Apple in $25 million settlement with US Department of Justice over hiring irregularities

In this week's round-up of the HR news making the headlines: Apple to pay $25 million fine for favoring hiring immigrants over US citizens, while Honda raises pay to fight unionization attempts:

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Nov 16, 2023

Apples agrees $25 million settlement for unintentionally favoring immigrant workers

Tech giant, Apple, has agreed to pay $25 million to settle a case brought by the United States Department of Justice, which accused the company of favoring the hiring of immigrants over US citizens and green card holders. The US DOJ said Apple will pay “up to $25 million in back pay and civil penalties,” and it confirmed the settlement is the largest award the department has recovered under the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division: “Creating unlawful barriers that make it harder for someone to seek a job because of their citizenship status will not be tolerated.” She added: “This resolution reflects the Civil Rights Division’s commitment to ending illegal discriminatory employment practices.” The settlement agreement resolves the department’s determination that Apple violated the INA’s anti-discrimination requirements during Apple’s recruitment for positions falling under the permanent labor certification program (PERM). The PERM program is administered by the US Department of Labor and the US Department of Homeland Security. It allows employers to sponsor workers for lawful permanent resident status in the United States after completing recruitment and meeting other program requirements. Any US employer that utilizes the PERM program cannot illegally discriminate in hiring or recruitment based on citizenship or immigration status.

Honda hikes pay for employees to fend off unionization…

The ripple effect of action by United Auto Workers union members continues unabated, as Honda announced a big pay rise to staff – largely seen as a ploy to persuade employees not to unionize there too. The pay rise – of 11% starting from January – comes hot on the heels of Toyota boosting its employee pay two weeks ago. According to Honda’s HR department: “Honda continuously reviews our total rewards packages to ensure we remain competitive within our industry,” but commentators argue the automaker (which has plants in Ohio, Indiana and Georgia), is attempting to tackle the UAW’s attempts to organize foreign-owned factories in the United States, along with Tesla Inc and upstart Rivian Automotive Inc. Honda spokesman, Chris Abbruzzese, said that in addition to the pay raise, the company would shorten progression time for production associates at its US facilities. He said that since 2021, Honda has added more than 10 new benefits including childcare reimbursement and a student loan repayment programme. He added: “We will continue to look for opportunities to ensure that we provide an excellent employment experience for Honda associates.” Honda’s pay rise exactly mirrors the 11% rise negotiated as part of the UAW’s tentative agreements with General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Stellantis NV.

…as Stellantis offers US staff buy-outs

Chrysler-parent, Stellantis, is being reported as offering upwards of 6,400 US white-collar employees voluntary buyouts as it struggles to afford the terms of the new Auto Workers Union contract and transition to electric vehicles. Yahoo! reports that staff with at least five years’ experience will be offered a voluntary departure package, with any employee agreeing to it required to leave by the end of the year. Technically, the offer could apply to around half of its 12,700 workforce, although the likely figure taking it up will be much less. In a statement, Stellantis said: “Stellantis is taking the necessary structural actions to protect our operations and the company.” Staff will have until 8th December to decide whether to take up the offer of a buyout – the specific details of which have not yet been disclosed. The buyout offer come weeks after the automaker struck a tentative deal with the United Auto Workers union for new labor contracts covering its 43,000 unionized workers. A Stellantis spokeswoman said the salaried buyout offers are not directly connected to expected increases in US labor costs as a result of the deal with the UAW – but commentators widely suggest they might be.

Colleges and universities issue warning about proposed overtime changes

The deadline for organizations to comment on proposals to extent overtime rights to more than 3 million workers passed last week, and this week it was revealed that colleges and universities have responded angrily to the proposals by claiming the increased costs could force them into raising tuition fees rise or making layoffs. The Biden administration wants to raise the cutoff from which workers can’t earn overtime from $38,568 to at least $55,068 and possibly $60,209. Academic institutions claim that if the proposed rule is finalized in its current form, they will either have to pay exempt employees more money to push them above the threshold, or shift affected employees to an hourly pay rate and create processes to track their hours. Education institutions want the Biden administration to either water down its proposals; seek a lower threshold or; at the very least, phase-in the increase over a longer period of time. Institutions are calling for at least 180 days to adapt to any change in the overtime threshold. The Labor Department is currently planning to put the rule into effect 60 days after it’s finalized. Lipscomb University, a private institution in Nashville, Tenn., with fewer than 5,000 students, said the change would affect more than 175 employees and cost nearly $400,000 to implement.

Wisconsin city faces backlash for suggesting federal employees avoid putting up at-work religious decorations at Christmas

A email reportedly sent to all employees from a deputy city administrator in Wisconsin has gone viral, for suggesting that federal staff refrain from putting up ‘religious decorations’ in public buildings this festive season. The email, obtained by media outlet Wisconsin Right Now, purports to be from Wauwatosa deputy city administrator, Melissa Cantarero Weiss. In the email Weiss. asks staff to create a “welcoming and inclusive environment for all residents and visitors to our buildings, as well as all our co-workers,” and to do so, staff should refrain from rom using “religious decorations” or “those solely associated with Christmas (such as red and green colors)” when decorating public spaces within city buildings. The email reportedly said Christmas decorations are commonly seen throughout public counters at city hall, but that not everyone celebrates the holiday. Commenting on the email Wisconsin Right Now said: “Those receiving the email have suggested the city’s priorities have gone askew, particularly when there are more pressing matters at hand.” According to Weiss’ email though, her boss, city administrator, Jim Archambo, is also on board with the request. The email added: “By embracing inclusive decorating practices, we can reinforce our commitment to being a more equitable and welcoming place for all people who live in Wauwatosa.”

Finance body accused of having ‘toxic work environment’

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) – the body responsible for protecting the public’s money in the event of a bank failure – is facing mounting pressure after it was revealed 20 female employees have left the regulator due to a toxic working environment described as being a ‘sexualized boys’ club.’ A report by the Wall Street Journal claims senior staff sent photos of their penises and invited junior-level workers to strip clubs, with the 20 women who quit alleging a culture of ‘sexual harassment and misogyny.’ It is claimed all of the men at the center of claims are still employed by the FDIC, despite various legal filings, union grievances and complaints relating to their alleged bad behavior. One of the whistleblowers quit her job as an examiner-in-training in 2013, after working for the regulator for three years. She told the Journal that during her stint with the FDIC she was followed back to her Dallas hotel room by a male colleague during training; invited to a strip club in Seattle by other bank examiners; and sent an unsolicited naked photo by a colleague. On Monday this week, after the Journal’s report was published, FDIC chairman, Martin Gruenberg, said the FDIC had hired the law firm BakerHostetler to look into alleged harassment and discrimination.

American Water employees rise to the volunteering challenge

More than 800 staff at American Water – the largest regulated water and wastewater utility company in the US – volunteered in more than 75 projects, as part of the company’s AmerICANs in Action! Month of Service. The volunteers contributed to more than 2,500 hours’ service, and lead and managed a variety of team-based volunteer projects in their local communities. Projects included community and shoreline clean-ups in California, Missouri and New Jersey, while teams in Indiana and Pennsylvania volunteered at food banks and animal shelters. Additionally, employee volunteers in Illinois and West Virginia teamed up with their local child development centers and United Way chapters, among other initiatives. The company’s volunteering program encourages employees to donate time and expertise to local community groups to make a positive impact. Earlier this year, American Water was recognized on the 2023 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index for the fifth consecutive year, and was also ranked 18th on Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable US Companies 2023 List.