Anyone in the US who has recently had a work meeting derailed by their coworkers talking politics knows that the elections coming up on November 6 are attracting far more attention and interest than midterm elections normally do. The political environment in the US remains highly charged and polarized, while these elections are seen as having particularly high stakes. Poll watchers are expecting voter turnout to be high, partly helped along by a growing number of employers giving their workers paid time off to vote on Election Day. Beyond that, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor reports, they are actively encouraging their employees to go out and vote:
At Cava, the Washington D.C.-based chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants, its 1,600 workers will get two hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day this year if they request it in advance, a nationwide perk for its workers. For the first time, Tyson Foods, the meat company, has launched a company-wide voter registration initiative, with many of its plants participating in an effort to register employees and offer details about early voting, absentee ballots and voting locations. Levi Strauss & Co. has named volunteer “voting captains” in each of its offices and distribution centers to hold registration drives and educate workers; it’s also giving employees, including retail workers, paid time off to vote.
Organizations that give their employees time off on Election Day, whether they make it a holiday or simply let staff take a few hours off to vote, do so for a variety of reasons. At some companies, this decision stems from a culture of social responsibility; at others, it may be part of an effort to improve their public image. Though few companies take public positions in favor of a particular candidate or party, still others may be hoping that their employees vote a certain way. It could also help boost employee engagement and perceptions of the organization; a recent study by O.C. Tanner found that US workers who get time off to vote have more positive things to say about their employers than those who don’t, HR Dive reported last week:
The Time to Vote campaign, announced on September 24, is a nonpartisan effort aimed at increasing voter participation in the US by getting companies to enable or encourage their employees to vote. Some 140 CEOs have signed on to the initiative, including the heads of some of the country’s largest private employers:
The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, recently as low as 36 percent, and one of the most common reasons that people give for not voting is that they are too busy, or have work and life demands that prevent them from voting. To change this paradigm, a diverse coalition of companies including Kaiser Permanente, Levi Strauss & Co., Patagonia, PayPal, Tyson Foods and Walmart are coming together, starting with the November elections, to increase voter turnout.
The Time to Vote campaign also aims to increase awareness about the steps employers can take to allow time for their employees to vote. The companies joining this campaign are committed to increasing voter participation through programs such as paid time off, a day without meetings and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting. And all of them care about their workforces and supporting democracy.
Whereas many countries hold elections on weekends or make voting days public holidays to ensure that most voters can take part, election day in the US is observed on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and is not a national holiday.
Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Business who specializes in organization behavior, conducted a field study this summer as part of an ongoing project on the anxiety-inducing effects of political conflict, in which he surveyed 550 full-time workers across the US about a variety of work-related issues, how politics are affecting their day-to-day interactions in the workplace. Discussing his findings at the Conversation, Hochwarter reports that he found evidence of heightened political stress, which correlated with negative workplace outcomes:
Twenty-seven percent of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that work had become more tense as a result of political discussions, while about a third said such talk about the “ups and downs” of politicians is a “common distraction.” One in 4 indicated they actively avoid certain people at work who try to convince them that their views are right, while 1 in 5 said they had actually lost friendships as a result. And all this has serious consequences for worker health and productivity.
Over a quarter said political divisions have increased their stress levels, making it harder to get things done. Almost a third of this group said they called in sick on days when they didn’t feel like working, compared with 17 percent among those who didn’t report feeling stressed about politics. A quarter also reported putting in less effort than expected, versus 12 percent. And those who reported being more stressed were 50 percent more likely to distrust colleagues.
Hochwarter’s field study relied on student-recruited sampling, so he acknowledges that his respondents may not be representative of the entire country; his findings are consistent with what other surveys have found over the past two years, as well as with the widely-recognized atmosphere of heightened division and polarization in American politics today, and particularly since the 2016 presidential election.
In a 5–4 ruling handed down on Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that organizations can legally require their employees to sign arbitration agreements in their work contracts and waive their right to resolve labor disputes through class-action lawsuits. The court split on ideological lines, with the five conservative justices voting to allow class action wavers and the liberal minority dissenting, the New York Times reported:
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the court’s conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court’s precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, “the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement. In her written dissent, she called the majority opinion “egregiously wrong.” In her oral statement, she said the upshot of the decision “will be huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers.” Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to address the matter.
The ruling, which the Times adds could affect some 25 million employment contracts, comes nearly a year and a half after the high court agreed to hear a group of cases on the legality of arbitration clauses and class action waivers. It was not unexpected, given the court’s conservative majority and the inclinations Gorsuch and his right-leaning colleagues have shown in other labor-related cases.
Business groups and employer-side attorneys cheered the ruling, which they say will free companies from burdensome litigation and allow disputes to be resolved through the cheaper and speedier process of arbitration. Labor rights advocates expressed dismay, however, warning that it would result in a rollback of employees’ fundamental rights and would prove particularly disastrous in discrimination and harassment cases. In a Times op-ed, Terri Gerstein and Sharon Block, of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, criticize the ruling for taking away a key safety net for employees:
The US Department of Labor under President Donald Trump and Secretary Alexander Acosta has been working over the past year to undo the regulations implemented by the Obama administration regarding the definition of “joint employers.” Acosta, like many employers and business associations, considers the previous administration’s standard too broad.
Now, the National Labor Relations Board is weighing a rulemaking process to update the standard, the board announced on Wednesday:
“Whether one business is the joint employer of another business’s employees is one of the most critical issues in labor law today,” says NLRB Chairman John F. Ring. “The current uncertainty over the standard to be applied in determining joint-employer status under the Act undermines employers’ willingness to create jobs and expand business opportunities. In my view, notice-and-comment rulemaking offers the best vehicle to fully consider all views on what the standard ought to be.”
Acosta’s Labor Department rescinded Obama-era guidelines on the joint employer standard last June, while the National Labor Relations Board’s regional directors were instructed in December to slow enforcement of the Obama administration’s standard. Shortly thereafter, the NLRB overturned its ruling in the landmark Browning-Ferris case, in which it had considered a company to be a joint employer with a subcontractor if it exercised “indirect” control over the terms and conditions of employment or had the “reserved authority to do so.”
Senate Republicans including Mike Lee (Utah), Marco Rubio (Florida), and Joni Ernst (Iowa) are talking up a new proposal from the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative economic policy shop, to establish a mechanism for US parents to access paid leave without creating additional costs for their employers by deferring their Social Security benefits in retirement, the Hill reports:
According to IWF’s six-page proposal, parents could take up to 12 weeks and receive on average 45 percent of their pay in a Social Security parental benefit that’s calculated using the same formula as Social Security disability benefits. The IWF estimates the average wage worker would receive $1,175 per month.
Lee said lawmakers are trying to figure out how to structure benefits so they are delivered to families when they need them, how the federal law should interact with state paid leave laws and how to keep the law from hastening the Social Security Trust Fund’s 2034 insolvency date.
Several House Democrats released statements criticizing the proposal, calling it “woefully insufficient” and arguing that working Americans should not have to forgo Social Security benefits to spend time with their newborn children. Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro also insisted that “any paid leave plan that reflects the needs of working people and families must address the need to deal with a personal or family member’s serious illness.”
The US is the only industrialized nation and one of only three countries in the world not to mandate paid time off for new parents, though the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees mothers the right to unpaid leave during pregnancy and after childbirth. Many US employers, including the 20 largest private employers, offer some amount of paid parental leave, but millions of Americans lack access to this benefit.
In December, the US Department of Labor proposed a change to regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that would permit employers of tipped workers who pay the minimum wage and do not claim a tip credit to require these workers to “shar[e] tips through a tip pool with employees who do not traditionally receive direct tips–such as restaurant cooks and dish washers.” Critics of the proposed rule say it would hurt employees by allowing restaurant managers to skim tips or even conceivably not distribute the tip pool to workers at all.
New revelations have handed ammunition to these critics and thrown the future of the tip-pooling rule into doubt. Last week, Bloomberg Law‘s Ben Penn reported that the Labor Department had shelved an internal analysis of the proposal’s impact that found employees would lose billions of dollars in tips. Senior officials in the department ordered staff to revise the methodology of their analysis to produce a more favorable result, Penn adds, and later calculations showed smaller losses. Ultimately, the White House allowed the Labor Department to publish the proposal without including any estimate of its economic transfer effects.
Opponents of the rule change have leapt on this story as a reason to scuttle the proposal. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a sternly-worded letter to Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta requesting copies of all analyses the department conducted on the rule and correspondence pertaining to them, as well as urging the secretary to delay the end of a public notice-and-comment period that was to end Monday, February 5 (he did not). In addition, 17 state attorneys general wrote to the Labor Department, pushing for the proposal to be withdrawn, the Hill reported: