Ross Runkel’s Employment Law 101

If you’re looking for a handy, accessible, clearly-written introduction to various employment law topics, check out Ross Runkel’s Employment Law 101: http://www.lawmemo.com/101/archives.html.  It’s a mini-online encyclopedia on the law of the workplace.  Here are links to his first two topics:

Assisting employees in financial distress

The first issue of Research Works, published by the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health of the American Psychiatric Association (http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/index.aspx), focuses on how employers can help workers who are experiencing financial distress: http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/Money_RW_0210.pdf.

Recommended action steps include provision of personal financial education, credit and debt management counseling, and employee assistance programs. 

Of course, for employers who aren’t paying their workers a decent wage, the obvious response is to pay them more if at all possible.  However, not all financial distress is due to a lousy paycheck.  This publication offers useful advice to employers who want to help their workers make it through financially difficult times.

“What are you working for?”

This is the question posed by Kevin Kennemer, a former human resources director for a major corporation who now runs his own organizational consulting business, in his blog Chief People Officer: http://thepeoplegroupllc.com/2009/02/what-are-you-working-for/.  In this post, Kennemer writes about the importance of good leadership, mission-based living, and avoiding the destructiveness of greed.  He observes that so many American workers are “unfulfilled, unsatisfied, unrecognized, under-utilized, under-appreciated and unengaged.”

In one of his very first blog posts, Kennemer discusses the “Signs of a Toxic Company Culture,” with a list of revealing questions to ask about our workplaces: http://thepeoplegroupllc.com/2008/04/signs-of-a-toxic-company-culture/.  Too many workers will find themselves nodding their heads in agreement.

The more I surf the blogosphere looking for interesting commentary about the workplace, the more I’m convinced that kindred spirits are arriving at roughly the same place, often following different paths to get there.  Themes such as integrity, fairness, dignity, and work ethic recur with encouraging repetition, and they appear to transcend geographic regions, vocations, personal demographics, and political orientations.  Amidst the doom and gloom of today’s business and economic headlines, we see signs of an emerging consensus about the need for better workplaces.

A “New World” for U.S. Employment and Labor Rights?

Are we witnessing the beginning of a new direction in federal employment and labor law, one where the pendulum is swinging back towards some reasonable balance between workers’ and employers’ legal interests?  Recent developments appear to suggest this is a real possibility:

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — President Obama’s first major bill signing was this important legislation extending the time period that workers have to sue in pay discrimination claims.   Read about this legislation in HR Lawyer’s Blog by attorney Christopher McKinney: http://www.hrlawyersblog.com/2009/01/articles/sexual-discrimination/president-obama-signs-lilly-ledbetter-equal-pay-law/.

The Supreme Court’s Decision in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville further protects employees from retaliation for cooperating with internal investigations and proceedings about alleged employment discrimination.  Read about this unanimous ruling in HR Lawyer’s Blog: http://www.hrlawyersblog.com/2009/02/articles/case-opinions/supreme-court-issues-unanimous-decision-in-employment-retaliation-case/.

Today’s Workplace, the blog of Workplace Fairness, offers extended commentary on the Ledbetter legislation and Crawford decision: http://www.todaysworkplace.org/2009/02/06/rising-hope-for-women/.

Wilma Leibman designated Chair of National Labor Relations Board — Liebman, the senior member of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal administrative agency that presides over collective bargaining policy and disputes, has been a lone dissenting voice in the wilderness during the profoundly anti-labor years of the Bush Administration.  Read about this development at Workplace Prof: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/laborprof_blog/2009/01/liebman-designa.html.

Creating Good Jobs: Start a Business

Dramatically changing a bad or even mediocre workplace where the institutional culture is deeply rooted can be very difficult or — from any realistic standpoint — nearly impossible.  Don’t get me wrong: It can be done, but oftentimes entrenched, insular core groups make it very difficult to do so.

And with our economy in trouble, companies shutting down, and jobs disappearing, we need new businesses to enter the fray — ones that offer quality goods and services and that respect the dignity and well-being of their workers.

Starting a new business is much, much easier said than done.  However, for those who are thinking about it, there are plenty of helpful sources to guide you.  Here are three good ones:

Uncle Sam: Beyond Bailout Cash

The federal Small Business Administration offers a wealth of information and assistance to individuals planning to start small businesses, including free online courses, business planning and start-up advice, and small business loans and grants.  If you’ve ever even toyed with the idea of starting your own business, the SBA website is worth your visit: http://www.sba.gov/.

Schooling for Entrepreneurship

Even if you don’t have prior training in running a business, you don’t need an MBA to become an entrepreneur.  A growing number of universities and adult education centers offer non-degree certificate programs and courses in how to start a business.

For example, Boston University School of Management offers a well-regarded online graduate certificate program in entrepreneurship.  It’s a practical-minded, four-course sequence for individuals who have a business idea and want skills to help make it a reality:  www.bu.edu/online/online_programs/certificate_programs/entrepreneurship.html.

Building a Great Place to Work

We don’t need more bad workplaces, so let’s concentrate on creating new great (or even good!) ones.  Helpful towards this objective is the Great Place to Work Institute (http://www.greatplacetowork.com/), created by one-time business and labor reporter Robert Levering, author of A Great Place to Work (2000 ed.).  Levering’s book and GPWI’s publications can help budding entrepreneurs understand the vital role of healthy, productive work environments towards building successful and sustainable new businesses.

No Layoffs as Social Responsibility Indicator?

When we hear the term “corporate social responsibility,” we often equate it with environmentally friendly business practices and various forms of community service.  However, with announcements of layoffs becoming standard fare in our daily news diet, it’s time to add job preservation as an important factor in determining whether an employer is socially responsible.  In a December post I wrote:

 

Layoffs can have serious economic and psychological consequences for affected individuals.  When reporter Louis Uchitelle began researching his book The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences (2006), he did not anticipate that he “would be drawn so persistently into the psychiatric aspect of layoffs.”  But he soon understood that the “emotional damage was too palpable to ignore.”  For the suddenly unemployed, “a layoff is an emotional blow from which very few fully recover.”

 

Furthermore, Uchitelle found that “layoffs damage companies by undermining the productivity of those who survive but feel vulnerable, as well as the productivity of those who are laid off and get jobs again.  All lose some of the commitment, trust, and collegial behavior that stable employment or the expectation of stable employment normally engenders.”

 

The practices of companies that avoid or minimize layoffs in the midst of this difficult economy deserve study and, perhaps in some cases, emulation.  This piece from Fortune magazine highlights nine companies “that, as of mid-January, have never had a layoff”:

money.cnn.com/galleries/2009/fortune/0901/gallery.no_layoffs.fortune/index.html

 

In many cases, layoffs are not inevitable; they are the result of conscious management decision making.  Keeping people employed in the midst of this economic downturn should be a key priority for all employers who regard themselves as socially responsible.

 

Website(s) of the Week: Workforce Management magazine

Readers, don’t let the brevity of this post fool you.  If you want to read about the latest trends in human resources management and best personnel practices, Workforce Management magazine hosts one of the best and most content-rich websites around (http://www.workforce.com/index.html).

This site is highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn about modern human resources management practices.  By registering on the site, you can access articles, blogs, and newsletters galore.

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