New overtime rules rubber-stamped; workers win right to have their gender ID respected

In this week's round-up of HR news: a slew of new rules means workers will get better protections; overtime and gender recognition. Also, more than expected numbers of jobs are added (again):

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May 2, 2024

Biden rubber-stamps rule giving more people access to overtime…

President Joe Biden has reportedly finalized a new rule that is now set to make millions of more salaried workers eligible for overtime pay in the US. From July 1, employers will be required pay overtime to salaried workers who make less than $43,888 a year in certain executive, administrative and professional roles, the Labor Department said. That cap will then rise to $58,656 by the start of 2025. The current overtime eligibility threshold is $35,568, which was set under the Trump administration in 2019. This latest move marks the largest expansion in federal overtime eligibility seen in decades. Commenting on the rule, acting Secretary of Labor, Julie Su, said: “Too often, lower-paid salaried workers are doing the same job as their hourly counterparts but are spending more time away from their families for no additional pay. That is unacceptable.” The Labor Department estimates 4 million lower-paid salary workers who are exempt under current regulations will become eligible for overtime protections in the first year under the new rule. An additional 292,900 higher-compensated workers are also expected to get overtime entitlements – as their threshold rises from $107,432 to $132,964 on July 1 and $151,164 by the start of 2025. Critics have argued that the new regulation could saddle companies with new costs and add to persistent labor challenges.

…US Department of Labor also finalizes farmworker protection rule

Employers who employ temporary or foreign farmworkers when there is a “lack of able, willing and qualified US workers to perform the agricultural labor or services,” [those defined as through the H-2A program], will soon have to observe new rules to better protect these workers. According to acting DOL Secretary, Julie Su: “H-2A workers too frequently face abusive working conditions that undercut all farmworkers in the US.” To negate this, she said the new rule would improve workers’ ability to engage in advocacy regarding their working conditions. It also allows workers to consult key service providers, such as legal service providers, and to meet with them in employer-furnished housing. The rule also establishes that for a worker to be terminated, five conditions must be met, including a requirement that workers are either informed about or reasonably should have known the policy, rule or performance expectation unless the worker has engaged in egregious misconduct. Su added: “This rule ensures farmworkers employed through the H-2A program are treated fairly, have a voice in their workplace and are able to perform their work safely. It also promotes employer accountability, benefiting all farmworkers by upholding labor standards.” The new rule becomes effective from June 28, 2024.

Workers win right to have their gender identity respected

Employers who repeatedly mis-gender their employees or deny them access to a bathroom consistent with their gender identity could henceforth be culpable for workplace harassment under federal anti-discrimination laws, according to a new guidance released Monday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the new guidelines by the EEOC – which are the first by the agency for 25 years – updates have been made based on legal standards that protect employees from harassment under a protected characteristic, including race, religion, color, national origin, disability, age, genetic information and sex. That last category includes pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity. Now, employers who mis-gender by using the “name or pronoun inconsistent with the individual’s known gender identity” or by denying an employee access “to a bathroom or other sex-segregated facility consistent with the individual’s gender identity” will be committing sex-based discrimination under Title VII. The guidance document released Monday consolidates and replaces five of the agency’s previous guidance documents issued between 1987 and 1999, which established guidelines on workplace harassment law. While the document is still not legally binding, commentators say it serves as a standard for how the EEOC interprets and enforces anti-bias laws.

Ex-Google employees say they won’t be silenced

A group of 30 employees who claim they were sacked for protesting about Google’s ties with Israel have said that they “won’t be silenced.” In a piece for ‘The Nation’ three former staff – Mohammad Khatami, Zelda Montes and Kate Sim – say that their civil resistance calling for the cancelling of Project Nimbus (a $1.2 billion deal that Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services signed with the Israeli military and government), will continue. According to the three, the “contract provides cloud computing and AI technology for Israel’s apartheid state, contributing to state violence and now to Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.” The authors say: “Google claims everyone fired had been “directly involved in disruptive activity,” but its leadership has yet to even provide an accurate count for the number of workers impacted by its retaliation. We have had to rely on a self-reported count from workers themselves. We are disappointed, outraged, and disheartened by Google’s refusal to engage with us.” They add: “Many of our coworkers asked to be reassigned to different projects or took leaves in feeble attempts to distance ourselves from Project Nimbus and other military contracts. We also tried to engage our leaders with petitions, through office hour meetings, at company town halls, and through internal message boards and employee groups. Instead of engaging with us in good faith, our leadership evaded our concerns, targeted messages that expressed support for Palestine or opposition to the genocide, and censored our internal communications network.” They call for Project Nimbus to be cancelled immediately and call for Google to stop the “harassment bullying, silencing, and censorship of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim Googlers.”

A third of workers rate their cyber security activity as ‘risky’

New research reveals a third of workers would describe their workplace security habits as ‘risky.’ Research across workers from the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan and Australia found that 6% of employees would rate their workplace security habits as “very risky,” while 31% said they were “somewhat risky.” These risky habits include using personal information-based passwords (39%); or relying on memory (53%) as well as pen and paper (34%) to remember passwords for their workplace accounts. In addition to this, nearly half admitted they ‘frequently’ or ‘very frequently’ re-used work passwords across different workplace platforms or accounts. The survey, by Bitwarden, did find that 45% of respondents said they had adopted passkeys. But it also revealed that 40% said they didn’t fully understand their security advantages. Additionally, it found that more than half (51%) of the respondents who had adopted a password manager at home said they are more security conscious at work.

Most employees don’t think they’ll be able to retire at 65

Most employees (57%), don’t think they’ll be able to call time on their careers at the age of 65, according to a survey of 1,500 workers by Nuveen. On average, US workers now think they’ll need $1.46 million to be able to retire comfortably – a 15% jump on the $1.27 million reported last year. However, the average amount that Americans have saved for retirement is just $88,400. By generation, Gen Z and Millennials say they’ll need $1.6 million to retire comfortably. But while Baby Boomers have saved the most ($108,600), Millennials have only saved $62,600 while Gen Z have so-far only saved $22,800. Just three in ten employees say they are happy with their retirement plan. “There is clearly more to be done in ensuring that employer benefits, especially retirement plans, effectively meets the needs of diverse employee populations,” said Brendan McCarthy, head of retirement investing, Nuveen.

Private sector added nearly 200,000 jobs in April

Private employers are continuing to surprise economists, by adding more-than-expected numbers of jobs. Data, from ADP for April, shows private sector employment increased by 192,000 jobs last month. This is against analyst forecasts of around 179,000. Meanwhile, March’s job gains were revised up to 208,000 from 184,000. The average pace of hiring has accelerated over the last three months after slowing late last year, almost matching gains made in the first half of 2023. Pay growth continues to slow, the report said. “Hiring was broad-based in April,” commented Nela Richardson, chief economist, ADP. “Only the information sector – telecommunications, media, and information technology – showed weakness, posting job losses and the smallest pace of pay gains since August 2021.” The ADP data always precedes the official non-farms payroll report – which is due out tomorrow. Friday’s data is expected to show that that the US economy added 243,000 jobs in April.