The competition between companies attempting to attract and keep qualified workers has taken an interesting turn. The Minneapolis-based marketing firm Nina Hale recently added “Fur-ternity Leave” to their list of benefits. The company is now allowing employees a week to work from home after they adopt a new cat or dog, so that the animal can adjust to the new home environment. Continue reading
Earlier this month, the President proclaimed October 2012 National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The observance is intended to raise awareness about disability employment issues and to celebrate the contributions of our country’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?”
In conjunction with NDEAM, he U.S. Department of Labor has launched an online Workplace Flexibility Toolkit to “provide employees, job seekers, employers, policymakers and researchers with information, resources and a unique approach to workplace flexibility.”
According to the U.S. DOL, the toolkit “points visitors to case studies, fact and tip sheets, issue briefs, reports, articles, websites with additional information, other related toolkits and a list of frequently asked questions. It is searchable by type of resource, target audience and types of workplace flexibility, including place, time and task.”
A law first proposed by the late Senator Ted Kennedy has been resurrected and introduced in the Senate by Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The law mirrors legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in March 2009 which, to date, has gone nowhere. Premised on the purported need of employees to have more flexible work options, it authorizes an employee to request from an employer a change in the terms or conditions of the employee’s employment if the request relates to: (1) the number of hours the employee is required to work; (2) the times when the employee is required to work; or (3) where the employee is required to work.
The proposal does not require the employer to grant any requests, but does set forth employer duties with respect to such requests, and makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with any rights provided to an employee under the Act. Under regulations to be promulgated by the Secretary of Labor, an employer would have to hold a meeting with the requesting employee and give the employee a written decision on the request, discussing the reason for any rejection and addressing a prescribed list of possible explanations. An employee would be entitled to request reconsideration and the employer would be required to provide a written response to that request as well. In short, it would create an unnecessary paperwork nightmare.
The proposed law also authorizes an employee to file a complaint with the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration of the Department of Labor for any alleged violations of rights, and provides for the investigation and assessment of civil penalties or the award of relief for alleged violations.
The timing of its introduction suggests that S. 3840 is a political ploy. In view of the current mood of the populace, passage of the legislation is, to put it mildly, a longshot.
The trial in a class-action lawsuit alleging that Novartis Pharmaceuticals practiced sex discrimination against female employees has begun in a federal court in New York. The class of plaintiffs includes more than 5,600 saleswomen, who are seeking $200 million in damages. According to the New York Times, the suit alleges discriminatory pay and promotions targeting women, particularly pregnant ones. Continue reading
Workplace flexibility has been a hot topic, a highlight of which was President Obama’s White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, televised earlier this week. The forum was designed as an opportunity for labor leaders, CEOs, small business owners, and policy experts to share their ideas and strategies for making the workplace more flexible for workers and their families. During the conference, the President compared flexible work schedules to the early stages of email: some companies have it, some don’t, but eventually, all companies will. Get ready employers – if you haven’t gotten aboard yet, the train may run you over!
With healthcare out of the way, the administration is freed up to focus on other priorities. During the campaign, then-candidate Obama included work-life issues as an important part of his agenda, committing to expand FMLA, to prevent caregiver discrimination, and to offer incentives to employers to expand flexible work arrangements. The forum indicates that work-life issues remain a focus of this administration. Although the Obamas now have a personal chef, chauffeurs, and other assistance to make their “balance” a little easier, I am sure that Michelle’s experience managing a demanding career and raising her two girls has helped to ensure this issue remains on the President’s radar screen.
The discussion has taken different varied focuses over the years, but the bottom line is this: for many reasons, in order to retain employees in the modern workforce, employers have to reinvent the old model of an ideal worker. Flexible work schedules are over and over again focused on as the reasonable way to accommodate the needs of both employer and employee. The impetus for employers to engage in this discussion has evolved a bit over the years.
First, employers were interested in the topic primarily due to the economics of investment in skilled workforce (particularly professional women), who often left the job because unable to balance their work and family responsibilities. Then Gen Y came along, with both males and females placing a greater value on “down” time, whether with family or pursuing other activities. Gen Y consistently ranks workplace flexibility among the most desirable employment benefits. With the economic downturn, the discussion turned to how flexible schedules could immediately help the bottom line (4-day workweeks, voluntary reduction in hours for reduction in pay, etc.).
Law and politics have not shied away from the discussion: both Republican and Democratic administrations have made important advancements to the cause of work-life balance. In 2007, the EEOC under the Bush administration issued it Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities. In 2009, Obama’s administration issued Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities, which focused primarily on flexible work arrangements. The White House Forum has work-life balance advocates everywhere eager to see what will come next!
See these related posts for more about work-life balance:
Flexible work schedules come in every shape and size. Job sharing is just one type of work arrangement that offers employees flexibility and, in turn, the opportunity for an approved work-life balance. But what exactly is job sharing? It’s just what sounds like–employees share job duties as a way to reduce each person’s job duties. Essentially, job sharing is a type of part-time work. It involves two or more workers who are responsible for the duties and tasks of one full-time position.
Some job shares are set up so that each employee handles specific duties. Other job shares have a less formal division of duties. In either set up, the employees coordinate their schedules so that the regular “shift” is always covered. When one job sharer is not working, the other is. There is usually some overlap in scheduling to enable the sharers to communicate. The division of time can be split evenly but any assignment can be successful.
The most basic requirement for potential job sharers is a well-honed sense of teamwork. An employee who tends to be controlling of his or her duties may have difficulty in letting go of that control to another employee. Communication skills also are critical. The job sharers must be able not only to work well together, but also to be able to communicate when things are going well and when things are going not so well.
The four-day work week is very popular among public employers these days. Employers who have implemented a compressed work week program successfully say they’ve enjoyed benefits such as saved energy costs, decreased absenteeism, and improved employee morale resulting from the change.
I don’t believe that a four-day work week is the solution of all solutions, as some have claimed. But I do believe that there are certain organizations that, because of their structure and purpose, can be good models for the program. The ideal candidates, though, are almost always government employers. A mandatory four-day work week, generally, is not realistic in the private sector.
But does that general proposition lose its vigor in a bad economy? Can the four-day work week be implemented in the private sector more effectively because of the downturn? It turns out that flexible schedules can have important benefits in an economic downtime, just as they can in times of fiscal health. The trick, though, is to get employers to be aware of the opportunities.
Fast Company blogger, Cali Yost, has an ongoing series of posts about the benefits of “flexible downsizing” and why employers are better suited to consider this option as opposed to layoffs. In a recent post, she explains:
There are creative, cost-effective ways to use strategic work+life flexibility to reduce labor costs while remaining connected to valuable talent. These options include reduced schedules, job sharing, sabbaticals, and contract workers.
In a recent interview with Penn professor and author, Dr. Peter Capelli, Yost questioned why more employers aren’t taking advantage of the benefits that can be derived from a flexible-downsizing initiative. Most employers, said Capelli, are too short-sighted, focusing only on short-term cuts instead of the longer term savings to be had. Capelli asserts that it is cheaper to retain an employee at 5% reduction in pay than to layoff 5% of the workforce because “there are no severance packages; the legal liability and associated costs are much less; and the savings come instantly without the agonizing administrative process of figuring out who has to go…”.
Flexible downsizing is also a valuable option when employers are trying desperately to avoid layoffs–at the cost of the fiscal health of the organization. These companies are so pained by the thought of laying off personnel that they avoid doing so to the extent that it actually results in more layoffs in the long-term. Alternatives such as voluntary, across-the-board pay cuts, reduced-hour schedules, and furloughs of even a few weeks can mean the difference between voluntary, and relatively minor, cut-backs now and involuntary and severe cut-backs later.