Work-Life Balance

A lot is written about the fact that we in the U.S. have the lowest amount of paid time off from our jobs than any of the other developed countries.  But not much is happening here to change that.

With the time that workers now spend in one job trending downward, the amount of vacation time they get is reduced as well, since vacation allowances are typically connected to service time with that employer.

China, one of our main economic competitors (and the target of a current trade war with the U.S.), has for some time cultured a “996” workweek for tech company employees: 12 hour days, 6 days a week. That to me is the definition of a “workaholic”.  In the U.S. there is a common belief that you need a balance in your life between work time and personal time.  That is especially true if you have children to raise.   It’s different if you are a small business owner or a key player in a start-up. But people in those situations have made the choice to accept that they will sacrifice free-time for monetary rewards.

A 2010 survey by SHRM, as reported in the SHRM article, “Survey: Work/Life Balance Off-Kilter in U.S.”, indicates that 89% of the workers surveyed feel that this is a problem in the U.S. But the trend has been to require more and more from workers (which increases productivity, assumedly), and the current historically low unemployment rates mean that this will continue (fewer available workers for the work to be done). And vacation time, paid or unpaid, will continue to be hard to come by.

What is the answer? Early in the 20th century it was growth in union organizing. If workers here continue to be dissatisfied that may again be the result.  There are also several states that mandate leaves of absence for workers to deal with personal and family issues (according to abetterbalance.org , there are seven states currently with such laws), which exceed the requirements of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)).  Improvements/enhancements to the FMLA itself have been contemplated by federal lawmakers (the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act, known as the FAMILY Act was introduced in Congress in February 2017).

Certainly the “996” approach is not going to take root here in the U.S.  But it also may mean that to stay competitive in the world market the pendulum cannot swing too far in the other direction. What is clear is that attention needs to be paid to this difficult issue.




State and Local Laws Taking Control



It is becoming very difficult to keep up with the legislative changes in workplace laws, given the current trend for the feds to step back and let the states and municipalities set the law specific to their jurisdictions.

This is especially problematic for multi-state employers (those with operations in multiple states). But even employers operating in only one state need to be aware of variances between local laws.

This ranges from minimum wage to paid sick leave, from right to work to weapons bans, from tobacco use to marijuana use, from overtime pay to mandatory break-time.  Every day it seems that another state or local law change pops up, superseding or in place of federal law (where no federal law exists, such as non-compete agreements).

A current SHRM article discusses the battle in Texas between state and local (Austin and Dallas) lawmakers over paid sick leave.  And forget California……there are enough local employment laws there to keep HR professionals busy into the next Millenium.

I believe that this trend towards less federal power over state rights needs to be carefully examined by the lawmakers in DC. We are still the United States, are we not?

Minimum Wage Hike

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would, by 2020, increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from the current $7.25 hourly rate.  State laws would then have to match or exceed that new minimum. Most states (30 total including the District of Columbia) currently exceed the federal minimum of $7.25/hr., but not beyond $13.25/hr. , with most falling between $8.25 and $11.00.

This is the longest period of time between increases in the national minimum wage since the Great Depression; the last change in the federal minimum wage (taking it to $7.25/hr.)  went into effect in July 2009, ten years ago. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is lower than it was 50 years ago (it was $1.30/hr. in 1969).

McDonald’s — a major target of the Fight for $15 movement — recently announced it would no longer support efforts to fight an increase. Even the CEO of Walmart says the minimum wage should be raised, but not as dramatically as the Democratic bill proposes.

The current administration has indicated that it should be left to the states to determine the minimum wage, rather than imposing a national minimum.  This actually makes some sense, if you consider the wide variation of pay rates that exist by geographical area; pay rates on the northeast and west coasts and in certain major metropolitan areas (Chicago, Washington DC, Philadelphia, etc.) vary greatly from the rates in many other areas of the U.S.. A minimum wage rate in California is higher than it needs to be for workers in Texas, Tennessee or Kentucky, where the cost of living is lower on average (lower housing cost, taxes, food costs, etc.).

Pay rates are typically driven by supply and demand; supply of qualified talent and the demand for that talent. Minimum wage rates have been increasing in recent years due to the short supply of labor for entry-level jobs in retail and service industries, regardless of the lack of change in the federal minimum wage rate.

It is not likely that the Raise the Wage Act will be passed into law, at least in its current form.  It will probably remain up to the individual states to deal with this issue as most have already been doing.


New Developments in Independent Contractor Status

In a previous post regarding the “Gig Economy” I concluded that……….

The fact is that the role of workers in the workplace is changing and the regulations which govern this relationship are way overdue for reexamination.  A major overhaul seems to be called for rather than patching up what currently exists. We need to ask whether overtime regulations and employment classifications are even needed in today’s workplace, and if they still are, how can this be simplified so that it is clear what is required.

I suggested that this needs a new perspective.  Rules need to be revised to recognize the 21st century workplace.  That may already be happening, based on recent NLRB and DOL published decisions/opinions.

A recent (April 2019) DOL Opinion Letter indicates a shift in policy towards greater acceptance of IC status for workers.  Such Opinions can be helpful in compliance efforts as general guidance, but they are not the law;  the Opinions are strictly applied to the requestor of the Opinion.  But they provide a feel for where the law is headed.

A recent NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) decision denying the right of Uber drivers to form a union due to not fitting the definition of “employees” of Uber points towards a similar policy shift.

The regulatory landscape is moving in a direction that is more friendly to employers, at least as far as federal law is concerned. At the same time, new challenges for employers are popping up in their relationship with their “team members”, which includes traditional employees (full and part-time) as well as independent contractors/gig workers.

Fasten your seat belts………..