Wells Fargo fires staff for pretending to work; SMEs yet to embrace AI

In this week's round-up of the HR news catching our eye: Wells Fargo fires staff for pretending to be working; SMEs aren't embracing AI; visa costs are going up, plus lots more:

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Jun 20, 2024
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Wells Fargo fires staff for ‘simulating’ being at their keyboards

According to The Guardian, US bank, Wells Fargo, has fired more than a dozen of its workers for ‘simulation of keyboard activity’ – where staff allegedly attempted to fool bosses into thinking they were working when they were not. Devices or software used to simulate computer mouse activity, are known as mouse movers or mouse jigglers, and can be bought online for as little as $10. Designed to prevent computers from entering sleep mode, the devices work by placing the mouse on a platform or disc that rotates to imitate normal movement, while the software runs a program that moves a mouse around. The employees were “discharged after review of allegations involving simulation of keyboard activity creating impression of active work,” according to a filing with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Wells Fargo has not disclosed whether the staff in question were using home or office computers, but the offending staff were “discharged after review of allegations involving simulation of keyboard activity creating impression of active work,” according to the filing. A company spokesperson said: “Wells Fargo holds employees to the highest standards and does not tolerate unethical behavior.”

Small businesses have yet to embrace AI

Artificial intelligence might well be making wave across corporate America, but June’s US Census Bureau Survey reveals its impact amongst SMEs is limited, with only 5% of US businesses saying they use the technology. And a tandem study by workplace messaging app, Slack, suggests a lack of trust in AI could be to blame. In a global survey, which included workers from America, Japan and the UK, it found that while 96% of executives said they felt under pressure to implement AI, employees themselves were not that interested in it, with a significant 68% of those questioned not even using it. “Companies have urgent, ambitious goals for AI in the enterprise and our research shows there are huge productivity benefits to be gained. But many leaders are still figuring out how to kick start adoption among employees,” Denise Dresser, CEO of Slack, stated in the report. She added: “The problem is that only 7% of US desk workers see AI answers as completely trustworthy. Over a third (35%) say that AI results are ‘not at all’ or only ‘slightly trustworthy’. Privacy, data quality, and accuracy concerns are the top three reasons stopping desk workers from experimenting with AI, according to the Slack survey.

Judge pauses rule requiring employers to give abortion-seekers time off

A rule by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, requiring employers to give workers seeking elective abortions time off to obtain and recover from the procedure, has been paused in two Southern states, after a judge argued the EEOC has exceeded the authority given to it by Congress. This new ruling prevents the agency from enforcing it in Louisiana and Mississippi. The EEOC set forth the regulation under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which Congress passed as part of a broader spending package in 2022. It requires that workplaces make certain accommodations for pregnant employees “related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” But Judge David C. Joseph said: “If Congress had intended to mandate that employers accommodate elective abortions under the PWFA, it would have spoken clearly when enacting the statute, particularly given the enormous social, religious, and political importance of the abortion issue in our nation at this time.”

Employers could have to pay $1,000s more in visa costs…

New proposals announced by the Department of Homeland Security could push $1,000s in extra costs to employers. It is arguing for a $4,000 fee to extend an H-1B visa and a $4,500 fee to extend an L-1 visa to pay for the 9/11 Response and Biometric Entry-Exit Fee, which currently applies only to initial visa petitions and changes of employers. Currently, employers with 50 or more employees in the United States, where over 50% of these employees are on H-1B or L-1 visas, must pay this fee for initial petitions or when there is a change of employer. The fees are $4,000 for H-1B petitions and $4,500 for L-1 petitions. The new rule proposes extending these fees to cover visa extension petitions as well. This means employers would need to pay the $4,000 or $4,500 fee not only for initial petitions or changes of employer, but also for extending the employment period of existing H-1B or L-1 visa holders. If implemented, the rule will significantly increase costs for employers who rely heavily on H-1B and L-1 visas. Companies with a large number of visa extensions may face substantial financial burdens, potentially leading them to reassess their hiring strategies and approach to extending employment for foreign workers. The DHS is currently seeking public comments on the proposed rule. Stakeholders and the general public have until July 8, 2024 to give their feedback.

…as H-1B visa holder restrictions clash with return to office policies

A rule, that prevents Chinese nationals without green cards from buying property in Florida, has been branded as “treating workers like spies,” by one Chinese-born software engineer. After his employer instituted a return-to-office mandate, Jin Bian (who has lived and worked in the US for 12 years), wanted to reduce his one-hour commute by purchasing a house closer to the office in Tampa, Florida. But now he us unable to. According to Yahoo! Finance, Bian and other Florida residents told CNN that the rule has fostered uneasiness and confusion among ethnic Chinese people living in the state. “We feel like we’re different from everyone else because of this type of law,” said Echo King, a US citizen who was born in China and is president of the Florida Asian American Justice Alliance. “We feel like we’re not welcome.” Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, said in a statement last year: “Florida is taking action to stand against the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat — the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).” The law is currently being challenged in court, but several other states are considering similar laws. “Florida has gone far beyond what is necessary to combat the so-called CCP influence,” said Clay Zhu, an attorney who has partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the state, challenging the law. “We think this is a form of discrimination based on race, based on national origin and based on visa status.” Zhu likened the law to past discriminatory laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act. He says there should be a distinction made between the CCP and Chinese nationals.

More employers are including weight-loss drugs in their coverage

Around one-third of US employer health-plans now offer coverage of GLP-1 drugs for both diabetes management and weight loss – which is up significantly since last year, according to a survey of global employers by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. Last year the figure was 26%. GLP-1 drugs – such as Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Eli Lilly’s Zepbound – promote weight loss by reducing appetite and causing the stomach to empty more slowly. First approved to treat diabetes, 57% of employers surveyed cover the drugs for diabetic care-only. But of these, the research found 19% are now considering offering the drugs for weight loss too. Obesity’s association with chronic and higher-cost conditions, as well as consultant recommendations, were most frequently cited as factors for employers considering covering GLP-1 drugs, the report said. By the early 2030s, global sales for GLP-1 drugs should reach an annual $150 billion, according to some analyst forecasts this year. A 2023 forecast had predicted $100 billion in sales by early next decade.

Companies do a “poor job” managing CEO: average employee pay gaps

Less than two weeks after it was revealed pay for the CEOs of top US companies increased by nearly 13% during 2023, initial findings from the upcoming Bentley University-Gallup Business in Society report reveals that two-thirds of Americans say companies are doing a “poor” job of avoiding major pay gaps between CEOs and average employees. According to the research, more than half of US adults say it is “extremely important” for companies to avoid major pay gaps between CEOs and average employees. Another 27% of Americans think it is “somewhat important,” meaning more than four-in-five consider it important. The findings come at a time when the 2023 median pay package for a CEO rose to $16.3 million. This is more than three times the 4.1% increase netted by private-sector workers in 2023. The findings on Americans’ views of companies’ performance on pay gaps form part of a larger survey conducted by Bentley University and Gallup. The full 2024 Bentley-Gallup Business in Society Report will be released in September.

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