Walmart sued for sacking employee with Crohn’s disease; EVs to be rolled out as staff per…

Our weekly round-up of the HR news making headlines this week - including Walmart and Tesla in court for disability and race violations

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Mar 31, 2023
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Walmart sued for dismissing worker with Crohn’s disease

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is taking retail giant, Walmart, to court for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act, after it dismissed a North Carolina employee who had Crohn’s Disease. The worker, Adrian Tucker, was fired in 2017, following nine “unauthorized” absences during a six-month period – absences that Walmart said violated its attendance and punctuality policy. According to the complaint filed in the Charlotte, North Carolina federal court, Walmart did not excuse several absences – even though Tucker provided bosses with doctor’s notes. The EEOC claims Walmart rejected Tucker’s requests for periodic leave or a transfer to a job nearer the bathroom. Tucker was a long-term employee who needed “flexibility” from Walmart because of her debilitating health condition, EEOC lawyer Melinda Dugas said in a statement. She added: “The Americans with Disabilities Act was created to protect employees like [her].” The lawsuit seeks back pay and punitive damages for Tucker, and demands an end to similar future discrimination.

Massachusetts to offer early EV adoption as an employee perk

Easthampton, Mass., is claiming to be the first city in America to offer its employees an electric vehicle (EV) adoption benefit, to transition all city-owned vehicles to EVs. Through a partnership with MoveEV, it is claimed employees will be able to claim up to $3 million in federal and state incentives, and save $900,000 on gasoline per year. The city of Easthampton plans an Earth Day event for its employees on April 20th, during which employees can test drive electric vehicles on site. The MoveEV employee benefits portal will also be showcased, which provides information on the costs of their current gas-powered vehicle and provides a step-by-step process to help them manage their EV transition and take advantage of federal, state, and local EV adoption incentives. For the city’s fleet vehicles, the planned transition over the next five to ten years is expected to save the city $360,000 per year on gasoline alone, and will remove 600 metric tons of CO2 annually.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

An argument is brewing about who’s right about working from home. New data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests there’s been a sharp decline in the number of companies allowing staff to work from home. But a Stanford professor refutes this, arguing WFH is alive and well. According to the Labor Department, 72% of firms said their employees worked remotely ‘rarely’ or ‘not at all’ last year – up from 60.1% in 2021. According to Nicholas Bloom, however, a Stanford economics professor and cofounder of the Working From Home Research Project – the data is wrong. He argues the wording of questions sent to those being polled is misleading. “It asks companies if any employees ‘currently telework in any amount,’ and defines telework as working from home or another remote location, including answering work emails,” he said. Bloom argues most companies should have answered “yes” given that definition. Bloom says his own research, finds numbers of job postings for remote-friendly roles are hitting record levels in some cities across the US.

Tesla awaits multi-million dollar discrimination case decision

Electric car maker, Tesla, is nervously waiting the outcome of courtroom deliberations around how much it must pay a black elevator worker, Owen Diaz, for race discrimination. In 2021 an initial verdict awarded Diaz $137 million – one of the largest ever in a workforce discrimination case. Diaz sued Tesla for causing him emotional distress under a California law prohibiting employers from failing to prevent hostile work environments based on race and other protected traits. But the amount was later cut to $15 million, by US District Judge, William Orrick, who has been presiding over the case once more this week. This reduction is now being challenged, and Lawrence Organ, lawyer acting for Diaz, said he hoped to convince the judge that higher damages are warranted, and that a new jury should return a larger verdict than the $15 million offered. The trial started on Monday, with the verdict due either today or early next week. The outcome of Diaz’s trial could encourage workers to file new lawsuits against the company.

Chiesi announces CSR results for 2022

Pharmaceuticals company, Chiesi, has announced it contributed more than $830,000 to good causes in 2022 through its Chiesi in the Community (CITC) corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. It revealed that last year nearly 200 Chiesi employees supported 65 unique charitable organizations with 769 hours of time or donations. Amongst the charities it supported were Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Activate Good, Children’s Flight of Hope and Refugee Hope Partners, helping them advance their efforts in food security, volunteer mobilization, medical care and financial stability, respectively. Chiesi also served as a Community Partner at an annual WRAL Coats for the Children clothing drive and hosted a Salvation Army Angel Tree to provide holiday gifts for children and their families. For families with children receiving care in local hospitals, Chiesi also worked with the Ronald McDonald House of Durham & Wake to sponsor rooms and cook monthly dinners. Said Jon Zwinski, general manager and CEO of Chiesi USA: “Partnering with local organizations is a top priority because it means taking care of the people who live and work around us, our neighbors.”

Less than half use all their vacation days

Americans are already (infamously) given the fewest days off of any developed nation, but new research finds that less than half (48%) of workers don’t even take everything that’s owed them. This is the finding of the Pew Research Centre, which finds many don’t take what’s allotted to them for fear of falling behind, or having colleagues take up the slack for them. Others, it finds, also worry vacation time hurts their chances for promotion or could cost them their job. But, as Christy Pruitt-Haynes, global head of talent and performance at NeuroLeadership Institute says: “Throughout the pandemic, we saw a surge of people leaving their jobs because of burnout and stress. We have also seen a steady decline in employee engagement.” In other words, she said, “Vacation time is more important than ever.” Paaras Parker, chief human resources officer at Paycor added: “US employees have been conditioned to believe if you aren’t at work, you are lazy or at risk of being replaced.” Private-sector employees in the US get an average of 15 vacation days after they’ve been working for five years, rising to 20 days after two decades on the job.

Two-fifths of workers feel overwhelmed by debt

Shocking data from the just-published US Mental Health Index score for February 2023, finds the Financial Wellbeing Index element for February 2023 stood at just 66.7 points out of 100 – approaching the low point of 66.4 when it was launched in January 2021, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Index found two in five workers (40%) said they felt overwhelmed by debt, with the mental health and financial wellbeing scores for this group being 10 and 15 points below the national averages respectively. In addition, more than a third (37%) of workers said they are not financially confident about the next 10 years, with 12% expecting at least some level of financial struggle. Worryingly, nearly three quarters (71%) of those who said they felt overwhelmed had not reached out for financial advice or coaching, with 16% citing embarrassment as the reason. Commenting on the data, TELUS Health’s chief growth officer, Juggy Sihota said: “Working Americans are feeling the rising cost of living and are increasingly worried about their financial future, especially when it comes to repaying debt and saving for retirement. Employers can adapt by making financial savings and investment plans more readily available, as well as consultation services to help educate and empower their employees.”


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