Twitter accused of discriminating against moms; even Zoom wants staff in the office

In this week's HR news round-up: former Twitter staff claim it discriminates against moms; even Zoom thinks face-to-face meetings are better for its own staff:

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Aug 11, 2023
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Twitter accused of discriminating against ‘mom employees’

Seven former employees at Twitter (or X as it has now been rebranded to), claim the social media giant has disproportionately discriminated against moms, and has filed claims for racial discrimination, age discrimination, and violations of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act in the wake of Elon Musk’s acquisition of the platform, according to court documents. The seven are fighting their terminations after Musk acquired the company last year, and claim the “mass termination [policy] has impacted employees in a number of protected categories to a much greater degree than other employees.” One of the seven says she took family leave to care for her disabled child, as well as medical leave less than a month before being terminated from the company. The suit alleges the layoffs at Twitter “had a disproportionately high impact on employees who were taking, or preparing to take, family or medical leave,” with approximately 60% of staff on leave at the time of the November layoffs losing their jobs following Musk’s acquisition. The suit alleges that the November 2022 layoffs predominantly hit women – comprising 57% of Twitter employees laid off that month as opposed to 47% of male employees. This is a disparity, claims the suit that is “statistically significant.” According to the suit, five of the plaintiffs are female and are alleging gender discrimination.

Zoom wants employees to work in its offices

It’s the company that kick-started the work from home revolution, and was one of the big beneficiaries of Covid-19. But now it seems even Zoom has decided it prefers its own staff to meet face-to-face. According to a report in the New York Times, all employees who live within 50 miles of one of their offices now need to work in person on a part-time basis to begin with. The announcement was made by chief executive, Eric Yuan, in what has been described as a “tense meeting” with staff last week. Many employees expressed concern about the time they’d be wasting commuting. But, according to Yuan, “hybrid work is going to stay,” and the request for staff to work in-office will now be rolled out over the course of this and next month. At the start of the pandemic, the tech industry was quick to embrace flexible work, and in 2020, daily Zoom meetings leaped to over 300 million, up from 10 million the year before. However, by February 2023, amid a wave of layoffs across the tech industry, Zoom had cut 15% of its staff, or about 1,300 people. The company’s work force had grown more than 275% between July 2019 and October 2022. In a letter last Friday to all Cabinet heads, Biden’s chief of staff Jeff Zients stated that all federal employees would also be expected to return to the office this fall after years of remote work.

Cinnabon workers strike after being told to take down Pride décor…

Hot on the heels of strikes at Starbucks for similar reasons, 14 workers at a Los Angeles Cinnabon have gone on strike over requests from management to remove Pride décor from their store. According to the Los Angeles Times, strikes occurred following messages sent to staff by Greg Reheis, vice president of operations for 13th Floor/Pilot, a company that operates more than a dozen Cinnabon locations, in June. It read: “We do not discriminate or celebrate any particular race, ethnic group, gender specific group, religious group. If any store [is] displaying a Pride Flag, it is to be taken down IMMEDIATELY!” In a complaint then filed by staff to the California Civil Rights Department, the workers allege Cinnabon is discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, and are demanding that Cinnabon retract the policy. They are also demanding Cinnabon trains “managers and employees to comply with existing laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”

…while Southwest Airlines say it will contest sacking employee for expressing pro-life views

Southwest Airlines says it will fight an order from a federal judge requesting three of its attorneys undergo “religious liberty training” after losing a lawsuit against a former employee sacked for expressing pro-life religious views. The longstanding case involves former flight attendant, Charlene Carter, who is a pro-life Christian. She filed a lawsuit against her employer in 2017, accusing them of firing her because she opposed her union – the Transport Workers Unions’ (TWU) – stance on issues like abortion. In July of last year, a jury sided with Carter, concluding that she was unlawfully terminated and awarding her $5.1 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages against Southwest and TWU. “No American worker should have to fear termination, intimidation, or any other reprisal merely for speaking out against having their own money spent, purportedly in their name, to promote an agenda they find abhorrent,” said lawyers representing her. Southwest intends to appeal the order, according to Reuters, as well as the decision stopping the airline from restricting its employees’ use of social media.

Customer ‘beaten up’ by Popeyes worker is suing company for lack of proper background checks

Popeyes customer, Dentra Dawson, who was assaulted by two employees after asking them to correct a wrong order, is now suing the restaurant chain for failing to do adequate background checks on its workers. Instead of changing her order in the Atlanta Drive-Thru, two employees – including the manager – got into her car and attacked Dawson. The incident, captured on CCTV, saw Dawson suffer hair braids being ripped from her head. One of the employees was arrested and charged with battery, while another was charged with obstruction of an officer. Dawson is now suing Popeyes claiming the fast-food company failed in its duty to conduct background checks on employees. Dawson also revealed that the manager, who was involved in the brawl, had a criminal history with assault convictions. One of the lawyers representing Dentra Dawson, attorney Mawuli Davis, said: “One of the employees physically opens her passenger side car door, and enters her vehicle, jumps into her car and begins to attack her. Two other employees, including the manager, open up her car door and they’re all converging on her beating her, punching her, scratching her.” Davis added: “The only thing that ends this attack is that Ms Dawson is able to get access to her purse where she has her licensed firearm…it’s only after that the assault stops.”

Employers told to brace themselves for ‘sickest’ day of the year

Staff pull sickies every now and then – it’s the truth everyone knows – but according to analysis of five years’ worth of data by Flamingo Leave Tracker, the day with the largest number of sickies is just around the corner. It finds August 24th is the most common date for workers to call in sick – although whether or not it’s for genuine reasons is still not known for certain. Analysts note that this year will be the nation’s fourth ‘Covid summer’ – and so sick days are likely to be related to this too – ensuring that Covid-19 is not just a winter respiratory virus, but a summer one too. “By and large, outbreaks of Covid-19 are settling into a sort of seasonality, with predictable spikes after national holidays like July Fourth,” said Tom Cotter, executive director of nonprofit, Healthcare Ready. The second sickest day of the year, February 13th, comes during the traditional winter respiratory illness season. But it’s also suspiciously close to the Super Bowl and – of course – Valentine’s Day. The third, fourth and fifth sickest days of the year, according to Flamingo’s report are October 25th, December 13th, and April 18th respectively.

Hiring outlook remains optimistic for rest of 2023

It’s good news when it comes to firms feeling confident about hiring: Some 80% of firms (according to a Harris poll commissioned by Express Employment Professionals), say they feel optimistic about hiring through to 2024. It finds more than three in five hiring managers (62%) say their company plans to increase the number of employees at their company through December 31st, which is on par with the last few waves of the Job Insights survey. For companies definitely planning to increase headcount, the majority say it is down to managing increased volumes of work (52%), followed by a need to fill newly-created positions (48%), filling open positions due to employee turnover (42%) and handling expansion into other categories or markets (28%, down from 34% in late 2022). Very few (7%) say they intend to actually reduce their employee count in 2023, and those that do cite needing to reduce costs (59%), followed by decline in demand at the company (31%) and outsourcing certain functions (26%). Notably, just one in six (16%) say the reason for removing headcount is because they are increasing their adoption of automation/technology.

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