Where There’s Smoke: Employer Policies on Smoking

Source: Sandra M. Tomkowicz and Susan K. Lessack, Employee Relations Law Journal, Winter 2006, Vol. 32 no. 3

In response to a recent Surgeon General’s report highlighting the dangers of secondhand smoke, employers may be increasingly pressed to balance the rights of smokers and non-smokers. Policies that attempt to control off-the-job smoking pose higher litigation risks than policies targeted specifically at eliminating smoke in the workplace. Failing to provide a smoke-free environment also may pose a risk of litigation to employers.

An Ounce of Prevention May Be Worth a Pound of Cure: How Employees Can Prepare for an Ailing Workforce in the Event of an Avian Flu Outbreak

Source: Amy M. Scott and Von E. Hays, Employee Relations Law Journal, Winter 2006, Vol. 32 no. 3

Much well-deserved attention has been paid to the prospect of an avian flu outbreak in the United States. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the avian flu has not reached the United States. The only countries reporting human cases are China, Turkey, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Currently, the virus is transmitted from infected birds to humans. The virus has not mutated to a from that can be transmitted directly from human to human. However, the potential for mutation exists. This potential is at the epicenter of our greatest fears, considering the devastating consequences of a global pandemic. We can either be paralyzed by such fear or we can be proactive in addressing the issue. In situations such as this, the proverbial ounce of prevention may truly be worth a pound of cure.

The impact of an avian flu pandemic is of no small consequence to employers, as the prospect of a pandemic creates a panoply of labor and employment issues. This article is designed to highlight some of those issues and provide meaningful strategies for dealing with the issues should they arise.

The Impact of Discipline on the Use and Rapidity of Dismissal in State Governments

Source: Sally Coleman Selden, Review of Public Personnel Administration, December 2006, Vol. 26 no. 4

Although several studies have looked at voluntary turnover in public organizations, little research has examined involuntary turnover and average time to terminate employees in public organizations. This study focuses on the impact of a state’s discipline system on its use and rapidity of discharge of state employees. Results show that factors associated with utilization of dismissal of state employees differ from factors associated with how quickly states terminate employees. This study shows that states adopting at-will employment are no more likely to fire employees than states with civil service employment systems are, but they do terminate employment relationships more quickly.

Human Resource Problems and State Management Performance Across Two Decades: The Implications for Civil Service Reform

Source: Richard C. Elling and T. Lyke Thompson, Review of Public Personnel Administration, December 2006, Vol. 26 no. 4

Based on the views of hundreds of managers in 10 states surveyed in 1982 and 2000, this article explores the severity of a range of human resource-related barriers to effective state management. Adequately rewarding outstanding employees, difficulty filling key staff vacancies, retaining experienced staff, disciplining low-performing employees, and—in 2000—uncompetitive pay were among the most serious impediments. Little change in the severity of various human resource-related problems occurred between 1982 and 2000, however. Despite the criticism often leveled at them, variation in civil service coverage and variation in public sector collective bargaining were typically only weakly related to the severity of particular personnel-related problems. In fact, certain problems were less serious in those states with more extensive civil service coverage or more widespread collective bargaining. There was little evidence that deregulating aspects of state human resource systems reduced the severity of personnel-related impediments.

We are All Waiters Now: Why Higher Taxes Would Make Americans Happier, and Why, Despite This, We Won’t Raise Them

Source: Thomas Geoghegan, In These Times, December 2006, Vol. 30 no. 12

Now that the Democrats run Congress, the question becomes, “What should they do?” Yes, raise the minimum wage. And yes, fix the Medicare drug program. But will this bind a new majority to the party?…

… But what the Democrats don’t have is a serious commitment—the political nerve—to make people happier in the only way they can: by raising people’s taxes. How happy more of us would be if only we could pay higher taxes! More of us at last could joyfully retire.

In May 2005, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) put out a sort of Michelin Guide to the pensions of the world’s 30 wealthiest nations: the United States, Ireland and their ilk. While the United States is rich, comparatively it’s a beggar at the bottom, with a Burger King-type pension, paying on average 39 percent of after-tax income at retirement. Others pay about 70 percent on average. Germany, Sweden: pick a country. Some pay even more.

Smashing the Clock

Source: Michelle Conlin, Business Week, December 11, 2006, No. 4013

One afternoon last year, Chap Achen, who oversees online orders at Best Buy Co., shut down his computer, stood up from his desk, and announced that he was leaving for the day. It was around 2 p.m., and most of Achen’s staff were slumped over their keyboards, deep in a post-lunch, LCD-lit trance. “See you tomorrow,” said Achen. “I’m going to a matinee.” ….

….At most companies, going AWOL during daylight hours would be grounds for a pink slip. Not at Best Buy. The nation’s leading electronics retailer has embarked on a radical–if risky–experiment to transform a culture once known for killer hours and herd-riding bosses. The endeavor, called ROWE, for “results-only work environment,” seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours.

Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek

Source: Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce, Harvard Business Review, December 2006, Vol. 84 no. 12

Today’s overachieving professionals labor longer, take on more responsibility, and earn more than the workaholics of yore. They hold what Hewlett and Luce call “extreme jobs,” which entail workweeks of 60 or more hours and have at least five of ten characteristics–such as tight deadlines and lots of travel–culled from the authors’ research on this work model. A project of the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, a private-sector initiative, this research consists of two large surveys (one of high earners across various professions in the United States and the other of high-earning managers in large multinational corporations) that map the shape and scope of such jobs, as well as focus groups and in-depth interviews that get at extreme workers’ attitudes and motivations. In this article, Hewlett and Luce consider their data in relation to increasing competitive pressures, vastly improved communication technology, cultural shifts, and other sweeping changes that have made high-stakes employment more prominent. What emerges is a complex picture of the all-consuming career–rewarding in many ways, but not without danger to individuals and to society. By and large, extreme professionals don’t feel exploited; they feel exalted. A strong majority of them in the United States–66%–say they love their jobs, and in the global companies survey, this figure rises to 76%. The authors’ research suggests, however, that women are at a disadvantage. Although they don’t shirk the pressure or responsibility of extreme work, they are not matching the hours logged by their male colleagues. This constitutes a barrier for ambitious women, but it also means that employers face a real opportunity: They can find better ways to tap the talents of women who will commit to hard work and responsibility but cannot put in overlong days.

Left Behind: Workers and Their Families in a Changing Los Angeles

Source: Alissa Anderson Garcia, David Carroll, and Jean Ross, California Budget Project, Special Report, September 2006

For generations, Los Angeles has been known as a place where one could go to achieve the American dream. Not long ago, this dream was easily realized in Los Angeles. California’s most populous county was once a place where jobs brought the middle-class lifestyle within reach of anyone who worked hard. Such jobs formed the foundation of Los Angeles’ prosperity and enabled the county to become one of the most vibrant places in California.

Over the past few decades, however, economic and demographic changes have recast the landscape of the Los Angeles economy. Today, low-wage jobs have replaced many of the jobs that once provided a gateway to a middle-class life. As the county’s labor market has changed, many Los Angeles workers and their families have been left behind. Job growth in Los Angeles has lagged that of the rest of the state, and the gap between the wages earned by workers in Los Angeles and the rest of California has widened considerably. As Los Angeles enters the twenty-first century, its promise of the good life has faded. Workers tend to have lower wages, families tend to have lower incomes, and residents have a higher rate of poverty in Los Angeles than in the rest of the state.

The ‘Sandwich Generation’ Women Caring for Parents and Children

Source: Charles R. Pierret, Monthly Labor Review, September 2006, Vol. 129 no. 9

Data from the National Longitudinal Survey are used to estimate the number and characteristics of women 45 to 56 years old who care for both their children and their parents; these women transfer a significant amount of money to their children and time to their parents.

The 2nd Annual EBRI/Commonwealth Fund Consumerism in Health Care Survey, 2006: Early Experience With High-Deductible and Consumer-Driven Health Plans

Source: Paul Fronstin and Sara R. Collins, EBRI Issue Brief, December 2006, No. 300

This report presents findings from the EBRI/Commonwealth Fund Consumerism in Health Care Survey, 2006, the second annual version of this survey. The online survey of 3,158 privately insured adults ages 21–64 was conducted to provide nationally representative data regarding the growth of consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), and their impact on the behavior and attitudes of health care consumers.