Embryos are children ruling could hit IVF cover; jobs rise blamed on need for second jobs

In this week's HR news round-up, Alabama's 'embryos are children' ruling could see employers face larger costs to provide IVF benefits; the rise in jobs is being blamed on people needing second jo...

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Feb 29, 2024
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

‘Embryos are children’ ruling could threaten employee benefits

A ruing by Alabama’s Supreme Court that says frozen embryos are children could have a big impact on employee benefits, it is claimed. Already, it is being reported that several Alabama clinics have ceased certain in vitro fertilization procedures in the wake of the ruling, prompting fears many patients to resort to looking for alternative care in other states. This could mean employers will be forced to cover higher travel expenses to enable their workers to get treatment in other states. Around 45% of large employers covered IVF in 2023, up from 22% four years earlier, according to a survey by Mercer. The majority of those with 500 or more workers don’t require a diagnosis of infertility, which expands the benefit to same-sex couples and single people who want children. However, most employers place limits on IVF coverage. Just over half have a lifetime benefit maximum, with the typical limit being $20,000. A quarter have a limit on the number of cycles — typically three. Some 14% of employers now cover egg harvesting/freezing services in 2022, up from only 2% in 2016. If the ruling leads to fewer Alabama clinics providing fertility treatments, employers may need to add or improve their travel coverage so their workers can access care in other states, said Harvey Cotton, who advises employers in benefits administration as a principal at Ropes & Gray law firm.

Rise in jobs blamed on more people needing second jobs…

The 353,000 extra jobs added to the US economy has been attacked as simply the result of more people needing to take second or even third jobs to keep a roof over their head. This is the claim made by Peter Schiff, CEO and chief global strategist at Euro Pacific Capital, earlier this week. On an appearance on OAN Network’s ‘Real America,’ he said: “The only reason that jobs are going up is because people are forced to take two or three jobs, because prices keep going up, and their paychecks are not.” There is data that could suggest this is true. According to the Labor Department’s latest jobs report, 8.1 million people held multiple jobs in January 2024, up from 7.8 million a year ago. Notably, 416,000 people were working two full-time jobs simultaneously, an increase from 343,000 in January 2023. Schiff added, “We’ve been replacing full-time jobs with part-time jobs. So the numbers would favor extra jobs.” The number of Americans who worked part-time but would have preferred to work full-time in January was 4.4 million, up from 4 million a year ago and 3.7 million two years ago. Biden claims 14.8 million jobs have been created since he took office, but Schiff retorted: “Figures lie and liars figure,” paraphrasing Mark Twain.

… as job hunter reveals competing with 450 others for café server job…

A job hunter has gone viral after posting a video detailing having to go through three rounds of interview, and battling against more than 450 other applicants, just for a café server job. The job seeker, Ansley (@tiny_tobasco), an actor and writer from California, said the experience vividly illustrates just how difficult it is to get a job in the hot Californian job market, especially for positions that don’t even require a formal education. In the video she said: “I’m just about to go for my third interview, because there were over 450 applicants. I’m just going to let that sink in for a moment.” The video, which has already received hundreds of comments, has seen people broadly sympathize with her plight. One said: “I had THREE interviews for a HOSTESS job and had two employee referrals.” Another added: “Any job that has rounds is not the job. That means the turnover is crazy.” One other applicant said: “It took me three rounds, being personal friends with the owner, and like three months to get a part-time job as a cashier at a film lab.” TikTok’er ‘shop’ added: “Third round for a server job is totally insane. I did three rounds for a $240,000 job, where the third was negotiating my salary.”

…as applicants for jobless benefits fall…

Applications for unemployment benefits fell by 12,000 to 201,000 for the week ending Feb 17, according to new figures published by the Labor Department. The four-week average of claims – a much less volatile measure of the figures – also fell, but by fell by a smaller amount. This number was down by 3,500 to 215,250, down from 218,750 the previous week. Weekly unemployment claims are broadly viewed as representative of the number of US layoffs in a given week. They have remained at historically low levels in recent years, despite efforts by the US Federal Reserve to cool the economy. Last month’s job gain – roughly twice what economists had predicted – topped the December gain of 333,000, a figure that was revised sharply higher. The unemployment rate stayed at 3.7%, and has been below 4% for 24 straight months – the longest such streak since the 1960s.

Workplaces being hit by ‘unexpected retirement wave’

Return to work mandates plus recent high inflation have caused higher-than-expected numbers of people to check-out of the workplace, and retire so they can tap into the 401(k) funds, according to new research. The data suggests there is currently 2.7 million more retirees than were predicted – which is up 80% compared to just six months ago. Retirements in 2023 and 2024 are at least as much psychological retirements as they are financial,” commented John Lowell, partner at consulting firm, October Three. “They are, in many cases, burnt out. [But] I suspect that having to return to an office was a tipping point for many.” The rise in unexpected retirements has occurred even though people’s confidence about living comfortably has fallen to its lowest level since the Great Depression. It fell to 73% (down from 77%) amongst retirees in 2022, according to data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. However, what potentially offset this, was the fact 401(k) account balances overall rose by 11% in 2023, to an average of $86,280. Added Lowell: “If a company suddenly has twice the number of retirements as expected, they have twice the number of often key roles they need to fill.”

Amazon to restrict staff from using AI tools at work

Online retail behemoth, Amazon, is reportedly restricting the use of generative AI technology – such as ChatGPT – for work purposes. It has been claimed that several internal memos have seen the company reiterate this requirement, with the suspicion being that it is worried about issues around copyright and ownership of any data mined. Reports claim the memo says: “While we may find ourselves using GenAl tools, especially when it seems to make life easier, we should be sure not to use it for confidential Amazon work,” Amazon said. The company also explicitly cautioned against disclosing any proprietary Amazon, customer, or employee data when employing third-party generative AI tools. The news comes as other tech giants, like Apple and Samsung, are following the same restrictive path, by restricting the use of AI content. Even Microsoft, which invested heavily in OpenAI, the company that started the generative AI frenzy, temporarily revoked access to its employees.

Ear-wigging husband of BP exec found guilty of insider trading

Tyler Loudon, the husband of a former US mergers and acquisitions manager, at BP, has been fined $1.76 million, after he eavesdropped on a conversion about BP’s acquisition of a fuel and truck stop operator, TravelCenters. Loudon, earned $1.76 million with illicit trades based on non-public knowledge of the possible acquisition by his wife’s company, according to US Attorney Alamdar Hamdani in the Southern District of Texas. As such, he has been forced to surrender the profits made, plus pay a fine of the same amount. Loudon secretly listened to his wife’s private work calls in December 2022, while they were working remotely in a small Airbnb during a trip to Rome, according to the SEC’s civil complaint filed in Houston federal court. After Rome, the couple continued to work remotely “in close quarters,” according to the SEC. The SEC said that Loudon’s wife acknowledged occasionally discussing the acquisition with her husband in “normal” married-couple conversation. But over the next few months, Loudon (without telling his wife), accumulated 46,450 shares of TravelCenters, according to the US attorney’s office. On Feb 16, 2023, when TravelCenters announced the BP acquisition, triggering its 71% stock jump, Loudon sold all of his shares of the company, profiting $1.76 million, according to the US attorney’s office. “Mr. Loudon made a terrible mistake in judgment for which he has taken full responsibility,” Loudon’s lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, told CNBC.

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