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Dec 23, 2022

King County accused of being First Amendment “Scrooges”

It wouldn’t be Christmas without mentioning beloved fictional character, Scrooge! And so it is that this week, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has accused officials at King County, Washington for being ‘this year’s First Amendment Scrooge’ for asking its employees not to showcase “religious symbols” in the workplaces. A memo, shared amongst employees of King County, Washington, states: “Before adding any decorations to your workspace (including your virtual workspace), consider the likely effect of such decorations on all of the employees in and outside of your work group.” It added: “Some employees may not share your religion, practice any religion, or share your enthusiasm for holiday decorations.” In response, FIRE has branded this a violation of employee’s right to free speech. FIRE said: “End this Grinchy tactic for all who want to celebrate the holidays.” It added: “The county can’t tell its employees they can display decorations celebrating the holidays only if those decorations don’t represent anything on the county’s list of forbidden viewpoints.”

Recent layoffs branded “heartless” and “unnecessary”

As data reveals US job cuts were up 6% in the 11 months to December, one commentator has called out firms like Meta for its so-called “unjustified” job cuts. “These companies are all making money. They are doing it [layoffs] because other companies are doing it,” chided Stanford Graduate School of Business Prof Jeffrey Pfeffer, speaking in The Guardian. He added: “Layoffs often do not cut costs, as there are many instances of laid-off employees being hired back as contractors… Layoffs do not solve what is often the underlying problem, which is often an ineffective strategy, a loss of market share or too little revenue. Layoffs are basically a bad decision.” The comments come on the back of Catalent, a pharmaceutical manufacturing contractor, recently telling staff it was cutting 600 jobs in Indiana, Texas and Maryland over the next several weeks. This was, it claimed, the result of demand for Covid-19 vaccines dropping significantly. Stellantis, which manufactures the Jeep Cherokee SUV, also announced that more than 1,200 workers would be laid off by the end of February 2023.

“Return-to-office’ is Glassdoor’s 2022 Word of the Year

In a year in which there could have been more contenders than most, employer review site, Glassdoor, has declared ‘Return-to-office’ (or RTO), is its Word of the Year.’ Richard Johnson, Glassdoor’s associate economist and data scientist said the word “encapsulates various themes in the labor market and workplace this year,” and that “as the world opened back up for business, many companies looked to return to how things were before the pandemic.” However, it is actually the tension that exists between employees and employers around RTO that seems to have fueled the uptick in mentions of the term. “The tug-of-war between employees wanting to stay remote and employers wanting them back in the office resulted in the share of employee reviews discussing their company’s RTO policy doubling since 2021 (+122%),” said Johnson. While “return-to-office” was crowned Word of the Year, other words saw a bigger jump in popularity on the site, based on US employee reviews between January 1, 2021 and October 18, 2022. Use of the word “hybrid” jumped 388%, while “inflation” leapt 326% and “recession” was up 133%.

Court supports claim behavioral issues stem from disability

The difficult legal question about whether behavioral problems that stem from a disability should be also be accommodated by employers, has this week been given clarity after a McDonald’s franchisee was ordered to pay $100,000 to settle an autism-related discrimination claim. The case centers around a grill cook, who had worked at a Deptford, New Jersey restaurant, since 2008, and who became agitated and raised his voice – a common side effect of his disability. Lawyers acting for the cook successfully argued that McDonald’s “did not engage in a good faith interactive process to address [the plaintiff]’s autism spectrum disorder or its manifestations, or to determine whether a reasonable accommodation was available.” In an EEOC (Philadelphia district office) statement, Debra Lawrence, regional attorney said: ““The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with autism spectrum disorder, and the EEOC is absolutely committed to aggressively enforcing the ADA requirement that employers reasonably accommodate their workers with disabilities absent undue hardship.”

New legislation proposes ‘auto-enrollment’ into a company pension

New legislation – the ‘Secure Act 2.0’ – could give millions of Americans greater comfort in retirement, by effectively automatically enrolling them into a company pension. When passed, the legislation will allow companies to deduct at least 3% – but no more than 10% – of an employee’s pre-tax earnings, which would then be deposited into a 401(k) retirement plan. Employees can opt-out, but the deductions would be made automatically unless they declared otherwise. Said Paul Richman, chief government and political affairs officer at the Insured Retirement Institute: “It [the legislation], will deliver billions in additional retirement savings and help to ease the insecurity and anxiety that workers and retirees are feeling about having enough savings to provide them with the income they need to sustain them through retirement years.” Currently just 51% of businesses automatically enroll new or existing employees into a 401(k)-type plan.

Employers need to better support those with Long Covid

A report into the impacts of Long Covid has concluded that employers, unions, and policymakers must all create much better workplaces for disabled workers. Number-crunchers looking at the US Census Bureau’s latest Household Pulse Survey (taken in mid-October) revealed there were still 17.3 million adults experiencing Long Covid. This represents nearly half of all those who have ever had Long Covid and 7% of all adults in the United States. But researchers concluded that the failure of employers and policymakers to better accommodate these sufferers “represents a major drag on the economy.” The data revealed that In early-to-mid-October, more than 10 million people with Long Covid were employed – or 59% of those with Long Covid. But for those ages 25-54, the population most likely to be employed, employment rates differed greatly. Some 69% of those in this age group with Long Covid were employed, but the employment rate among those in this age group without Long Covid was 75%. Researchers found that if employment-to-population rates for those with Long Covid in this age group were the same as they are for the general population, more than 500,000 additional people would be employed.

Remote workers worry most about being laid off

As recessionary clouds start to gather on the horizon, new research suggests remote workers worry most about being laid off. Workers who choose not to work in the office fear being ‘out of sight, and out of mind’, and worry that finding a new job will be harder. The data found that while 41% of fully in-office workers were confident they’d find a new job within a month of being laid off, just 24% of those working remotely said the same. Some 24% of those working remotely feared it could take more than six months to find a new job, versus 16% of fully in-office workers. Said Laura Wronski, senior manager of research science at Momentive: “Remote workers are the most fearful of layoffs, because they know they have had a sweet deal. They may have suffered through the early dysfunction of Covid, but they’ve since reaped the benefits and relative autonomy created by working from home.” She added: “That power dynamic will naturally swing back to employers if the economy weakens.”


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