Fed staff told to delete TikTok from work devices; Paid sick leave is ‘good for business….

In this week's HR news round-up, federal staff are given 30 days to delete TikTok from their work devices, while new data supports the value of paid sick leave.

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Mar 3, 2023
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Government staff told to delete TikTok from their devices

In a clear ratcheting up of tensions, the US government has this week mandated that all federal staff delete TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media app, from government-issued mobile phones. Reports reveal that the White House is giving US federal agencies 30 days to remove TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices amidst concern that the app’s parent company, ByteDance, could be mining user data — such as browsing history and location – and giving it to the Chinese government for propaganda or misinformation purposes. The Beijing government has rejected this, and responded to the move by calling the ban an “abuse of state power”. But Congress passed the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act” in December, securing bi-partisan support for it. TikTok has also responded by saying it has “no way” of knowing whether its users are government employees or not. Commentators are so-far divided over whether using TikTok really does constitute a security risk, while others note that the information it collects is probably no different from other social media platforms, such as Facebook.

Paid sick leave is ‘good for business’ finds study

America is one of the few developed nations without federal paid sick leave protection, but according to a study by Florida Atlantic University and Cleveland State University, access to paid sick leave has real benefits for businesses – including higher employee morale and job satisfaction, improved retention, higher profitability and performance, as well as it creating more favorable labor market conditions. Researchers reviewed 22 years’ of data examining the relationship between paid sick leave and short-term and long-term US business outcomes. Although the research did reveal increases in worker absences, the research found this was more than outweighed by the benefits the perk brings back to firms. In recent years, 14 states have enacted paid sick leave mandates, while 18 states have passed legislation prohibiting paid sick leave laws. The US did offer temporary paid sick leave to some employees in the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic, from March through December 2020.

Firms say hiring is becoming easier – despite the tight labor market

For all the commentary around the labor market being the tightest it’s been for nearly half a century, The Financial Times is reporting that employers found hiring to be significantly easier in the last quarter. The article says employers from fast-food chains to arms manufacturers have reported dramatic improvements in hiring conditions – helped also by improved retention – meaning operating conditions have massively stabilized. Boeing chief executive, David Calhoun, is cited telling analysts that: “we’ve had no trouble hiring people”, adding that pressures through its supply chain had “really ease[d] up”. Supporting this, Yum chief executive, David Gibbs, said: “We’re seeing an increase in applications, while stores [are] returning to their pre-Covid operating hours . . . we like the environment we’re in”. Experts are attributing this to staff preferring to stay put, rather than risk moving to somewhere new and being the ‘last-one-in-first-one-out.’

Senators slam lack of staff monitoring UFOs

OK…not those UFOs (the alien ones) – but unidentified objects – such as Chinese spy balloons. According to reports in the Daily Mail, just three people were tasked with investigating any unidentified objects is US air space until recent weeks – something which has drawn criticism from a group of 16 senators, led by Florida’s Republican senator Marco Rubio, and New York’s Democrat senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. In a letter to the Pentagon, they’ve asked for more staff, and more resources to be pumped into monitoring objects that could present a security risk. The letter addresses the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), which was set up by the Pentagon in July last year to probe unidentified objects in US airspace, underwater and in space. The AARO has admitted that although more staff have recently been added, it would still not reach ‘full operating capacity’ until next year. The criticism comes on the back of four sidewinder missile takedowns needed over the US by fighter jets in January.

Happier fund managers make bigger profits, finds research

It’s consistently found that engaged staff make happier staff, which in turn makes customers happier and company profits healthier. But now, researchers from Cambridge University’s Judge business school has linked happier mutual fund managers with them producing bigger investment returns. “Mutual-fund managers [who] work for companies with higher employee satisfaction perform better,” found the researchers. This should worry US companies, as the research also revealed that the US came out top for having the least engaged employees. According to the research, the performance gap between funds at the happiest companies and those at the unhappiest works out at around 1.44 percentage points a year – which in investment terms is huge. The researchers studied 437 mutual-fund companies managing a total of 3,266 funds. They analyzed their performance over a full ten-year period. Just a one-point increase on a five-point scale of average employee satisfaction was found to correlate to 0.36 percentage rise in “alpha” or higher investment performance, when adjusted for things like investment style and objectives.

Even highly paid staff can earn overtime – Supreme Court

An employee already earning $1,000 a day can still be eligible for paid overtime, according to a decision made by the US Supreme Court. The case centered on whether an employee of Helix Energy Solutions Group was, or was not, exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The question presented to the Court was “whether a high-earning employee is compensated on a ‘salary basis’ [and therefore potentially excluded from overtime payments] when his paycheck is based solely on a daily rate.” The Court held that, even though the employee made nearly $1,000 a day and received over $200,000 annually, the employee was not exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements because the employee did not receive a flat, fixed predetermined amount that was not dependent on days worked. The Court rejected the employer’s argument that a separate regulation (Section 541.601) eliminates the need for an in-depth analysis of an employee’s work duties to satisfy exempt status for employees making over $107,432.

Employers have just two weeks to register for H-1B visas

Employers looking to hire people on the H-1B type visa (allowing temporary hiring of foreign workers), have an enrollment window of just two weeks to make their submissions. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant work visa to allow skilled workers to stay and work in the US. It is the only way for the US employers to hire foreign workers for specialty jobs. The H1-B Visa is valid for three years, and can be further extended to more three years. Applications for the financial year 2024 will begin from March 1 and will last till March 17, according to a press release from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The US government has said it will notify account holders about the final selections by March 31. Each year, more than 85,000 applications are received from employers for H-1B visa.

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