Employee sues over mandated office return demands; top US CEO pay revealed

In this week's round-up of HR news: Top CEO pay is revealed; why one employee is suing over return to office policy; plus - it's summer, which means 'slacking season' is upon us:

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Jun 6, 2024

Employee with heart condition suing employer over mandated return to office policy

An employee with congenital heart disease and severe anxiety is taking his former employer to court, after he was fired refusing to return to the office. Zacchery Belval, a designer from Connecticut, for Electric Boat, a unit of General Dynamics, claims he submitted several doctor’s notices about his medical need to work from home, but his employer denied his request citing in-person job duties. Now, he’s suing the company in the US District Court of Connecticut. “They just said either you come back … or you’re fired,” Belval said. “It was literally screaming matches with management every day saying, ‘Hey, this is about health,’ and management going, ‘We don’t care.’” According to Belval, 31, the issue dragged on for years, ending with his dismissal in August 2023. Now he’s seeking to recover lost wages, be reimbursed for attorney’s fees and compensated for his pain and suffering. According to Belval’s lawyer, Peter Goselin, the lawsuit boils down to whether working from the office is considered essential to his job and whether remote work is a “reasonable” accommodation. Two circuit courts have already ruled that remote work can be considered reasonable, Goselin said. A US Court of Appeals made that ruling in a case where Dionne Montague, a public relations worker who has a nerve condition, requested that the US Postal Service allow her to work some mornings from home and go to the office in the afternoon. And another US Court of Appeals came to a similar conclusion after Joseph Mobley, a customer service worker diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, asked St. Luke’s Health System to work from home when his condition flared up.

Highest CEO packages revealed

It’s a case of those at the top are getting richer, while the pay gap between bosses and average workers is widening, according to new data by Equilar. According to the study – which analyzed the pay packages of 341 CEOs in the S&P 500 – pay for the CEOs of top US companies increased by nearly 13% during 2023, rising to a median of $16.3 million. The midpoint base salary for CEOs was $1.3 million, up 4% from 2022, while stock awards grew by 10.7% to $9.4 million. At the same time, wages for private industry workers increased by a significantly lower 4.1%. It means that for around half of the companies surveyed, it would take a worker at the middle of their company’s pay scale almost 200 years to make what their CEO does. For other companies though, the average employee would take much longer to achieve what the boss earns. At Apple, for example, it would take an employee in the middle of the company pay hierarchy 672 years to pocket as much as CEO Tim Cook earns in a year ($63,209,845). Broadcom CEO, Hock E. Tan, tops the list with a pay package of around $162 million.

Post delivery workers still running the gauntlet

US postal service workers are being attacked ‘every day’, and suffering a rising numbers of dog bites whilst doing their job, according to the US Postal Service (USPS). It has revealed that its workers experienced a whopping 5,800 dog bite attacks last year. By state, California was responsible the greatest number of incidents with mail delivery personnel (727 cases, up from 675 in 2022). This was followed by Texas, with 411 incidents, followed by Ohio (359), Pennsylvania (334) and Illinois (316). New York, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan and Missouri round up the top 10 states. According to USPS, the average cost per insurance claim for a dog bite is $64,555. A spokesperson added: “When a postal employee suffers an injury, the owner could be responsible for medical bills, lost wages, uniform replacement costs, and pain and suffering.” Said Leeann Theriault, USPS manager (employee safety and health awareness): “Letter carriers are exposed to potential hazards every day, none more prevalent than a canine encounter. All it takes is one interaction for a letter carrier to possibly suffer an injury.” As in pervious years, USPS is marking the publication of this injury data to advise residents to secure their dogs inside their homes at the time their postal delivery worker normally arrives.

Report reveals Google employee leaked information for five years

In internal report by Google – owner of YouTube – has revealed that one of its own employees was leaking video content for more than five years before finally being discovered. The report, seen by 404 Media, suggests a Google employee watched Nintendo videos scheduled to be released on YouTube, but leaked information they contained in advance of their official posting for years. On YouTube, certain videos remain unlisted until a specific release date, but are often uploaded in advance depending on the length of the vide or the time they can take to upload. The leaker was viewing these and then revealing details about these videos in advance. Private Nintendo videos were allegedly viewed between 2013 and 2018. The report does not detail which videos were affected, or what information was released, only that the activity was “non-intentional.” It is not detailed how the breach occurred unintentionally, or what happened to the employee following the breach.

‘Tis the time for summer slacking

Employers are being warned to brace themselves for the annual ‘summer slacking’ season that comes with the June start of official summer time. A new study by Dayforce, a human resources software company, found that 36% of full time employees in the US say they are less productive during the summer and 34% say they slack off when their boss goes on summer vacation. The study also finds that as well as staff slacking, 31% of employees say they find it harder to get work done when their co-workers are less available/on holiday. But it also reveals 25% of staff experience increased anxiety from trying to do more in fewer hours, while 30% say they feel too busy to take time off work. To beat summer slacking phenomenon, and keep employees on-task at work, researchers suggest that more organizations should embrace summer flexibility. More than half of employees (58%) reported their employer has some form of summer flexibility, with the most popular options being: flexible work hours/schedules (32%); increased work from home options (22%); summer Fridays (19%); and seasonal work from anywhere options (17%).

Southwest airlines due in court to defend anti-abortion sacking claim

Southwest Airlines will be departing for court next week, in a bid to reverse an $800,000 award to a flight attendant who claims she was fired for her anti-abortion views. According to ABC News, Southwest argues flight attendant, Charlene Carter, was fired because she violated company rules requiring civility in the workplace by sending “hostile and graphic” anti-abortion messages to a fellow employee, who also was president of the local union. Carter’s attorneys argue (in briefs), that she made clear to management she sent the material “because she was a pro-life Christian, and as a Christian she believes she must get the word out to anyone who touches the issue of abortion.” They argued firing her violated federal law shielding employees from religious-based discrimination and that Southwest management and the union, which complained about Carr’s messages, should be held liable for her firing. An initial trial found that Southwest Airlines “may not discriminate against Southwest flight attendants for their religious practices and beliefs,” but the airline is challenging this.

Economists eagerly awaiting May job figures

Latest jobs data from the Department of Labor (tomorrow) is expected to show that the US economy added 190,000 jobs in May, with the unemployment rate remaining unchanged at around 3.9%. If the predictions prove to be correct, it will beat the 175,000 jobs number created in April – the lowest level so far this year. “The labor market is still pretty strong,” commented Allison Kaminaga, a professor in the economics department at Bryant University. “Unemployment picked up and job growth did slow, but 3.9 is still pretty strong by historical standards.” But investors and economists will be watching for any other signs the labor market is cooling as some recent economic indicators have shown the economy is slowing – including last week’s downwardly revised 1.3% growth in gross domestic product for the first quarter. On Tuesday, the number of job openings in April were revealed, and posted a decline to 8.36 million. Yesterday, private payroll firm ADP issued its monthly employer survey for May, with the number of jobs added hitting 190,000 following the 175,000 created in April.