Frankfurt (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)
Nearly five months after being elected to a fourth term last September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic party finally reached a deal earlier this month to form a government with their traditional rivals, the Social Democrats. One of Merkel’s policy goals in her final term in office is to modernize Germany’s very strict employment laws, which haven’t been substantially updated in a century. Currently, the law states that workers cannot be forced to work longer than eight hours in a day and that they get a 30-minute break at least every six hours, in addition to 11 hours of off time between shifts, but there are no provisions for freelancers or to accommodate the flexible work schedules that are becoming more common in the 21st-century economy.
Merkel’s policy advisors want to shift the maximum hours timeframe to one week instead of one day, thereby abandoning the eight-hour cap on the workday, and cut the mandatory break between shifts to nine hours. Germany’s influential labor unions, one of which recently secured its members the right to a 28-hour workweek, oppose these proposed reforms, which they fear will weaken the protections German employees currently enjoy.
In one case, however, weakening those protections is precisely the point. The coalition agreement inked this month includes an outline for loosening job security guarantees for highly paid employees at banks, the Financial Times reports. The plan is intended to make Frankfurt, the main financial hub for both Germany and continental Europe writ large, more competitive with London and New York, particularly as international banks prepare to shift their EU operations out of the UK after Brexit.
James Damore, a senior software engineer at Google who was fired from his job on Monday after circulating a ten-page memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts and making disputed claims about the biological differences between men and women, has said he is exploring his legal options for challenging his termination, and will likely take action against his former employer, the New York Times reports:
“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” Mr. Damore said. … Before being fired, Mr. Damore said, he had submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Google’s upper management was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.” He added that it was “illegal to retaliate” against an N.L.R.B. charge.
However, it’s not at all clear that Damore has a legal leg to stand on, Reuters adds:
Nonunion or “at will” employees, such as most tech workers, can be fired in the US for a wide array of reasons that have nothing to do with performance. The US National Labor Relations Act guarantees workers, whether they are in a union or not, the right to engage in “concerted activities” for their “mutual aid or protection.” Damore, though, would most likely face an uphill fight to seek that protection based on his memo, said Alison Morantz, a Stanford University law professor with expertise in labor law.
Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court became the first court in the US to rule in favor of an employee who uses medical marijuana and claimed unfair dismissal after being fired from her job for failing a drug test, the Boston Globe‘s Dan Adams reported:
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for flunking a drug test. In Massachusetts, Gants wrote, “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient is as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.”
Therefore, he said, employers can’t use blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss workers whose doctors have prescribed the drug to treat their illnesses. Instead, antidiscrimination laws require companies to attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ, such as exploring alternative medications or allowing use of the drug only outside of work hours.
The court overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Cristina Barbuto against her employer, Advantage Sales and Marketing, which fired her after just one day on the job when she tested positive for marijuana, even though Barbuto said she had told the company during her job interviews that she used it medicinally after work hours to treat her condition and her hiring manager had said it would not be an issue. The lower court will now retry Barbuto’s case under the guidelines established by the high court. (Read the full ruling here.)
The acrimonious political climate of the US today is creating a major distraction for employees throughout the country, but it’s also bound to get some workers in hot water for voicing contentious political views or making unprofessional comments about politics on social media. The Chicago Tribune has now passed along a fresh example of this phenomenon which started last Tuesday during President Donald Trump’s joint speech to Congress:
During the speech, [Daniel] Grilo, at the time a principal at Liberty Advisor Group, tweeted, “Sorry Owens’ wife, you’re not helping yourself or your husband’s memory by standing there and clapping like an idiot. Trump just used you.” Grilo was referring to Carryn Owens, whose husband, Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, was killed during a January raid that targeted an al-Qaida stronghold in Yemen. Owens attended the president’s speech and cried as Trump acknowledged her and the audience applauded.
The tweet sparked a firestorm not only on Twitter, but on several social networks including 4chan and Reddit, shredding Grilo for his comments. … Despite his apologies, Liberty Advisor Group deleted his profile on their website and dismissed Grilo. “The individual who issued the tweet is no longer affiliated with Liberty. … His comments were inconsistent with the Company’s values and the unyielding respect it has for the members of our Nation’s Armed Forces,” said a statement posted on the company’s website Wednesday.
Grilo isn’t the first employee to be fired because of an ill-advised tweet, nor will he likely be the last, but his case is a lesson in the unique challenges a highly polarized political environment poses for employers and HR. Americans will likely post controversial and inappropriate political comments to their public social media accounts by the millions this year, so forward-thinking HR leaders might consider devising proactive strategies for addressing employees’ controversial social media posts rather than reacting to individual instances (and negative attention they create) as they come. Since last year, political tensions have been running high in the American workplace—a trend that is unlikely to abate anytime soon—and increasingly contentious and divisive politics is just one aspect of the uncertain business environment companies are facing in 2017.