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Oct 14, 2022
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Gig workers could soon become employees

When is an employee not an employee? What they’re a contractor. For years contractors have been arguing that they miss out on certain protections, and deserve to be given the same employment rights as regular employees. Now this desire could finally be coming true. The US Department of Labor has proposed making it harder for companies to treat workers as independent contractors – a proposal that could have big implications for companies like Uber, who rely on so-called ‘gig’ workers. The proposal suggests that workers should be considered a company’s employees when they are “economically dependent” on that company. The new proposal adopts a broader definition of who counts as an employee, mirroring legal guidance issued by the Obama administration that was withdrawn by former President, Donald Trump. Said US labor secretary, Marty Walsh: “Mis-classification deprives workers of their federal labor protections, including their right to be paid their full, legally earned wages.” The proposal was formally published yesterday, kicking off a 45-day public comment period.

Starbucks illegally fired staffer for union activism

The already fragile relations between Starbucks and members of its workforce have arguably taken a step backwards this week, after a National Labor Relations Board judge declared that Starbucks illegally sacked an employee at a shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for engaging in union activism. The ruling comes against a backdrop of a ongoing disputes between the coffee chain and Workers United, a labor group organizing for unionization at Starbucks stores across the country. “I would hope that they learn their lesson – that firing people because they want to start a union is not going to solve their problems,” said initially-fired employee, Hannah Whitbeck. The NLRB judge said Starbucks “acted with animus” when it fired the employee. Separately, the NLRB revealed union representation petitions increased 53% in fiscal year 2022 when compared with 2021 – the highest number since 2016. The NLRB said 2,510 union petitions were filed in the fiscal year to September, up from 1,638 over the same period a year earlier. Unfair labor practice charges filed with NLRB field offices increased 19%, the agency added.

Company fined $50,000 for sacking employee who refused keep their WFH webcam on all day

US telemarketing company, Chetu, has been fined $50,000 for firing a work-from-home employee who refused to keep his webcam on for eight hours per day. The employee – who worked in the Netherlands – said it was a violation of his human rights to be watched all day long, and a Dutch court agreed. In court documents the employee said: This is an invasion of my privacy and makes me feel really uncomfortable. That is the reason why my camera is not on.” The court’s verdict declared that: “tracking via camera for eight hours per day is disproportionate and not permitted in the Netherlands.” The court also said that it violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. After finding that the firing of the employee was unfair, the court also asked the company to pay a $50,000 fine, in addition to the worker’s back wages, court costs, and unused vacation days.

Amazon unwraps pre-Xmas hiring plans

Internet behemoth, Amazon, has revealed that in the run-up to Christmas, it will likely need to hire 150,000 more staff to keep up with demand. From this point in the years lots of brands massively ramp up temporary staffing levels, and Amazon says it already has an army of seasonal workers that it will call upon – people who want to earn a bit of extra money in the countdown to Christmas. Amazon says its seasonal employees can earn, on average, more than $19 per hour, based on position and geography. According to John Felton, Amazon’s senior vice president of Worldwide Operations, many temporary workers then stay on with the organisation full-time. “Whether someone is looking for some extra money for a few months or a long-term career, the holidays are a great time for people to join Amazon, and many of our seasonal employees return year-after-year or transition into full-time roles,” he said. Amazon’s news follows Walmart last week announcing it would be hiring 40,000 more staff to manage anticipated pre-Christmas demand. However, this is down from 150,000 the year before.

Manufacturing jobs hit record high

Official figures show that the number of Americans working in factories has hit nearly 13 million – a high last seen during the Great Depression. Last Friday’s jobs data revealed manufacturers added an extra 22,000 workers in September – meaning employment in the sector has risen by 500,000 in just the last twelve months. All-told, growth in manufacturing jobs has been at 4% since April – which is the fastest sustained pace of growth since 1984. But, there is some gloom in these figures too. The sector still has 800,000 job openings, and employers are now starting to find it difficult to find talent, according to a report for CNN Business. “I think we’re in uncharted territory,” said Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. “For every 100 jobs openings in the sector we only have 60 people who are looking. I think it’ll take quite a while to fill that pipeline.” Timmons added that pay in the sector is up 5% over the course of the last year, and he expects it to keep rising as manufacturers scramble to find skilled labor.

Apple to withhold employee perks from staff at unionized store

Technology giant Apple is reportedly withholding perks from staff at its sole Towson unionized store – in a move which some see as retaliation for the store becoming represented. But Apple insists that the move is the consequence of the store having union representation in the first place, as it claims any changes to benefits now have to be made through a collective bargaining arrangement that unionization entails. The same issue has also recently cropped up at Starbucks, where it rolled out a series of new perks at non-union stores, including raises and student-debt coaching, but said it couldn’t legally provide them unilaterally to sites with union activity. The new Apple benefits include: paying for some staffs’ tuition for outside education; free membership of online learning platform, Coursera; and new health care plans in certain stores. Labor experts are reported to be saying that Apple’s behavior could violate federal law, which forbids anti-union threats or discrimination.

Glassdoor releases new search tool that matches companies with jobseekers’ values

Companies that continue to ignore their culture and values and diversity & Inclusion messaging could soon fall foul of a new search tool by Glassdoor – the provider of employer insights. The new tool will enable jobseekers to find companies that could appeal to them according to ratings such as work/life balance, culture & values, diversity & inclusion, race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and more. According to Glassdoor’s own research, 43% of US employees have witnessed or experienced discrimination at work (such as racism, ageism, sexism or homophobia), and 30% say their current employer does not match their values. When it comes to searching for a job and company to work for, 36% of people aged 18-44 said diversity & inclusion policies are now an important factor for them. Christian Sutherland-Wong, CEO, Glassdoor, said: “The new advanced filters aim to make it easier for people to uncover companies that align with their unique values and experiences, and can help them make even more informed decisions about where to work.”


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