Casino workers sue to stop breathing in smoke; did the eclipse darken productivity?

In this week's news round-up: Casino workers sue to stop them breathing in cigarette smoke at work; TikTok workers bemoan shares they can't sell, plus the eclipse - did it darken productivity too?

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Apr 11, 2024
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Casino workers sue to overturn law that still sees them exposed to inside smoking

In a desperate last bid to persuade lawmakers to overturn legislation that still leaves Atlantic City Workers exposed to indoor cigarette smoke, workers have filed a lawsuit to state Superior Court challenging New Jersey’s indoor clean air law. The workers – comprising a those from Bally’s, Caesars, Tropicana casinos, and a group of casino workers opposed to smoking in the gambling halls – have been supported in their legal action by The United Auto Workers, which is representing them. For although the state’s clean air law was passed more than 18 years ago, casinos are still the one place where indoor smoking has not been banned. The litigation seeks to have the exemption declared unconstitutional on grounds including equal protection under the law. “Today, we get off our knees and stand up!” shouted Lamont White, a dealer at the Borgata casino and one of the leaders of the employee anti-smoking movement. “We offered them the carrot, and now they get the stick!” Said a UAW spokesman: “If the legislators won’t do their jobs, we’re going to take the decision out of their hands and into a courtroom.” The Casino Association of New Jersey opposes a smoking ban, claiming it would put Atlantic City at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states that still allow smoking. Interestingly, a local union representing casino workers also opposes the action, claiming it will cost revenue and jobs and possibly force one (or more), casinos to close.

March sees rising number of job losses

Latest figures show US employers announced a loss of 90,309 jobs in March – which is up 7% of the number announced in February. It means that this level of planned layoffs was the highest monthly total since January 2023, when employers announced 102,943 cuts. Commenting on the data, Andy Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas said: “While technology continues to lead all industries, so far this year, several industries, including energy and industrial manufacturing, are cutting more jobs this year than last.” He added: “Many companies appear to be reverting to a ‘do more with less’ approach.” Government job losses led the way in March, with 36,044 planned cuts, followed by 14,224 from technology companies, according to Challenger’s data. The media industry also announced 2,246 cuts. Ben & Jerry’s was just one business that announced it would lose staff, with the ice cream maker’s parent company, Unilever, announcing it would layoff 7,500 workers worldwide last month. In a regulatory filing, Dell said last month that it would lay off roughly 6,000 people. Despite all this, however, the nation’s unemployment rate is near a 50-year. In fact, in parallel data released this week from the Labor Department, employers added 303,000 workers to their payrolls – far more than the 200,000 forecast.

Court says staff must still be paid while waiting to exit their employers’ premises

The Californian Supreme Court has agreed that employees must be paid for the time they are still on their employer’s premises, waiting to be scanned out. In a suit filed by workers against solar power facility, CSI Electrical Contractors (CSI), judges heard that at the end of each working day, staff would often have to waited in their cars in front of a security gate, where guards scanned each worker’s badge and sometimes peered into their vehicles and truck beds, searching for stolen tools or endangered species located near the worksite. This exit procedure could delay the workers’ departures for five to 30 minutes or more – time for which the workers claimed they should be paid. The court agreed with this, given the fact the California Industrial Wage Commission defines “hours worked” as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.” It ruled: “An employee who is subject to the control of an employer does not have to be working during that time to be compensated under the applicable wage order.” In a similar case in 2020, Apple employees were also found to be entitled to be paid for the time they spent undergoing mandatory bag checks when leaving work.

TikTok staff facing tax bills for ‘shares they can’t sell’

TikTok workers are claiming they’re being saddled with millions of dollars in tax liabilities for shares they cannot sell. According to the FT, US TikTok staff are barred from cashing-in the shares given to them via a stock awards programme, but it simultaneously exposes them to large potential tax bills. It quotes Patrick Spaulding Ryan, who worked at ByteDance (the app’s Beijing-based parent), as a manager between 2020 and 2022, who claims he must now pay a tax bill of more than $100,000 on shares he has been unable to sell. The issue is that ByteDance is unlikely to organise a large financing round from investors to buy employee shares or carry out an initial public offering while its future in the US is uncertain. The Chinese group has approximately 7,000 workers in the US, plus thousands of former employees. Globally, ByteDance employees own 20% of its shares, according to a company statement last year. It has regularly granted shares to employees in the form of restricted stock units – or RSUs. RSUs have no tangible value until they are vested, at which time they are assigned a fair market value and are taxed as ordinary income in that year. Billions of dollars of ByteDance RSUs vested last year after the group. But the move also meant share awards then became subject to income tax. The number of RSUs ByteDance withheld to cover the tax liabilities was insufficient in many cases, leaving many individuals needing to make an additional cash payment to the Internal Revenue Service. Some former employees have been told their stock is worth about 20% less than those held by current staff, but they still owe tax based on the higher price.

Electric battery maker exposed workers to “serious health hazards”

For the second time in less than a year, electric vehicle manufacturer, SK Battery, has been found to have exposed employees to serious safety and health hazards at its Commerce plant, after workers suffered potentially permanent respiratory damage in an October 2023 lithium battery fire. Investigators from the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration concluded that the battery maker exposed workers to inhalation hazards, including hydrofluoric acid vapors produced in lithium battery fires, by failing to establish a complete emergency response plan. It deemed that agency staff were also not made aware of the hazards associated with lithium fires. Investigators said it also failed to train onsite emergency responders adequately enough. In making these adjudications, it said it was fining SK Battery $77,200. It comes as the firm was also found to have exposed employees working with cobalt, nickel, and total dust to levels above the Permissible Exposure Limit and failing to institute feasible administrative or engineering controls, among other hazards. “On multiple occasions in less than a year, we have found SK Battery America failing in their responsibility to meet required federal standards designed to help every worker end their shift safely,” said OSHA area office director, Joshua Turner. He added: “While emerging industries bring innovation and employment opportunities to our communities, they must also ensure that the safety of the people they employ is their priority. When employers fail to provide safe and healthful workplaces, OSHA will hold them accountable.”

Government HR agency announces new rule making it harder to fire federal employees

The government’s chief human resources agency has issued a new rule making it harder to fire thousands of federal employees. The rule widely being seen as a pre-emptive move to protect staff, should Donald Trump win back the White House in November. The Office of Personnel Management regulations will bar career civil servants from being reclassified as political appointees or as other at-will workers, who are more easily dismissed from their jobs. It comes after a Schedule F an executive order that Trump issued in 2020, which sought to allow for the reclassifying tens of thousands of the nation’s 2.2 million federal employees. Biden nullified the schedule on taking office, but it is thought that if Trump wins back the presidency, he could use it to remove the 4,000 or so federal employees considered to be political appointees. The new rule also attempts to counter any future Schedule F order, by spelling out procedural requirements for reclassifying federal employees and clarifying that civil service protections accrued by employees can’t be taken away, regardless of job type. It also makes clear that policymaking classifications apply to non-career, political appointments.

Total eclipse of productivity?

This week’s total eclipse on the sun could have cost the US economy more than $1 billion. The eclipse – the likes of which will not be seen in America for another 21 years – created a path a totality that stretched across 15 states in a northeast direction, from Texas to Maine. Millions are thought to have down-tools, to watch the event. During the last (partial) eclipse – in 2017 – the cost to the American economy was estimated to be nearly $700 million in productivity, according Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Back then, some 7.7% fewer sales interactions were made than on a typical Monday – and 18.5% fewer sales were made during the specific 11am-1pm time period that the eclipse took place. But rather than viewing the eclipse as a disruption, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. was this year encouraging employers to use it as an opportunity for team building and morale boosting. It claimed that by accommodating the viewing of the eclipse at the workplace, employers would likely have significantly minimized the productivity loss resulting from a full day’s absence.


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