Tesla ordered to tell staff about lawsuit it faces; employers accused of trapping staff into ‘indentured servitude’

Tesla told to tell employees about lawsuit it’s facing

A US judge has ruled that Tesla must tell its employees about a lawsuit it is facing over allegedly violating federal laws by requiring workers to sign separation agreements. The ruling comes after two employees sued Tesla when they were amongst a group of Gigafactory staff let go in a mass layoff. Now, the District Court has ordered that Tesla must continue to inform its employees about the suit “until the merits of plaintiffs’ claims are resolved in federal court or in arbitration proceedings.” More than 500 employees were sacked from Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, after CEO Elon Musk announced plans to lay off 10% of its salaried workforce. According to the lawsuit, the Tesla mass layoff violates the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. This requires bosses to notify workers at least 60 days’ in advance before shutting down a facility or laying off 50 or more workers from the same site. The lawsuit claims staff were told their terminations would be effective immediately.

Department of Labor recovers $230,000 in back wages for restaurant staff…

A total of 274 workers employed by Texas-based Black’s Barbecue, have had $230,353 in back wages recovered for them by The U.S. Department of Labor after it was found the restaurant chain gave a portion of their tips to managers – a practice banned by federal law. The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits employers, managers or supervisors from keeping an tips employees receive for any purposes, whether or not the employer takes a tip credit. Investigators found Black’s Barbecue Inc.; Kent Black’s Lockhart Barbecue Inc. and New Braunfels Barbecue LLC – all with the same ownership and operating as Black’s Barbecue restaurant – kept a portion of their employees’ tips and shared them with managers illegally. “Food service industry employers must know that tips are the property of tipped employees who earn them, plain and simple,” said wage and hour division district director, Nicole Sellers. Last year, The Wage and Hour Division identified $35 million in back wages owed to 29,000 food service industry workers.

…as employers are accused of ‘trapping workers into indentured servitude’

A report by Truthout.org claims bosses in sectors such as retail and logistics are trapping people in miserable jobs by “threatening to saddle them with debt if they quit.” This is because employers are vowing to charge them for training costs if they quit before a certain time. It claims so-called ‘Training Repayment Agreement Provisions’ (TRAPs) used in employment contracts effectively create a form of indentured servitude and peonage. TRAPS have recently come under fire, with pet store chain, PetSmart, accused of using them. Earlier this month the Senate Banking Committee held hearings examining the agreements and other forms of employer-driven debt. In June, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also launched an investigation of employment arrangements that led to workers owing money to their bosses. “Last I checked, indentured servitude was illegal in the United States. But it looks like some enterprising companies are rebranding it, with these new employment contracts,” sais Senator Brown – who is representing a worker from PetSmart and is currently pursuing a case against the company.

US workers returning to the office at highest rate since pandemic

Workers are returning to the office at their highest rate since the start of the pandemic, according to new figures published this week. Between September 8-14th, office occupancy in the 10 major metro areas monitored by Kastle Systems was at an average of 47.5% compared to early 2020 levels. The company, which tracks security swipes into buildings, found this level of office use was the highest percentage since late-March 2020. It also found that midweek days are also strong, with office use for Tuesday and Wednesday last week at about 55% of the pre-pandemic level. Other data also suggests a post Labour Day pick-up in office occupancy. In downtown Houston, occupancy levels rose to 63% after Labour Day – up from a typical 50% for the last five months – according to Central Houston Inc., which monitors the movement of mobile phones entering office buildings.

Pfizer’s minority fellowship program accused of excluding white and Asian employees

Pfizer’s ‘Breakthrough Fellowship Program’ – a commitment by the pharmaceutical giant to ‘work to advance students and early career colleagues of black/African-American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American descent,’ violates federal law according to medical professionals group Do No Harm. According to The Daily Mail, the group has filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming “Pfizer’s open exclusion of white and Asian-American applicants is illegal.” Court documents add: “Pfizer is blatantly discriminating against white and Asian-American applications, blocking the creation of contractual relationships solely based on race.” Do No Harm said it began proceedings after it was contacted by two students who said they were ineligible for the fellowship because of their ethnicity. It is seeking a temporary restraining order against Pfizer, barring it from choosing its next fellowship class based on race. Pfizer told Reuters it has ‘every confidence’ that the fellowship program complies with all federal employment laws.

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Report exposes emotional exhaustion faced by healthcare workers

New research has confirmed what has long been suspected – that the toll of the pandemic on healthcare workers is increased emotional exhaustion (EE). Duke University investigators analyzed 107,122 responses to the electronic Safety, Communication, Organizational Reliability, Physician, and Employee Burnout and Engagement (SCORE) survey fielded in September 2019, September 2020, and September 2021 to January 2022. During the study period, estimated rates of EE rose from 31.8% in 2019 to 40.4% (proportional increase, 26.9%). Nurses’ EE climbed from 40.6% in 2019 to 46.5% in 2020 and 49.2% in 2021 and 2022. These results – the researchers suggest – are so severe, that current wellbeing programs “may not be enough” to offset the increases in EE and may be even more difficult to access owing to staff shortages and exhaustion. It wrote: “The challenges posed by COVID-19 have been an excessive test to human well-being around the world. Few groups experienced this stress more acutely than the health care workers, who persistently placed themselves in harm’s way to serve patients.”

Pay equity still has a long way to go

Nearly half (49%) of US executives said they don’t have a well established pay equity plan in place, while a quarter (24%) of employees aren’t aware whether such a plan exists within their organizations. This is the damning result of research into pay equity by Harvard Business Review and HR consultancy, UKG. It finds that despite the fact 74% of U.S. executives and 71% of workers agree pay equity is a top priority, this concern is not being remedied with any real action. A third of employees said they’re unwilling to speak up about disparities, or negotiate better pay. This rose to 40% amongst black employees, 34% amongst Asian employees, and 28% amongst Hispanic employees. More than a third (35%) of black employees attributed discrimination in opportunities for advancement as a major factor in pay equity disparities, followed by 26% of Asian employees and 20% of Hispanic employees. When asked about who was responsible for improving pay equity, nearly half (47%) of executives said it was the responsibility of the chief HR officer, followed by the chief executive officers themselves (39%).

 

Peter Crush is the interim editor of TLNT. He’s an award-winning journalist based in London, and he writes exclusively about the ever-changing world of work.

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