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Financial Literacy in the Workplace: Empowering Employees

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Financial literacy is a vital skill to have and understand, as it can dictate the way that you live your life.

If you’re stressed about your finances or are living paycheck to paycheck, it can be difficult to think about the possibility of saving money. Learning how to navigate your financial state and understanding how to manage your money can help you better your current financial situation, allowing you to work towards a more secure future. 

When people become educated about their finances, it can help to improve their overall quality of life, as well as give them more confidence in both their personal and professional lives. Follow along as we discuss the importance of empowering employees to become more educated on financial literacy.
The Importance of Financial Literacy

Financial literacy is the ability to understand and use different financial skills, such as knowing how to save and invest your money, as well as how to budget your money to create a more secure future for yourself. Financial literacy is an essential skill to have, and one that takes practice. Many people stress about their finances, and the root cause of that is due to a lack of understanding. 

Impact of Financial Resources for Employees 

Many companies have resources and educational tools available to their employees that they can use to learn more about money management and financial literacy. By encouraging employees to take steps towards utilizing the financial resources available to them, it can instill confidence in them as they will have the tools to understand their current financial situation, as well as how to work towards financial freedom.

Some resources that companies can implement include employee assistance programs (EAP) which can range from retirement planning guidance, debt counseling, and even providing access to financial planners. Retirement planning is essential to understand, as it allows employees to plan for their future and provide them with money to live off of after they retire. Understanding how to best invest into their retirement can put them on a better path, as they’ll learn how to invest and have more control over their investments as well. 

In addition to that, employers can offer debt counseling through online learning or through personal financial planners as a way to teach employees how to manage their money and decrease their debt. Learning about different types of loans to improve debt management can alleviate the overwhelming stress resulting from numerous expenses to be paid off.

Debt consolidation loans, in particular, offer a promising solution for employees grappling with multiple debts, as it combines all their outstanding balances into a single monthly payment, streamlining the repayment process and enhancing manageability.

Offering financial resources to employees to encourage them to learn about their financial health and work to improve it can help employees decrease the everyday stress they may feel, and help them feel more supported by their employer.

When employees feel supported, they are more likely to work harder and stay at the company longer than someone who doesn’t feel supported. When there is an effort to improve the life of employees coming from employers, it increases the overall retention a company has because that is seen as a company that cares about their employees.

How to Improve Money Management

A large part of understanding finances is knowing how to manage money. It’s important that when employees get their paycheck, that they break it down into needs, wants, and savings. Being able to create and stick to a budget can help to better improve money management, as well as create structure for them in their daily life.

Consider the 50/30/20 rule as a guideline for budgeting. This rule consists of setting 50% of monthly income into needs, 30% into wants, and 20% into savings. 

When it comes to needs, this can include expenses such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, and healthcare. These are essential expenses that should be expected to be spent each month. These expenses may fluctuate each month depending on the situation, but it’s important to write down all the essential bills so that when it comes time to pay, they’ll have the money to do so.

In addition to that, wants should also be factored into the budget. This can include anything that is nonessential, such as going out to eat, self-care, gym memberships, or even clothes shopping. 

When considering a budget for wants, make sure that the plan is realistic, so it’ll be easy to stick to it. Oftentimes people get strapped for money as a result of overspending on their wants without realizing it until it’s too late. In order to avoid that, it’s important to stay diligent about a budget and spending habits, and adjust those habits as needed to work for their lifestyle. The remainder of an employee’s paycheck, the 20% part of the budgeting rule, should be allocated to savings. 

Setting aside money strictly for savings can help pay off any debts, as well as serve as an emergency fund or can be put towards retirement planning. By establishing and following this budgeting guide, it can help employees to properly allocate their paycheck in order to ensure they’re not spending too much, and also are able to still have a liveable wage. 

It’s important to not only understand one’s finances, but also have the resources available to do so. Employers are now taking more measures to encourage employees to learn how to manage their money, how to invest their money, and how to reduce their debts through various educational resources.

As employees, it’s important to take advantage of any learning opportunities as it can improve the knowledge and skills one has, setting them up for a more secure future.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness on May 31, 2023. Published with permission.


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Watch for Employers Using Benefits as Bargaining Chips

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It’s never a bad idea to be suspicious of your boss, especially when they act like they’re doing you a favor. For workers at FrontLine Service, a Cleveland non-profit that serves the unsheltered, distrust of our employer is one of the critical sentiments that binds us.

FrontLine workers, members of Service Employees Local 1199, provide crucial services to some of the most marginalized and neglected people in Northeast Ohio. Every day, we assist folks struggling with mental health crises, substance abuse, lack of housing, and other hardships.

The work is arduous and the pay is low, but we do what we can to serve the communities in which we live and work.

Last June, our contract with FrontLine was ratified by a narrow margin. Throughout negotiations, there was a persistent sense shared by the bargaining committee that management wasn’t telling us the truth. We were continually given vague, cliché-ridden responses to our inquiries.

As the window for negotiations closed, it appeared that a strike was imminent. However, the minor contract gains we managed to achieve were enough to win the approval of a slim majority.

SUDDENLY THEY LIKE IT

Nearly all of our most ambitious demands were rejected. One such demand was for the implementation of a four-day workweek: 32 hours a week, an additional full day off, with benefits and wages reflecting whatever increases were won through bargaining.

As appealing as the idea of a shortened workweek was to us, none of us thought it had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting added to the contract. If anything, we thought that it could be a bargaining chip we’d give up in order to obtain something else.

So, we were surprised when a few months later management requested to meet with us to discuss how a four-day workweek pilot project could be implemented.

The first draft of management’s proposal included stipulations that would lengthen the workday, cut worker benefits by 15 percent, reduce sick, personal, and vacation leave, and increase the daily productivity standard by an hour.

The proposed pilot would involve 25 out of a workforce of 300 people. This small sample for the pilot is, we believe, inadequate for measuring the four-day workweek’s effectiveness and, more importantly, could undermine solidarity and divide workers.

DID OUR HOMEWORK

In our counterproposal submitted to management March 23, we made it clear that we will not accept any modifications or reductions to hard-won gains in our contract.

Members of our bargaining committee conducted extensive research and we had several illuminating meetings with employers who successfully implemented a four-day workweek, both non-profits and for-profits.

All this suggested that FrontLine’s proposed pilot would be a failure. Cutting benefits, lengthening the workday to 9 hours (a 36-hour workweek), and increasing productivity requirements would diminish any advantages a four-day workweek could offer workers.

When we pushed back in our meetings, management offered some version of the same answer we received during negotiations last summer: “We would if we could, but we can’t.” FrontLine’s revenue, which exceeded $28 million in 2022, is mostly acquired through government grants and Medicaid billing.

When we asked if they had made any good faith efforts to obtain increased funding to raise wages, retain staff, and attract new workers, management declined to respond.

DISTRACTION FROM WAGES

As the concept of a four-day workweek becomes more mainstream, we would be wise to consider how employers and their consultants are responding to the idea’s increased popularity.

In the case of FrontLine, it appears that management’s proposal for a four-day workweek pilot is a Trojan Horse.

Once implemented, management could, through a clause in their proposal giving them “unilateral authority” during the duration of the pilot, refuse to negotiate terms and conditions with our union.

FrontLine Service is severely understaffed, so much so that in February they formally asked Cuyahoga County to search for other non-profits that could replace workers in at least one FrontLine building.

According to management, understaffing is why they want to pilot a four-day workweek. If they can retain staff and attract new workers, they figure they might be able to keep their lights on a little longer. It also would allow FrontLine to appear ‘progressive,’ while they continue to neglect our real concerns.

Management’s proposal delivers a two-fold blow to workers: It allows them to manipulate our contract without negotiating with us, and it distracts from the question of higher wages.

Compared to other agencies offering similar services, FrontLine’s wages are deplorable, with some workers making as little as $15 an hour. Prior to the ratification of our most recent contract, the lowest-paid workers made $13 an hour.

During negotiations last summer, our committee repeatedly told management that if they want to retain and attract workers, they need to offer higher wages. “We would if we could,” management told us, “But we can’t.”

We are waiting for management’s response to our counterproposal. Whether the pilot will favor workers or management, or whether there will be a pilot at all, is yet to be determined.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on March 30, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Adam Barrington is a supportive housing case worker. He is a member of SEIU 1999 and the Industrial Workers of the World.


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10 FAQs on the Legality of Monitoring Employees

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Employee monitoring is used by many businesses to track the performance and computer usage of their employees. While this is an essential process, employers have a responsibility to ensure that their monitoring methods are non-invasive.

In this article, we will explain how and why employee rights should be protected, by answering the top 10 FAQs on the legalities of the monitoring process.

#1 What is Employee Monitoring?

Employee monitoring is the process of workplace surveillance conducted by employers to gather data on the activities of their employees in the workplace.

There are several reasons why employers may conduct this process, including to improve performance, safeguard staff, and protect their data or resources.

#2 Is Employee Monitoring Legal?

Employee monitoring is legal under most state and federal laws. 

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act 1986 (ECPA) states that employers can monitor the written and verbal communications of their employees, as long as they have a valid reason for doing so.

#3 When is Employee Monitoring Considered to be Invasive?

Employee monitoring can be considered invasive if employees are not made aware that they are being monitored. This process also becomes invasive when employers do not have a valid business reason for the surveillance, especially when working from home has become so commonplace.

Invasive employee monitoring may therefore include:

  • Monitoring employees outside of work hours without consent
  • Listening to or recording private phone calls and messages without consent
  • Installing monitoring software on an employee’s device without consent

#4 Which Laws Protect Employee Privacy in the Workplace?

According to an ExpressVPN survey, 59% of employees are anxious about the prospect of being monitored at work. 

However, there are laws in place ensuring that employees get the privacy that they are entitled to, whilst also allowing the employer to monitor the activities of the business.

The main employee privacy law is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act 1986 (ECPA), which is the only federal act governing workplace electronic communication monitoring.

This law sets the minimum limitations for employee monitoring and has been adapted by several states to impose greater restrictions on employers.

#5 Can Employers Watch Employees Using Video Monitoring Systems?

According to the ECPA, employers are legally allowed to monitor their employees using video surveillance systems if they have a legitimate reason for doing so.

However, some states across the US have chosen to increase restrictions and prohibit the use of video monitoring to maintain employee privacy.

For example, West Virginia, New York, and California have banned video monitoring in areas such as restrooms.

#6 Is It Legal for Employers to Monitor Company Computers?

Yes, employers can access any activity performed on a work computer, which is considered lawful if they make employees aware of this before monitoring their devices.

This includes monitoring screen contents, keystrokes typed per hour, and emails sent or received on the company’s system.

#7 Are Employers Legally Able to Monitor the Personal Devices of Employees?

For productivity and performance levels to be as high as possible, employees need to have a good work-life balance.

This involves employers allowing their employees to live their personal life outside of the workplace privately, without fear that they will be monitored.

Legally, employers cannot ask employees to download monitoring software on their personal devices without written consent. However, many companies do gain the consent of employees if they have a bring your own device (BYOD) to work policy in place.

#8 Can an Employer Monitor The Social Media of Their Employees?

Employers have the legal right to monitor the social media accounts of both current and prospective employees.

They can also take disciplinary action if an employee’s social media posts violate company policies.

#9 Can Employers Track Employees Using GPS?

If employers have a valid business reason for doing so and have gained consent from the employee, then they can use a GPS vehicle tracker to monitor employees.

GPS is used especially by companies employing people to work from home, to ensure that they are in the right location to work.

#10 Do Employers Have to Inform Employees That They Are Being Monitored?

In some states, employers are not required to inform employees of their monitoring procedures.

However, being open with employees about monitoring can be beneficial to employer-employee relations and may create a better company culture. A Dtex System survey found that 77% of American employees would feel less concerned about employee monitoring as long as they were transparent about it. 

For example, implementing healthy workplace initiatives and tracking the health metrics of employees can help lower the company’s health insurance costs. The data of employees who volunteer to join the program and their feedback can be used to plan the next steps for a healthier workforce.

Conclusion

Legally, employers are therefore able to monitor their employees. However, their employee monitoring procedures must be non-invasive to maintain good relations and ensure that employees feel respected within the workplace.

About the Author: Marian Domingo is blog contributor for Workplace Fairness.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness and is published with permission.


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Why It’s Important To Have an Employee-First Mindset with Business Decisions

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Dan Matthews

One of the most pertinent challenges businesses are facing today is the shift in employee mindset.

Employees are fighting for changes in the workplace that benefit them more than ever. But unfortunately, businesses that aren’t taking this shift seriously are losing employees — and their companies suffer because of it.

The solution? Adopting an employee-first mindset when making business decisions. Having an employee-first attitude in business decision-making can benefit both businesses and individuals in the workplace. Let’s look at this in more detail below.

The Benefits of an Employee-First Mindset

Putting employees first in business decision-making is integral to the stability and longevity of a
company.

For example, let’s say a company leader decides to add an entire department to their
organization. They aren’t planning on hiring new employees, and they don’t tell their existing
employees this.

Now, their employees are bombarded with extra responsibilities and expectations. The
employees try, but eventually, the stress leads to exhaustion, burnout, and a decline in
productivity. And the new department never gets off the ground.

Employees will end up departing, leaving no one to manage the existing and new departments,
impacting the ability to maintain the operation, let alone expand it. Had the company leader
considered how this change would affect their employees, communicate with them, and put
support structures in place to navigate potential challenges, their business would still be in good
shape.

An employee-first mindset with business decisions also benefits employees. For instance, when
a business brings new employees on board without consulting their existing team, it can result
in employees feeling insecure and uneasy about where they stand.

On the other hand, let’s say a company considers how its employees can benefit from a new
team member and asks their existing team how they feel about it. In that case, it’ll help
employees warm up to the change and feel more involved in the decision. In addition, they have
an opportunity to give their input on who and what skill sets the team needs to move forward.

Ultimately, having an employee-first mindset with business decisions is the best way to ensure
both the business and its employees are wholly supported.

How to Ensure Employees Come First in Decision-Making

Business leaders that adopt an employee-first mindset in their decision-making can create a
workplace where employees feel appreciated, supported, and secure. But how exactly do you
ensure employees are more involved in and at the forefront of decision-making?

Make accessibility a priority.

It only takes one employee to not have access to and ability to engage with something or
someone in the workplace for them to feel like they aren’t a valuable part of the team. And when
employees feel undervalued, it affects their and the entire workforce’s productivity.
So, always consider accessibility when you think about how a decision will affect your
employees.

For example, if you’re redesigning your office, plan with your employees living with
a disability in mind.

Even business trips should be accessible to everyone. Every time your team travels, list the
accommodations each person needs and do your best to ensure they’re met, whether it’s
needing a wheelchair-accessible location, budget-friendly events, or accessible transportation.

Whatever your employees need, ensure they have it so they can bring their best selves to work
daily.

Prioritize employee needs and input when making changes.

When a company leader makes a business decision, it usually means something is about to
change. Change will affect your employees in one way or another. So, you need to consider
their needs and input before making any permanent changes if you want things to go smoothly.

For example, let’s say you want to ramp up your sustainability initiatives. These initiatives will be
much more powerful if your employees are on board.

So, listen to their perspectives about sustainability and suggestions on improving it in your
workplace, whether it’s moving to a green office space, using resources more responsibly, or
removing certain health risks.

Ensure your employees are heard when it’s time to make a change.

Employees are demanding change in the workplace. Businesses resistant to change will stifle
business and employee growth. So, don’t just allow employees to advocate for themselves.
Genuinely welcome it. They’ll be much more empowered and productive because of it.

This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a contributor for Workplace Fairness.


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‘Yet another major, ideologically driven last-minute rule change’ from Team Trump

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Donald Trump began his time in the White House by dismantling as many Obama-era regulations and rules as he could—ones that protected workers, or the environment, or consumers. Now he’s ending his time in the White House by rushing to lock in as many avenues for discrimination and pollution as possible. The Labor Department has just finalized a rule giving federal contractors more leeway to hire and fire based on religious reasons

A senior Labor Department official “emphasized that the rule could not be used as a pretext for religious organizations to discriminate against people on the basis of protected categories like gender or race,” The New York Times reports. But there are a lot of categories that are ripe for discrimination—LGBTQ workers are very high on the list, but so are unmarried pregnant women, the Times notes. And organizations can expand the roles in which they can hire exclusively from within their faith.

“The final rule would significantly expand eligibility for federal contractors to claim a religious exemption from non-discrimination rules,” Public Citizen’s Matt Kent told Government Executive. “It’s an invitation for any contractor that’s loosely affiliated with a religious purpose to discriminate against LGBTQ employees. Yet another major, ideologically driven last-minute rule change from the Trump administration.”

“It is hard to overstate the harm that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is visiting on LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, and others with the sledgehammer it is taking to federal nondiscrimination protections,” Lambda Legal’s Jennifer Pizer said in a statement. “For nearly 80 years, it has been a core American principle that seeking and receiving federal tax dollars to do work for the American people means promising not to discriminate against one’s own workers with those funds.  This new rule uses religion to create an essentially limitless exemption allowing taxpayer-funded contractors to impose their religious beliefs on their employees without regard to the resulting harms, such as unfair job terms, invasive proselytizing and other harassment that make job settings unbearable for workers targeted on religious grounds.”

She continued: “The Department of Labor has crafted a grotesquely overbroad exemption that will be used by many federal contractors as a totally improper, catch-all defense to discrimination complaints. The rule allows contractors, including large for-profit companies, to use the special treatment designed for religious organizations if they merely ‘affirm [] a religious purpose in response to inquiries from a member of the public or a government entity.’ This adds yet another gaping hole to the Swiss cheese the Trump administration has been systematically making of our country’s essential civil rights protections.”

The new rule goes into effect on Jan. 8, 12 days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. He would likely have to go through a long process to make a new rule to replace it.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on December 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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How to Help Your Employees Become More Productive

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Has your productivity been lagging? Are you struggling to find ways to inspire yourself to work harder for you? Are you inspired by your boss? Perhaps you are trying the wrong tactics. Instead of focusing on what your employer can do for you, why don’t you consider what you can do to improve your life at work?

Here are some suggestions on ways you can improve productivity in the workplace. We think you may be surprised by our advice.

Take afternoon walks.

We all feel that afternoon slump. Our eyes begin to get sleepy, and we lose our ability to concentrate. Some companies fight this problem by offering free coffee or caffeinated soda to employees to give them an energy burst. But having caffeine late in the afternoon may cause you to not be able to fall asleep at bedtime. Instead, maybe try going on a brisk walk outside. Not only will this combat sleepiness, but you could encourage your whole work crew outside at the same time to have a team-building exercise.

Create a more ergonomic workstation.

Perhaps you feel like you’re not performing well because you’re in constant pain. Maybe your backs hurt from the chair they provided you, or your wrists hurt from utilizing a keyboard with little wrist support. Make sure your work stations follow OSHA’s guidelines.

Even if your desks and chairs at work are supposed to be designed with comfort in mind, you could still suffer from back pain. Just as people use a wedge pillow to get better sleep, you may consider bringing a wedge pillow for your chair. A pain-free employee is a productive employee. You should let your employer know that you’re doing this to make yourself more productive and that it isn’t necessarily distracting at all. If anything, this has saved you hours from driving home to work more comfortably or even taking too many breaks during the day.

Take work-from-home days

Are you concerned that working from home will reduce productivity? Why not give it a try? Giving yourself a chance to work from home at least once a week may inspire you to increase productivity to extend the benefit.

There are many benefits to working from home. Not only is less time wasted on commuting, but your staff is less likely to share sicknesses and spend time around the “water cooler.”

Make your schedule flexible

Not every person in your office is a morning person, so why force yourself to have the same schedule?

Flexible scheduling will also benefit you if you’re a parent of young children or caring for elderly family members. This not only will allow you more time to spend time caring for them, but also give you the freedom to finish any project at any time that you feel most productive. If you’re more a productive night person, then this can help you be a better employee.

Work in a quiet work environment

Whoever designed cubicles for offices must not have ever had to concentrate while working. It’s difficult for some people to focus when they hear their coworkers’ phone conversations, the constant thump of the bathroom door, and the chatty Kathy loudly talking about her last date.

If you are able to work in an office space by yourself, do so. At a minimum, always open up that conversation with your boss or assign a quiet workstation for people in your office.

Utilize in-house childcare

If you’re a new parent, you may be continuously distracted if you have to worry about how your newborn infant is doing at the babysitter across town. If you have an in-house daycare at your workplace, you will know if something is out of the ordinary. Also, you won’t have to leave as quickly at quitting time when you know that you can simply pick up your child on the way out of the office.

Create a healthy work environment

Employees will be more productive and happier people if they eat right and exercise. Do what you can to promote healthy living at work. Perhaps this means that you will hold a contest each week to see what team records the most number of steps for your office. Maybe you could suggest the human resources department offer a free salad bar once a week to employees at lunch. Also, consider taking up that insurance policy that offers free counseling and other mental health services.

Schedule meetings for later in the day

Are you wasting the most productive part of your workday by hosting meetings in the morning? If you’re a part of a staff full of “morning people,” they may arrive at the office ready to tackle their inbox and cross items off of their to-do list.

Having staff meetings toward “quitting time” could encourage your staff to be more unified. Instead of one person always playing the devil’s advocate, your team will be encouraged to work together.

We hope that these ideas will help you find a way to increase productivity in the workplace.

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Susan Ranford is an expert on job market trends, hiring, and business management. She is the Community Outreach Coordinator for New York Jobs. In her blogging and writing, she seeks to shed light on issues related to employment, business, and finance to help others understand different industries and find the right job fit for them. Follow her on Twitter @SusanRanford.


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These corporations have declared war on Thanksgiving

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For the last decade or so, dozens of the world’s largest retailers have shifted the unofficial start date of the holiday shopping season one day forward, from Black Friday — so named because it’s the busiest shopping day of the year and pushes retailers’ bottom lines into the black — to Thanksgiving Day.

So instead of sitting down to a family dinner, corporations like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and others coerce or sometimes force hundreds of thousands of minimum wage employees and countless more shoppers to forego the federal holiday and instead work extra long shifts hawking cheap televisions, refrigerators, or Nickelback CDs.

Defenders of the practice argue that if shoppers didn’t want to be out buying holiday presents on Thanksgiving Day, they would simply stay home. But many of the shoppers who turn up do so because the same retail stores often reserve their best deals for the first people through the door. If you’re from a lower income family and can only afford certain gifts if the price is right, showing up when a store opens isn’t so much a choice as it is a necessity.

The pressure to skip Thanksgiving is even greater on the hundreds of thousands of employees who work at big box stores. Many store managers make it hard or even impossible for their hourly workers to take off on Thanksgiving. Others who have tried to stand up for their employees have themselves been fired by corporate executives for not opening on Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, after years of push-back from shoppers and employees, some retailers are beginning to rethink the practice. For the last seven years, ThinkProgress has provided our readers with a shopping guide to the stores that are remaining closed for the duration of Thanksgiving—and the ones that are not. Our list is far from comprehensive, but we’ve tried to offer a range of retail categories. This holiday season, consider giving your business to the stores that are treating their workers with some civility, and withholding it from those that are not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Adam Peck is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Adam grew up just outside of New York City, and attended Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Before joining ThinkProgress, Adam was an intern at Countdown with Keith Olbermann at MSNBC in New York, and at Campus Progress in Washington, D.C. He was also the founder and editor of Think Magazine, the largest collegiate news organization on Long Island. His work has appeared in The New York Times, CNN and the BBC.


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Supreme Court opens its new term with a direct attack on workers’ rights

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The Supreme Court returns next Monday from its summer vacation for the first full term where Neil Gorsuch will occupy a seat at the far end of the Court’s bench. And the Court will open this term with a trio of cases that are very likely to immunize many employers from consequences for their illegal actions.

The three cases — National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USAErnst & Young LLP v. Morris, and Epic Systems v. Lewis — all involve employment contracts cutting off employee’s rights to sue their employer for legal violations.

In at least one case, employees were required to sign the contract as a condition of beginning work. In another, employees were forced to give up their rights as a condition of keeping their job. These contracts contained two restrictions on the employees: 1) a “forced arbitration” provision, which requires any legal disputes between the employer and the employee to be resolved in a privatized arbitration system; and 2) a provision prohibiting employees from bringing class actions or other collective suits against their employers.

Requiring private arbitration favors employers over employees. As an Economic Policy Institute study determined, employees are less likely to prevail before an arbitrator than before a court, and they typically receive less money from an arbitrator when they do prevail.

Banning class action suits, meanwhile, effectively permits employers to violate the law with impunity, so long as they do not do too much harm to any individual employee.

If an employer cheats one employee out of $300,000 worth of wages, for example, that employee is likely to be able to find a lawyer who will take his case on a contingency basis — meaning that the lawyer gets a percentage of what the employee collects from the employer if they win. If the same employer cheats 10,000 employees out of $30 each, however, no lawyer is going to represent any one of these workers on a contingency basis. Plus, few employees are likely to bother with a $30 suit. It’s too much hassle, and too expensive to hire a lawyer who won’t work on contingency. The solution to this problem is a class action suit, which allows the 10,000 employees to join together in a single case litigated by a single legal team.

Banning such class actions effectively leaves these employees without remedy. As one federal judge explained, “the realistic alternative to a class action is not 17 million individual suits, but zero individual suits, as only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30.”

The employer’s claim that they can combine a forced arbitration clause with a class action ban arises out of two previous Supreme Court cases that took an extraordinarily creative view of a nearly 100-year-old law.

In 1925, Congress enacted the Federal Arbitration Act to allow, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once explained, “merchants with relatively equal bargaining power” to agree to resolve their disputes through arbitration. Beginning in the 1980s, however, the Court started to read this law expansively to permit forced arbitration between businesses and relatively powerless consumers and employees.

Then, the Court got even more aggressive. By its own terms, the Federal Arbitration Act exempts “workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” Nevertheless, in its 5-4 decision in Circuit City v. Adams, the Supreme Court held that the Act applies to most workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce. Thus, forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts were given special protected status, even though the federal law governing these clauses says otherwise.

Similarly, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for a 5-4 Court in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion that the Federal Arbitration Act has penumbras, formed by emanations from its guarantees that give it life and substance. The right of businesses to insert class action bans, Scalia claimed, is one of these penumbras contained in the 1925 law. And so businesses gained the power to add no class action clauses to their forced arbitration agreements, even if a ban on class actions violates state law — and despite the fact that the Federal Arbitration Act says nothing about class actions.

Nevertheless, the employees in Murphy Oil and its companion cases hope that another provision of law will protect them from signing away their right to join a class action.

A provision of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) provides that “employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” Several lower courts have held that an employee’s right to engage in “concerted activities” protects their right to join class actions, and they cite multiple previous Supreme Court decisions which lend credibility to this claim.

In a world governed by the text of the law, employees would have a strong case that they cannot be forced to give up their right to bring class action litigation. But we live in a world governed by Circuit City and Concepcion — both of which demonstrate the Supreme Court’s willingness to take liberties with the law in forced arbitration cases.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 25, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Ian Millhiser is the Justice Editor for ThinkProgress, and the author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

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Sexual harassment of graduate students by faculty is a national problem

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University of Wisconsin-Madison’s anonymous complaints of sexual harassment often rest on “institutional memory” and there is no actual requirement in place to document them, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

There are two channels for sexual harassment reports at the university. Students and employees can file formal complaints, which results in an investigation by the Title IX coordinator’s office, or they can report through an informal resolution that lets accusers remain anonymous but does not allow the university to mete out more severe penalties.

UW-Madison officials told the Wisconsin State Journal that the university is working on clearer policies for both of these processes, but confirmed that there is no policy in place requiring employees to track anonymous complaints.

The lack of a formal system to track anonymous sexual harassment complaints is particularly troublesome given the number of complaints made against faculty members by co-workers or students at UW-Masison. It’s fairly common for female graduate students at the university to experience sexual harassment from faculty members. A 2015 survey on sexual misconduct found that of those women who experienced harassment, 22.2 percent reported that their harasser was a faculty member at UW-Madison.

Experts interviewed by the Wisconsin State Journal — Neena Chaudhry, director of education and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, and Saunie Schuster, a co-founder of the Association of Title IX Administrators — said this is big problem for universities. Universities may not know that a faculty member is a serial harasser if they haven’t recorded multiple complaints, and the institution would be a legal target for sexual harassment victims.

The university responded to the Journal and said it is in the process of developing a system to record these allegations.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is hardly alone, however. Universities across the country have poor policies to address harassers in their university systems, even if that person has harassed people multiple times. Some universities may actively protect faculty who are accused of harassment.

In March 2015, Sujit Choudhry, the dean at UC Berkeley School of Law, was accused of harassment by his executive assistant. Berkeley investigators found that he had in fact harassed his assistant Tyann Sorrell, but in April of this year, the university reached a deal with him anyway, allowing him to receive research funding, keep tenure, and avoid any charges. His pay was reduced 10 percent and he had to apologize to Sorrell, but even with his pay cut, he made $373,500 annually.

Soon after the university reached this deal, experts on Title IX policy told ThinkProgress that the Choudhry deal is fairly common, because universities tend to identify more with the alleged harasser than the victim. In many cases, faculty members have more resources than the victim, and could drag out a lawsuit against the university after it metes out serious disciplinary consequences.

And too often, serial harassers are allowed to continue their harassment. In March, the Associated Press looked at 112 cases from January 2013 to April 2016 at nine campuses in the University of California system. The investigation found that rumors about the accused faculty circulated for years until universities took any kind of action??and that even after they did so, many faculty members kept their jobs.

The issue of faculty harassment of graduate students is a national one, and universities will have to adjust their policies if they’re going to address it. In 2016, researchers who surveyed 525 graduate students on sexual and gender-based harassment found that 38 percent of female participants and 23.4 percent of male participants self-reported that they had experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff.

More recent research shows that faculty harassers are often serial harassers and engage in serious forms of harassment such as sexual assault. According to a study released in July, “A Systematic Look at a Serial Problem: Sexual Harassment of Students by University Faculty,” most harassers studied have physically rather than verbally harassed students. Some faculty harassers exhibited “domestic-abuse like behaviors.” Over half of the faculty cases studied — 53 percent — were alleged to have participated in serial harassment.

Graduate students hope to secure protection from harassment as they fight for their labor rights. Graduate students say that union representation and collective bargaining will help them get contracts that cover issues of sexual harassment.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.


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The Trump administration is quietly making it easier to abuse seniors in nursing homes

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The Trump administration is poised to undo rules issued by the Obama administration last year to protect seniors from a common tactic used by businesses to shield themselves from consequences for illegal conduct.

Under these rules, issued last September, Medicare and Medicaid would cut off payments to nursing homes that require new residents to sign forced arbitration agreements, a contract which strips individuals of their ability to sue in a real court and diverts the case to a privatized arbitration system.

But last month, the Trump administration published a proposed rule which will reinstate nursing homes’ ability to receive federal money even if they force seniors into arbitration agreements.

Forced arbitration can prevent even the most egregious cases from ever reaching a judge. According to the New York Times, a 94 year-old nursing home resident “who died from a head wound that had been left to fester, was ordered to go to arbitration.” In another case, the family of a woman who suffered “two spine fractures from serious falls, a large, infected ulcer on her heel that prevented her from walking, incontinence from not being able to get to the bathroom, receding gums from poor hygiene assistance, and a dramatic weigh loss from not being given her dentures,” was also sent to an arbitrator after they sued the woman’s nursing home alleging neglect.

Moreover, as law professor and health policy expert Nicholas Bagley notes, arbitration tends “to favor the repeat players who hire them—companies, not consumers.” Several studies have found that forced arbitration typically produces worse outcomes for consumers and workers. An Economic Policy Institute study of employment cases, for example, found that employees are less likely to prevail before an arbitrator, and that they typically receive less money if they do prevail.

The Obama-era rules were never allowed to take effect. Shortly after the regulations were announced, a George W. Bush-appointed judge in Mississippi issued a decision blocking the rule—although Judge Michael Mills did caveat his order by stating that “this case places this court in the undesirable position of preliminarily enjoining a Rule which it believes to be based upon sound public policy.”

Important parts of Mills’ opinion rely on dubious reasoning. At one point, for example, he cites a doctrine limiting the federal government’s power to use threats of lost funding against state governments in order to impose similar limits on federal efforts to encourage good behavior by private actors.

But let’s be honest. If the Trump administration wasn’t preparing to end the Obama-era rule, conservatives on the Supreme Court most likely would have done so themselves.

Prior to Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court’s Republican majority took such a sweeping and expansive view of companies’ power to use forced arbitration that it is likely the Obama administration’s rules would have been struck down in a 5–4 decision. Now that Neil Gorsuch occupies Scalia’s seat, Republicans once again have the majority they need to shield arbitration agreements.

In the alternative universe where the winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election was inaugurated last January, Justice Merrick Garland was likely to provide the fifth vote to uphold the Obama-era rule. But we do not live in that universe. And neither do the many elderly nursing home residents who will be worse off thanks to the Trump administration.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received his JD from Duke University and clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. His writings have appeared in a diversity of publications, including the New York Times, the Guardian, the Nation, the American Prospect and the Yale Law & Policy Review.


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