused on results.

1. Ignoring intrinsic motivation

All of the above to say this…if you find yourself banging your head against the wall with employee motivation programs, gimmicks, rewards, incentives, perks, benefits, raises, promotions, all without success, then maybe you’re ignoring the basics. Those of you who have read Drive by Daniel Pink are aware of his endorsement of Results-Only Work Environment. In this TED Talk, Pink talks in detail about what actually motivates us and how most businesses don’t act in accordance with what the science tells us about intrinsic motivation.

This post was originally posted on ROWE on December 23, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jody Thompson is a co-founder of CultureRx and creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Her first book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, was named “The Year’s Best Book on Work-Life Balance” by Business Week. Cali and Jody (the co-founders of ROWE) have been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC and CNN.

Cali & Jody are nationally recognized keynote speakers and have presented to numerous Fortune 500 companies and prominent trade associations. Cali & Jody created ROWE based on the belief that the traditional solution of flexible schedules is not the answer to managing life’s many twists and turns. Bottom line? Work sucks. So they’re on a mission to fix it. Today, Cali & Jody are leading a global movement to forever change the way we work and live.

To Meet, or Not to Meet: Why All Meetings Should Be Optional

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

 Meetings. They look like work. They feel like work.  They smell like work.  There’s nothing like getting the team around a conference table, batting around random thoughts to make sure everyone is on the same page. And, you never know when a good topic or idea will mightily rise up out of conference table dust!

A study by career site Salary.com on workplace time drains found that “Too many meetings” was the No. 1 time-waster at the office, cited by 47% of 3,164 workers, up from 42% in 2008.

I once worked at a large corporation where our team had a full-day, recurring mandatory meeting every month. Everyone on the team was expected to attend. It was meant to get everyone motivated and on the same page, and was a meeting that a consultant suggested would help us collaborate, build closer relationships and share pertinent updated information. It was a way for leadership to be visible to inspire, guide and motivate us. And not attending the meeting created so much guilt, you’d never even think of skipping out.

Recurring meetings can be — and often are — huge time wasters. They create a block of time that you and your colleagues must then fill, in some way.

For the two days preceding the big mandatory meeting, everyone was either 1) running around like crazy trying to prepare what they had to present, pinging off all other team members like a pinball machine on steroids interrupting the real work or 2) dreading the upcoming mandatory meeting and beginning to fake ‘coming down with a cold’ so that if they didn’t attend, they could pull the ‘I was ill’ card.

Wait. How can it be mandatory if you can use certain excuses to get out of it?

I took notice of who didn’t attend one of these meetings. I knew that these people were ‘in the office’, but for some reason weren’t present in that room. What gives, I wondered? I thought it was mandatory. So I boldly asked a couple of these suspiciously absent people why they didn’t attend (my bad – since they were my superiors). They answered by informing me that they had to attend to customer needs. Really? So did a lot of the rest of us in the mandatory meeting who didn’t have the hierarchical weight to use that excuse.

Two acceptable excuses for missing a mandatory meeting:

  1. I’m sick (called in sick or at workstation sick, and don’t want to pass germs to everyone in the meeting . . . cough, cough)
  2. I’m taking care of business (i.e., important enough to get a free pass)

The two days after the mandatory meeting there was a flurry of complaining, lamenting and teeth-gnashing about how much time we wasted in it – and the lack of value it added to our work. We contemplated how we could get out of the next one. But whether we were spending time in the meeting or just complaining about it, the one thing we weren’t doing was working.

So there were basically five days where we experienced a serious loss of productivity: two days before while we scrambled to get ready, one day to meet, and two days to complain. Let’s do the math*. There were approximately 200 people invited to the mandatory full-day meeting monthly, with an average salary of $50,000.  If all 200 attended, the salary cost for one day was $38,461.  Now do that each month for 12 months and the salary cost is a whopping$461,532.

And this math didn’t account for the productivity loss both during and the four days surrounding the meeting. It didn’t represent the cost for the room, continental breakfast, mid-morning snacks, boxed lunches, mid-afternoon snacks and continuously flowing beverages.

Now that’s just one meeting per month with 200 people.  Think of all the meetings going on day after day, hour after hour with resources who agree that 30 – 80% is wasted time – er, money. And no amount of meeting effectiveness trainings or lists of meeting protocols has fixed it. In decades.

Some organizations have tried to fix the overwhelming amount of meetings by designating a period of time where no meetings should take place, say ‘No Meeting Thursdays’. The challenge is that the culture still believes that meetings are necessary to get work done, collaborate, communicate, etcetera. So these organizations simply hold more meetings on the remaining four days; or, people have forbidden, “secret meetings” on no-meetings day.  A no meeting day is a technical fix to a deeper problem.

Yet it’s possible to remedy this broken relic from the days of yore once and for all. All you have do is:

Make every meeting optional. 

Even the mandatory ones, or those where the organizer is the VP, manager, or some other hierarchically important person. Status update meetings are optional. Stand-up morning meetings are optional (yes, we’ve worked with clients that are also working with the Agile methodology). Staff meetings are, too.

The problem is poor planning, believing all the stuff we believe about meetings that isn’t true, and accepting meeting mediocrity. It’s politics, posturing and positioning — and it’s a big fat waste of time.  It gives the person scheduling the meeting ultimate control. Besides, it’s not polite to decline a meeting we think is going to be a colossal waste of time, right?

Wrong.

Think about meeting math again. It’s our job to do our jobs. And part of that is–or should be–utilizing resources effectively and not wasting them. The task of having a productive meeting falls first in the hands of the person calling it.

Before scheduling a meeting, every meeting organizer should answer the following:

  1. What do I need exactly?
  2. Is what I need relevant to the outcome I or the people I’m working with are trying to achieve?
  3. Is having a meeting (IM, SKYPE, on-line meeting, conference call, in-person meeting) the best way to get what I need?
  4. Is there a more effective way to get what I need that uses everyone’s time more effectively?
  5. Who is an integral part of helping me get what I need?

If you determine that yes — the best way to get what you need is by holding some sort of meeting — then it’s up to you to convince the people/person you are inviting that it’s a good use of their time, too. They’re not just going to blindly accept your meetings anymore.

Meetings are one thing: a tool to get to results. If the tool is not doing the job of getting you to results, you’re using the wrong tool — over and over and over. It’s just like using a screwdriver when it’s a hammer you need. Using a screwdriver for a hammer’s job will get you suboptimal–or worse, no–results in addition to wasting time and creating frustration. Forcing people through a strong-arm management style (that meeting is mandatory!) to use the wrong tool to get the job done is poor management of the work.

Originally posted on ROWE on Monday, October 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jody Thompson is one of the Founders of CultureRx and one of the creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Her first book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, co-written with Cali Ressler, was named “The Year’s Best Book on Work-Life Balance” by Business Week. They have been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC and CNN.

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