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Feb 24, 2023
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Google demands staff share desks…

In a bid to improve its “real estate efficiency” – in other words, to spend less on office space – Google has announced it wants employees to share desks. In fact, it’s asking Googlers to buddy-up with someone else, and alternate the days they come into the office, to effectively ensure one desk accommodates two people. Desk rotating will reportedly start next quarter, and it will apply to Google Cloud’s five largest US locations — Kirkland, Washington; New York City; San Francisco; Seattle; and Sunnyvale, California. The official reason is that it will enable the search engine giant to “continue to invest in Cloud’s growth,” but it now means some buildings will now be vacated in their entirety. An internal document says: “Through the matching process, they [buddies] will agree on a basic desk setup and establish norms with their desk partner and teams to ensure a positive experience in the new shared environment.” If anyone comes to work on a day their desk is being used by their buddy, Google says they will have to go to an “overflow drop-in space.” The move comes as Google has slowed hiring and after it laid of 11,000 staff last month.

…As staff petition Disney against return to office mandate

A petition has been signed by more than Disney 2,300 staff urging bosses to make a U-turn on its return to the office mandate. According to the Washington Post, staff are angry that they are being asked to work from the office for four days a week, starting on 1st March. Signatories want House of Mouse boss, Bob Iger, to reconsider the request, saying it will lead to the “forced resignations” of some of “our most hard-to-replace talent.” The petition says: “There is value in being together, but we also need to look forward and embrace new paradigms that add value.” It added: “Sitting on Zoom calls in an office for four days a week while your co-workers, partners, stakeholders, vendors, and customers do the same in a different part of the world does not meet the core need.” Some 400 testimonials from parents were included in the petition – which said a return to the office mandate would disrupt the work-life balance they had become accustomed to. Disney currently employs more than 200,000 people and signees of the petition span ABC, 20th Century Studios, Marvel Studios, Hulu, Pixar, and FX.

Abattoir cleaning company fined $1.5 million for employing children

Packers Sanitation Services Inc – a company that cleans slaughterhouses – has been fined $1.5 million by the Department for Labour after it was found to employ more than 100 children in a variety of hazardous roles. The Blackstone-owned company provides cleaning services under contract to some of the nation’s largest meat and poultry producers, serving over 725 food processing plants. Although it claimed to have a zero-tolerance policy against employing minors, jobs children were found to do included cleaning razor-sharp saws, handling high-risk equipment and using caustic chemicals – often during graveyard shifts too. Said solicitor of labor Seema Nanda: “Let this case be a powerful reminder that all workers in the United States are entitled to the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and that an employer who violates wage laws will be held accountable.” The DOL investigation found that at least 102 children aged 13-17 were engaged in “hazardous occupations.”

Home Depot to boost employees’ wages

Atlanta-based home improvement chain, Home Depot, has announced that it is investing $1 billion in wage increases for its US and Canadian hourly workers. Starting this month, it confirmed every hourly-paid employee will receive a pay rise – taking their pay to at least $15 per hour. The retail giant employs around 437,000 people in the US and 34,000 in Canada, and the move is largely seen as a measure to try and attract and retain more staff. Walmart – for instance – announced that it would be raising its hourly wage to an average $17.50 last month, meaning the company is now fighting to attract like-for-like talent. Some commentators have also suggested the move is designed to head-off a fledgling campaign to begin unionization in its stores. Said Home Depot’s chairman, president and CEO, Ted Decker, in an email to staff: “This investment will help us attract and retain the best talent into our pipeline.” It said 90% of store managers started off at the company as hourly staff.

Staff accuse Tesla of ‘retaliation’ sackings

Tesla has been accused of “retaliation” sackings after dozens of staff were let go at the Buffalo factory which last week declared its intention to try and unionize. The firings took place late on Wednesday night (15 February) – the day after workers at the facility announced their unionization campaign. According to the contents of an immediate filing with the US Labor Relations Board, staff say workers have been fired illegally “in retaliation for union activity and to discourage union activity.” The company said it had 675 employees working in data for its Autopilot system in Buffalo, and that the people it fired had “received prior feedback on their poor performance from their managers.” But one data analyst has reportedly questioned this, adding that performance reviews weren’t due to happen until July. “This is a form of collective retaliation against the group of workers that started this organizing effort,” said Jaz Brisack, a Workers United organizer who is helping the Tesla union drive. An organizing committee of 25 employees had sent an email to Elon Musk early last Tuesday with their intent to unionize. Arian Berek, one of the organizers, was among those terminated, according to the union’s filing. “I feel blindsided,” she said in a statement provided by the union. I told I was exceeding expectation, and then Wednesday came along.”

McKinsey to make one of its biggest rounds of layoffs

An uncertain business environment might sound like the perfect conditions for consulting firms to be making a killing, but these tough times seem to reducing – rather than increasing – the need for consultants. McKinsey, one of the biggest, has announced one of its largest ever round of layoffs. It is reported to be axing around 2,000 staff – those who are amongst its non-client serving teams. In a statement it said: “We are redesigning the way our non-client-serving teams operate for the first time in more than a decade, so that these teams can effectively support and scale with our firm.” According to Bloomberg, the cuts are part of Project Magnolia, which the consulting firm hopes will help preserve the compensation pool of its partners. The news follows an announcement by KPMG last week that it will also reduce headcount – by about 2% – in the US.

Dental staff win payout after being sacked for raising Covid-19 fears

Two employees sacked from a North Texas dental practice in 2020 for raising concerns about their safety at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, will each receive $7,853 in back wages after the US Department of Labor ruled their dismissal was illegal. The workers – a hygienist and a dental assistant – were determined to have been discriminated against for exercising their right to raise concerns about their health and safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration – who were also involved in the case – concluded that “these two people had every right to speak up without the fear of losing their jobs.” The firings happened after a period of furlough had ended and staff were then emailed and asked to return to work. It was claimed that offers of re-hiring were withdrawn after the workers exchanged emails with the dental practice owners asking about safety precautions that should be in place. The Labor Department filed a lawsuit against the dentists in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division last summer.





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