Digitalization Is About People, Not Just Technology

Digitalization Is About People, Not Just Technology

The digital age has its pros and cons for the workforce. Technology provides employees with faster, easier access to information and data. It also allows for greater personalization and more interaction between employee and employer. Yet the digitalization of the workplace does have its downsides. Consider smartphones, for example: They can be alternately distracting and distressing; they can create barriers to action like information overload and decision fatigue, as well as work-life balance issues stemming from an “always-on” mentality.

Some managers, frustrated with the ubiquity of these devices and their ability to distract employees, are banning phones from meetings or otherwise limiting their use in the workplace, the Wall Street Journal’s John Simons wrote in a feature last week. Simons points to studies indicating that executives and managers consider smartphones “the leading productivity killers in the workplace” and that the presence of a phone can harm people’s cognitive performance, even when they are not using or holding it. He also notes Google’s recent announcement that the next version of its Android operating system will introduce a feature enabling users to see how much time they spend on their phones, which apps they use the most, and how often the phone gets unlocked.

Our recent research at CEB, now Gartner, also underscores these downsides of technology at work. While solutions to help employees minimize time wasted on tech, like Google’s forthcoming Android time tracker, might be helpful, our research suggests that no technological intervention can have a meaningful impact on employee performance or the employee experience by itself. The limitations are striking, given the large investments organizations (and HR functions in particular) are making in technology to support employees. But the challenges employers face are human and organizational, not just technological—and the same must be true of any solution.

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Google, Coursera Launch Machine Learning Course Series

Google, Coursera Launch Machine Learning Course Series

Google and the online learning platform Coursera are launching a five-course machine learning specialization to teach developers how to build machine learning models using the TensorFlow framework, Frederic Lardinois reports at TechCrunch:

The new specialization, called “Machine Learning with TensorFlow on Google Cloud Platform,” has students build real-world machine learning models. It takes them from setting up their environment to learning how to create and sanitize datasets to writing distributed models in TensorFlow, improving the accuracy of those models and tuning them to find the right parameters.

As Google’s Big Data and Machine Learning Tech Lead Lak Lakshmanan told me, his team heard that students and companies really liked the original machine learning course but wanted an option to dig deeper into the material. Students wanted to know not just how to build a basic model but also how to then use it in production in the cloud, for example, or how to build the data pipeline for it and figure out how to tune the parameters to get better results. …

It’s worth noting that these courses expect that you are already a somewhat competent programmer. While it has gotten much easier to start with machine learning thanks to new frameworks like TensorFlow, this is still an advanced skill.

The new series is a continuation of Google’s longstanding partnership with Coursera, through which the tech giant went public with its internal IT support training curriculum earlier this year.

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Employment Issues Remain Uncertain as Maine Marijuana Law Moves Forward

Employment Issues Remain Uncertain as Maine Marijuana Law Moves Forward

Maine was one of several US states where voters passed measures to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in 2016. Republican Governor Paul LePage has sought to stymie legalization by blocking implementing legislation. Last November, LePage successfully vetoed the first version of this legislation, and late last month attempted to veto a second version, but both houses of the state congress voted on May 2 to override his veto, UPI reported. The rules in the final bill are somewhat less permissive than those initially approved by voters with regards to the regulatory mechanisms under which legal marijuana can be grown and distributed in the state.

Other aspects of the voter-approved ballot measure, such as its provision protecting marijuana users against employment discrimination, have already gone into effect. That provision, which went into effect February 1, prohibits employers from refusing to employ or otherwise penalizing anyone over the age of 21 on the basis of their using marijuana, provided they are not using it during working hours or on the employer’s property. That has significant consequences for Maine employers’ drug policies, as a positive test for marijuana would no longer be sufficient cause for terminating an employee (current testing methods can only detect whether an individual has consumed cannabis within the past few weeks, not whether they are currently under the influence).

The implementing legislation, however, contains different language regarding how employers can and cannot treat employees who use marijuana, Seyfarth Shaw attorneys observe at their dedicated marijuana-law blog, The Blunt Truth:

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US Employers Might Still Think Twice Before Forcing Arbitration

US Employers Might Still Think Twice Before Forcing Arbitration

The US Supreme Court ruling on Monday upholding employers’ right to include arbitration agreements and class action waivers in employees’ work contracts is being celebrated by business associations and employer-side attorneys as a major victory, mitigating the risk of expensive litigation over labor disputes that may arise from honest mistakes rather than deliberate malfeasance. Advocates of arbitration say it is faster and cheaper than a courtroom trial and that the confidentiality of arbitration is a benefit to both employees and employers (though critics, of course, disagree on all of these points).

Before they go adding an arbitration clause to every employee’s contract, however, there are some things employers should consider. First of all, as the Wall Street Journal points out, the ruling does not apply to every contract; unionized employees’ collective bargaining rights entitle them to legal representation as a group, which employers cannot override in individual agreements. Employees also still have the right to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and in her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stressed that the majority opinion would not stand in the way of discrimination claims “that call for proof on a group-wide basis.”

Concerns about the ruling’s effect on harassment and discrimination have been particularly highlighted in the news, as we’ve seen organizations leverage individual arbitration of these cases in the past with the effect that it has hidden patterns of bad behavior and prevented employees from comparing experiences. This, in turn, can make it harder for the organization itself to realize the extent of the problem and address it systemically.

What individual arbitration does not protect organizations from, however, is reputational risk. We’ve seen this in the public blowback against companies whose arbitration policies are interpreted as them trying to hide ongoing discriminatory behavior. Within the past six months, companies like Microsoft, Uber, and Lyft have abandoned forced arbitration of harassment cases to guard against this risk. The public relations downside to handling these matters quietly is growing to outweigh the upside in terms of cost and legal risk.

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Uber to Provide European Drivers with Paid Leave, Injury Insurance

Uber to Provide European Drivers with Paid Leave, Injury Insurance

Uber is rolling out new benefits for drivers working through its platform in Europe, including sick pay, paid parental and bereavement leave, and compensation for work-related injuries, the BBC reported this week:

The insurance and compensation package will be available to all Uber drivers and Uber Eats delivery couriers across Europe. However, unions have questioned whether the package is new. In April 2017, Uber announced illness and injury insurance cover for its drivers. Uber drivers who wanted to join the scheme were required to pay £2 a week. …

Uber will provide drivers with a range of insurance coverage and compensation resulting from accidents or injuries that occur while they are working, as well as protection for “major life events” that happen whether the driver is on a shift or not. … Drivers are not going to get the kind of benefits they would enjoy as employees but there will be a little something to help them deal with life’s ups and downs.

The announcement comes just a month before an appeals hearing in a London court regarding Transport for London’s decision last September to revoke Uber’s license to operate as a private car hire operator in the city, on the basis that its “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility.” Uber has been allowed to continue operating in London while it appeals the decision, as it is scheduled to do at Westminster Magistrates Court on June 25, the BBC notes.

The battle with Transport for London is just one of several Uber is fighting in the UK and continental Europe. Last November, the company lost an appeal against a ruling by a British employment tribunal that its drivers were misclassified as independent contractors and are in fact entitled to certain rights as employees, including paid leave, overtime, and a minimum wage. Uber contends that classifying its drivers as employees would fatally disturb its business model and prevent it from offering the flexibility in terms of work hours and location that most of its drivers consider a benefit. Critics contend that this is a false choice and that Uber could maintain that flexibility while offering drivers a fuller range of rights and protections. Uber is pursuing further appeals in that case.

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Chick-fil-A Announces $14.5M in Scholarships for Employees

Chick-fil-A Announces $14.5M in Scholarships for Employees

The American fast food chain Chick-fil-A recently announced that it was awarding $14.5 million in scholarships to over 5,700 of its employees across the country this year:

The investment in this year’s program marks a $5.7 million increase since 2017 and is the one of the highest unrestricted per-employee scholarship investments in the industry. Team Members who are beginning or continuing their higher education will be awarded scholarships in the amount of $2,500 or $25,000.

Chick-fil-A’s “Remarkable Futures” education initiative allows students employed by the company’s local franchise Operators to receive up to $25,000 in scholarships that can be applied for any area of study at any accredited institution of their choice, including any two- or four-year colleges and universities, online programs or technical/vocational schools. There is no requirement of hours worked or length of service to qualify. In addition to $14.5 million in scholarships, all of Chick-fil-A’s 120,000 Team Members also have access to tuition discounts and other educational benefits at 100 colleges and universities nationwide.

Chick-fil-A, which has been awarding college scholarships since the 1970s, has provided more than $60.5 million in education funding for nearly 46,700 employees over the years. The company launched the Remarkable Futures program in 2016 to expand this initiative considerably, more than doubling the amount of funding it would provide for employees’ educations.

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Connecticut Pay Equity Law Restricts Salary History Inquiries

Connecticut Pay Equity Law Restricts Salary History Inquiries

Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy signed a bipartisan bill into law on Tuesday that will restrict employers in the state from asking candidates for their salary histories, the CT Post reported:

Called the pay equity bill, the new law prevents employers from asking job candidates about their salary history before extending them an offer. Supporters say that question often results in lower starting pay for women and people of color. In 2016, Connecticut women made 79 cents on the dollar compared to men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Over a lifetime, women made $529,160 less than their male counterparts, on average.

Connecticut’s new law leaves some questions unanswered for employers, Proskauer attorneys Allan Bloom and Laura Fant note in a more detailed overview of the ramifications for employers. The law permits employers to ask about “other elements of a prospective employee’s compensation structure” than wages, but not the value of those elements. The law does not define the scope of these other elements, however, so Connecticut businesses may seek clarification on this question from the state’s labor department.

With the signing of this law, which goes into effect January 1, Connecticut will becomes the sixth US state to ban salary history inquiries: Massachusetts was the first to do so in 2016 (though the effective date of that law has been delayed until July 1 of this year), followed by California, Delaware, Oregon, and most recently Vermont. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also put forward a bill that would ban these inquiries. New Jersey’s recently-enacted equal pay law does not prohibit them, but makes it easier for employees to demonstrate pay discrimination in a lawsuit.

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