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Feb 17, 2023
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Nearly 20 million called in sick after Super Bowl

An estimated 18.8 million people called in sick this Monday morning – the day after the biggest night in US sport – the Super Bowl. Worse still, according to The Workforce Institute at UKG, some 17.2 million out of this 18.8 million actually ‘planned’ their absence. All-told the total number pulling a sickie eclipsed that of previous years. In 2018, the number was ‘just’ 14 million, and it was estimated to have been 16.1 million in 2021. The sheer number of sickies this Monday will spur many who have long argued that the day after the Super Bowl should be declared a national holiday. The research concludes: “The lack of transparency between employees and managers creates a mounting problem in the form of unplanned absence, lost productivity, and erosion of trust – a problem that could be tackled by more honest communication and greater workplace flexibility.” The research found that only 10.9 million employees had approved time off on Monday, while 9.4 million decided to call in sick at the last minute. Another 4.7 million employees ‘ghosted’ their employers without notice that they would not be going to work.

Only 20% of people have a work ‘bestie’

Increased remote working is being blamed for new figures that reveal just 20% of Americans say they have a ‘best friend’ at work. The data – released by Gallup – shows that the percentage of those claiming to have a best friend at work is lower than it was pre-pandemic. The biggest drop came from those in the under 35 year-old age group – where the figure fell from 24% in 2019 to 21% last year. Commenting on the data, Gallup workplace and well-being researcher Jim Harter said: “We’re seeing in the data that younger people in general are feeling more disconnected from their workplaces.” He added: “You can attribute some of this to remote work. If they’re less connected to their workplace, they have fewer opportunities to connect with other colleagues and to develop the kinds of friendships that they might have had in the past.” According to Gallup, staff with a ‘bestie’ at work are “significantly more likely to engage with customers and internal partners, will get more done in less time, will support a safe workplace with fewer accidents, and innovate and share ideas.”

Mars Wrigley fined over chocolate tank incident

Candy maker, Mars Wrigley, has been fined $14,500 after two of its employees fell into a large tub of chocolate last year. Despite being uninjured, a hole had to be cut into the tub to free them. According to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), not only were the workers unauthorized to use the tanks, but they were also insufficiently trained with safety procedures. It added that Mars Wrigley “did not ensure the employees had the knowledge of the type and magnitude of the energy for the task.” The tank was reportedly waist-high in chocolate, leading OSHA to define the incident as a “serious” one. A Mars spokesperson said: “As always, we appreciate OSHA’s collaborative approach to working with us to conduct the after-action review.” The Elizabethtown-based factory in Pennsylvania makes an assortment of candy, including M&Ms and Dove chocolate. Data released last December by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found there were 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2021. That was an 8.9% increase compared to 2020, when many workplaces didn’t operate at full capacity because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Offensive music at work could land employers in hot water

Litigation is testing whether rap music played in workplaces creates a hostile work environment for female workers, according to Two separate (but almost identical sexual harassment lawsuits), claim that managers and other employees regularly played vulgar music in the workplace at Tesla, and at an active wear warehouse, and that managers disregarded worker complaints that the lyrics were obscene and misogynistic. While verdicts have not yet been reached, the report says employers are being urged to enforce existing rules that forbid sexually or racially offensive content in the workplace. But is admits that a blanket ban on music could be just as problematic, particularly if it includes banning a certain musical genre linked to a protected group. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has already commented on the case to this effect. In the Tesla case, the female worker said the music was filled with references to women as “bitches,” and had graphic references to sex, and other offensive terms.

Starbucks illegally threatened to sack staff says US Labor Board…

In a dispute that dates back to 2019, the National Labor Relations Board has this week concluded that Starbucks did illegally threaten to terminate the employment of pro-union employees in Philadelphia. The National Labor Relations Board’s three-member panel on Monday ordered Starbucks to stop what it said was a campaign of punishment against baristas in Philadelphia who support unionizing efforts. In a statement this week, the board declared that the coffee giant must “cease and desist” from prohibiting staff from raising workplace complaints, placing them under surveillance when engaged in collective action, and discriminating against baristas for supporting labor groups. It said two baristas ­– TJ Bussiere and Echo Nowakowska – should get their old jobs back and should be awarded back pay after being fired for trying to organize the union. The dispute involves workplace activism in 2019, before the launch of the current Starbucks Workers United campaign which has reached hundreds of the company’s US cafes.

…as Tesla workers launch campaign to form union in New York

Staff at Tesla are taking dissatisfaction about their working conditions to the next level, by announcing they will launch a campaign to form a union. The electric carmaker has so far resisted all attempts for unionization – even suggesting that staff would lose stock options if they formed one – so all the signs are that this latest attempt will lock staff into a protracted battle with the billionaire boss. In a press release, workers at Tesla said: “We believe unionizing will give us a voice in our workplace that we feel has been ignored to this point. We are only asking for a seat in the car that we helped build.” Staff claim the right to organize a union is a fundamental civil right and that this fact alone should prevent Tesla from threatening or retaliating against workers for organizing one. The Buffalo plant wanting to unionize does not actually build cars, but builds solar panels and other products for Tesla’s much smaller energy business.

Federal workers ‘not’ entitled to Covid-19 hazard pay

In a decision that could have far-reaching ramifications, a US appeals court has ruled that federal workers should not generally be entitled to extra pay for being exposed to Covid-19 as part of their jobs. A case brought by 188 current and former correctional employees at a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut had argued for differential pay based on the fact they had to work with, or in close proximity, to people, objects and surfaces infected with Covid-19. They also argued they were not given sufficient protective gear. But the court rejected this, saying the government’s Office of Personnel Management, the human resources agency for more than 2.1 million federal workers, had no regulations affording extra pay for exposure in most settings to contagious diseases. Commenting on the verdict, Molly Elkin, a lawyer for the employees, said: “Sadly, the majority was motivated by fear of the floodgates….We are exploring all options available to get our brave correctional officers the hazard pay they deserve for working in a crowded prison ­– a petri dish for Covid-19.”

This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.