Ex-Chipotle employee sues for discrimination; staff want bosses to stay out of woke issues

In this week's HR news round-up: claims of religious discrimination; more strike action; poor growth in new payrolls, and why staff want employers to stay out of 'woke' issues:

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Oct 5, 2023

Chipotle sued for harassment by former employee over hijab taunts

A Kansas branch of Mexican fast food chain, Chipotle, is being sued by a former employee after claiming she was subjected to repeated religious discrimination for wearing a hijab at work. In papers filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Areej Saifan, a Muslim woman, claims she was subjected “to a barrage of harassing conduct based on her religion by her supervisor” because she wore her hijab. Not only does she claim she was harassed “approximately ten to fifteen times over the course of approximately one month,” but the lawsuit also alleges that an assistant manager at the restaurant “reached out and grabbed” her hijab, exposing her hair. Saifan says the manager refused to stop the harassment, and failed to take her complaints to higher management. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is requesting a jury trial in Kansas City along with “appropriate back pay with prejudgment interest,” among other things, the suit said. “People of faith have a right to work free from harassment based on their religious beliefs and practices,” Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s St. Louis District office, said.

Staff want their employers to stay out of ‘woke’ issues

Surprising new research reveals 60% of Americans do not want their employers to take a public stance on big social or political issues. Despite academics tending to suggest employees increasingly want to know they are working for companies that support their own personal views on a variety of issues, this research – by Bentley University – suggests the opposite, and indicates that when companies do embrace certain stances publically, it can actually backfire. The research shows there are clear things staff think employers should take a stance on – such as the climate (as agreed by 55% of staff); mental health (49%) and racial issues (45%). But when it comes to things like abortion, this drops to 26% and for politics it’s even lower, at 19%. In addition to this, only 37% of Americans believe businesses should take a stance on LGBTQ+ issues. Just 34% believe businesses should be involved with issues like immigration policy and a mere 27% on international conflicts. The research comes as several major US corporations, including Target, Adidas and Bud Light, have recently faced significant backlash to so-called ‘woke’ advertising campaigns. Sales of Bud Light beer are still down by over a quarter after Bud Light’s disastrous partnership with transgender influencer, Dylan Mulvaney.

Four-day weeks predicted to turn into 3.5-day weeks

If you thought it was hard enough trying to persuade bosses to shift to a four-day week, what about one that’s only 3.5 days? This is the prediction of JP Morgan CEO, Jamie Dimon, who told Bloomberg TV earlier this week that he foresees the next generation of employees working just three and a half days a week. He argued artificial intelligence would help bring about this change, and give back time due to increases in productivity. But others argue that even a four-day week “threatens to undo everything that made our nation’s current prosperity possible.” In response to Dimon’s comments, The Hill’s Liberty Vittert, wrote: “Has any society or economy grown or possessed any dynamism while everyone was lying in hammocks?” However, given that celebrated economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted in 1930 that people would only work three hours a day within a century (ie by 2030), maybe Dimon’s predictions aren’t quite so fanciful after all.

Wells Fargo executive jumped to his death due to work ‘stress’ claim family

The family of Wells Fargo executive, Greg Beckett, who apparently committed suicide (but left no note), by jumping from a conference room window, claim he had been working on several high-pressure assignments in the run-up to his death. Beckett was responsible for safeguarding the bank from risks, and his family claim his job had become all-consuming, with him regularly working long days, and attending meetings going on as late as 11pm. A Wells Fargo spokesperson expressed the company’s sadness for the loss of their colleague, noting it was hard to pinpoint the reasons behind tragedies such as Greg’s death. In a statement, the spokeswoman said: “We’re deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague. Greg was a valued member of our team. As we all know, it’s virtually impossible to identify a reason when a tragedy like this occurs. There is nothing more important to all of us at Wells Fargo than our colleagues’ well being.”

75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walk out on strike

The largest healthcare workers strike in history began this week, when 75,000 unionized workers at Kaiser Permanente – one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health providers – downed tools. The unionized staff comprise around 40% of its workforce, with striking workers spanning California, Colorado, Washington, Virginia, Oregon and Washington. The strike is around safer working conditions, including having improved staffing levels. Employees say they are now being stretched to breaking point due to lack of sufficient staff, and that more resources need putting in place. Although Kaiser has promised to hire 10,000 more staff before the end of 2023, and workers have promised to return to their posts from 7th October, it is being reported that a longer strike may still happen in November, if a deal between Kaiser and workers cannot be reached. The union is also demanding higher pay to help tackle staff shortages as well as protections against outsourcing. Currently, Kaiser has offered location-dependent wage increases, at a maximum of 4% pa for the next four years. But staff want a 6.5% rise during the first two years of their next labor contract, and a 5.75% pa rise for each of the remaining two years after that.

New private payrolls growing at their slowest rate since 2021

New data from the latest ADP National Employment Report reveals private sector payrolls increased by just 89,000 during September – meaning employers added the smallest number of new employees for more than two and a half years. Forecasters had predicted a rise of 153,000. “We are seeing a steepening decline in jobs this month,” commented Neta Richardson, chief economist at ADP. Not helping these numbers was employers letting go of 83,000 positions last month. Manufacturing lost 12,000 jobs, while the transportations and utilities sector shed 13,000 positions. Unemployment in the professional and business services sector decreased by around 32,000. Official government statistics put the number of job openings for every unemployed America at 1.51, but the data also revealed that unfilled positions increased by the largest amount in the last two years.

Gallup finds workers don’t want a return to the ‘old ways’

New data presented by Gallup finds that of the 125 million full-time workers in the United States, 50% of them – more than 60 million office workers – say they can do their jobs from home. Of that 60 million, a whopping 90% report they don’t want to come to the office five days a week. It finds 30% of workers want to come in zero days a week; 60% want to come in two to four days a week; while only 10% want to come in five days. But commenting on the data, Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup said there were dangers in letting staff permanently work remotely. He said: “Gallup finds that for fully remote employees, staying home comes with the risk of creating serious mental health issues such as loneliness and depression.” He added: “Full-time remote workers are also increasingly detached from their employers psychologically and less [are] committed to customers. This all leads to lower productivity, which quickly affects customer retention, cash flow and the growth of your organization.” He added: “We are at a turning point. Leaders are right to be increasingly concerned about the quiet change underway in the workplace. They need solutions that are best for employees, managers and national productivity — and eventually economic success for all.”