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Estée Lauder are being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for giving new mothers more paid leave for care giving and child-bonding than new fathers.

If the lawsuit is successful, it could alter common parental leave policies in the U.S.

On Aug.30, the EEOC alleged in their lawsuit that Estée Lauder Companies Inc. infringed federal law by giving female employees who are new mothers more parental leave benefits than male employees who are new fathers. 

In addition to the paid leave provided to new mothers to recover from childbirth, Estée Lauder provides new mothers with six additional weeks of paid parental leave for child bonding. New fathers receive two weeks of paid leave for child bonding. The lawsuit - filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia - also alleges that new mothers are provided with flexible return-to-work benefits that are not similarly provided to new fathers.

The EEOC asserts that this policy violates the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibit discrimination in pay or benefits based on sex.

The agency began the case after Christopher Sullivan, a stock worker at a Maryland store, requested six weeks of leave for the birth of his child - but was only granted two.  Mr. Sullivan informed Estee Lauder that he would be the child’s primary caregiver, but he was told that the company only applied the primary caregiver title in surrogacy situations. Estee Lauder’s parental care policy was implemented in 2013 and provides primary caregivers six weeks of paid parental leave.  Fathers at Estée Lauder are eligible for secondary caregiver leave only. 

The EEOC's lawsuit against Estée Lauder is the most recent to be brought against a company for having different parental-leave policies for their female and male staff.  In June, a male fraud investigator at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. alleged that the bank discriminated against him, saying that fathers were denied equal paid parental leave with mothers.

Supporters of equal paid leave say that the imbalance reinforces traditional gender roles by encouraging new mothers to stay at home and discouraging fathers from taking time off to care for a new child.

Mindy Weinstein, Acting Director of the EEOC’s Washington field office praised Estee Lauder for its parental leave policy and flexible work arrangements which were great in their intent.  However, she added,  “… federal law requires equal pay for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women.”

 

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new bio-jet fuel produced from sugarcane. Funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), scientists from the University believe that the strain of sugarcane they have been working on could produce up to 15 times more jet fuel per hectare, compared to that yielded by soybeans.

The research, known as the “Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum” project (PETROSS) has developed sugarcane that produces oil, called lipidcane, rather than sugar. This oil can then be converted into biodiesel or jet-A fuel. With 20% being the theoretical maximum level of oil, all of its sugar would be replaced by oil and would therefore produce 15 times more jet fuel than is currently produced from soybeans.

The University researchers are now working on trying to make the sugarcane more tolerant to the cold, so that it could be grown on land in the Southeast US that is currently not used for agriculture.  If grown on these 23 million acres, researchers believe it could supply around 65% of US jet-A consumption. While this is good news, the downside is that the estimated price of this lipidcane-derived jet biofuel would be around $5.31 per gallon, lower than the price for renewable jet fuels produced from other oil crops but still over $3 per gallon more than current jet fuel prices.

 

The Career Intermission Program (CIP), launched by the United States Air Force (USAF) in 2014, will now permanently expand to allow airmen three chances each year to apply for a sabbatical of up to three years.

The dates for application to the program run from April 1 to May 13 (Cycle A), Aug. 1 to Sept. 12 (Cycle B), and Dec. 1 to Jan. 12 (Cycle C) each year. However this year, Cycle B will run from Sept. 22 to Oct. 31 to allow program changes to be made. Additionally, airmen with humanitarian needs such as dual-military married personnel can now apply for the program out of cycle.

When launched, up to 40 active duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard Officers and enlisted personnel who met the requirements, were offered a minimum of one and a maximum of three years intermission, during which they were put on Individual Ready Reserve status. Since its inception, 108 airmen have applied for and taken up the program to pursue personal or professional opportunities, such as raising a family or going back into education.

Airmen on their sabbatical receive one fifteenth of their monthly basic pay, as well as receiving their usual medical and dental coverage. In return, they are required to check in with their CIP manager once a month, maintain their health and fitness and be ready to fully resume their duties. For every month that they are on sabbatical, they must return to active duty for two months, meaning that an Airman taking the full three years would have to serve another six years after their break.

When they apply, an Airman’s potential to serve the Air Force in the future is evaluated. However the program is seen as a means of enhancing the retention of Airmen by preserving their valuable experience and training that might otherwise be lost if they had to choose between the service, or for instance, family commitments.

Adriana Bazan, military personnel specialist at the Air Force Personnel Center stated:  “The Career Intermission Program affords an avenue to meet the changing needs of today‘s service members....This work-life flexibility initiative will enable the Air Force to retain talent, which reduces cost and adverse impacts on the mission.”

Results of recent research by employee engagement specialists, Reward Gateway, shows that employees are not getting what they require from their current wellbeing programmes - despite the fact that their wellbeing has been a top agenda point for HR for some years. 

The research surveyed 250 employees and 250 employers (senior decision makers) and was conducted in September 2017 by Censuswide.

The disparity of opinion between employee and employers has been shown in the results - over half of employers agree that their company shows that they care about employee’s mental, physical and financial wellbeing - whilst only 14% of employees say that their company could not do more to show they care about their mental, physical and financial wellbeing.

Research states that it is in the employer’s interest to care about their employee’s wellbeing as it was shown that more than half (52%) of UK employees agree that they would choose a company that cared about their wellbeing over one that pays more.  It is even more urgent to address the closing of the gap when consideration is given to the following results:

  • 33% of those surveyed said that their company currently offers no wellbeing programmes
  • Only 29% said that their company currently offers a physical wellbeing programme
  • Only 23% said that their company currently offers a financial wellbeing programme
  • Only 22% said that their company currently offers a mental wellbeing programme
  • Over 22 million British workers, or 7 in 10 employees (71%), have felt stress or financial strain in the last five years

Head of Wellbeing at Reward Gateway, Lucy Tallick said,

“Employee wellbeing is not about crisis management and fixing problems. It’s about helping your people live better and feel better by facilitating sustainable lifestyle changes that really make a difference.  Employers should take into consideration that everyone has unique desires and needs, and, in order to gain buy in, it's much better to give the employee solutions that provide choice and flexibility. By creating an inclusive programme, you’ll also hugely increase your engagement.”

Doug Butler, CEO at Reward Gateway said,

“Wellbeing is a crucial part of employee engagement and, as the research shows, companies are struggling to implement the wellbeing initiatives that their staff need.  We continue to innovate our wellbeing offering in order to help our clients on their engagement journey. The selection available is wide-ranging, inclusive, and designed to enable our clients to support their employees’ unique wellbeing needs. By offering a broad range of wellbeing solutions that include educational content on how to live a healthier lifestyle, impartial advice from money experts, an employee assistance programme (EAP), and industry leading discounts and payment plans on gyms and fitness equipment, our goal is to support what we believe to be the three key pillars of holistic wellbeing; Physical, Mental and Financial.”

The Government is being called upon to invest £13m a year to provide HR support to small businesses - as new research shows that it could be a key part of finding the answer to the problem of productivity.  

The new research by the CIPD (supported by J P Morgan through the J P Morgan Chase Foundation) suggests that giving small businesses basic HR support can help in this respect.   The pilot scheme, ‘People Skills’, ran from July 2015 to October 2016 and was based in Hackney, Stoke-on-Trent and Glasgow.  It has been evaluated by a team at Manchester Metropolitan University through surveys and interviews with project stakeholders.

In each of the three locations, a small bank of independent HR consultants was recruited to provide free employment and people management advice to small businesses on demand.  The CIPD’s HR Inform online support system was also made available to project participants.

More than 400 small businesses - employing between 5 and 50 employees across the three areas - were helped.  In Glasgow, it was regarded as being so successful that when the research grant ran out, the city council continued to fund the programme. 

CIPD Head of Public Policy, Ben Wilmott said:

“People Skills’ shows the potential benefits of targeted investment to improve small firms’ capability around the management of people through co-ordinated high-quality, locally-delivered business support via channels such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, chambers of commerce and local authorities.”  He continued, “ If policy makers are serious about addressing the UK’s long-standing productivity deficit - particularly among the nearly 1.3 million small businesses that employ between 1 and 50 people - then they have to start seriously thinking about how to improve management quality, which the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane has identified as a key area for focus. ‘People Skills’ provides a template of how to actually do this on the ground among small businesses.  We calculate that about £40m from the Government’s National Productivity Investment Fund would support the £13m annual cost of running a ‘People Skills’ type service across all 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships in England for three years and could revolutionise the quality of business support for small firms.”

Hang Ho, EMEA Head of the J P Morgan Chase Foundation, said:

“Small business success is an essential element of the UK economy and a critical component in creating thriving local communities. Today’s report shines a light on the importance of basic HR practices to the success of small businesses, whether that is improving productivity, boosting the effectiveness of the management team or handling crises. While we hope the ‘People Skills’ pilot will benefit participating companies in the long term, the findings clearly also demonstrate to policy makers a real need for HR support amongst SMEs.”

The key findings are that online business support is inadequate unless supplemented by personal advice and support - with face-to-face advice particularly valued by small business owner managers; that existing fragmented business support provided at a local level should be justified to prevent duplication of provision and confusion among SMEs; that policy makers need to re-think how they encourage SMEs to employ and train young people in the workplace - for example through apprenticeships - as in most cases they don’t have the interest or capability to do this. Re-focusing a proportion of government investment in skills to providing enhanced business support around people management capability for SMEs would, over time, give more small businesses the capability and confidence to engage in programmes supporting young people into work in the future.

In employment lawsuits being filed now, retaliation claims appear to be more prevalent than discrimination claims. Despite an employer having strong evidence of poor performance and misconduct, they may still be held liable for retaliation if they take adverse action soon after protected conduct occurs.

For example, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that a Maintenance Director at a nursing care facility can pursue his Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claims to trial, despite being fired for monitoring his supervisor's work attendance.  

Louis DeCicco was hired by Mid-Atlantic Healthcare LLC as the Director of Maintenance for Maplewood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center – providing long-term nursing care and rehabilitation services.

During a meeting in January 2012, Mr DeCicco was issued with a performance improvement plan by his supervisor, Sarah Balmer.  The performance plan informed Mr DeCicco that he was under review for:

  • not providing adequate training and mentoring to a subordinate
  • failing to resolve long-standing issues with security staff
  • failing to respond to facility phone calls
  • failing to take a more active role in resolving the facility's maintenance issues

However, at about this time, Mr DeCicco began monitoring Sarah Balmer's work attendance, reviewing footage installed at Maplewood.  He also reviewed Sarah Balmer's timesheets and prepared logs of her absences from the facility – which he was not authorized to investigate.  

Five months later, a second performance improvement plan was issued to Mr DeCicco by Sarah Balmer. On the same day he also received a written warning for addressing a contractor in an unprofessional way and a verbal warning for allegedly not taking certain action, which resulted in the facility at Maplewood being short of one bed.

Later that month, Maplewood Human Resources Director, Stephanie Massey, was asked by Mr DeCicco to supply FMLA paperwork. As Mr DeCicco was the primary caregiver for his disabled father he intended to use FMLA leave to care for him. Stephanie Massey provided the paperwork to Mr DeCicco immediately.

Mr DeCicco met up with Caroline Eldridge - who was the new Human Resources Director – on June 15, to discuss several issues. They included Mr DeCicco's performance improvement plans; the alleged absenteeism of Sarah Balmer and Mr DeCicco's perceived lack of support from Mid-Atlantic. At that meeting, Mr DeCicco told Caroline Eldridge that he expected to have his employment terminated.

Three days later, Mr DeCicco returned his FMLA certification of health care provider form to Mid-Atlantic's human resources department.

Later the same evening, Sarah Balmer e-mailed John Fredericks (Regional Director of Operations), stating that she intended to terminate Mr DeCicco in two weeks time. She added that she had become aware that Mr DeCicco was monitoring her attendance and stated that he was not the type of person she wanted working for her.  She explained that he had been on a performance improvement plan since January 2012 and that his comment on her attendance was a ‘lie’.

On June 19, Sarah Balmer issued a final written warning to Mr DeCicco and placed him on another performance improvement plan, which was due to expire on July 3.

On June 20, John Fredericks terminated Mr DeCicco’s employment in the presence of the regional HR Director.  At that time, Mr DeCicco was 47 years of age.

He was replaced by a man Mid-Atlantic claimed was 43 years old at the time he was hired.

In May 2014, Mr DeCicco filed a lawsuit claiming age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act.  He also claimed interference with his rights and retaliation under the FMLA.

The court found that Mr DeCicco was placed on several written performance improvement plans warnings during his employment and had not contested that he reviewed camera footage, etc to conduct an independent investigation of Sarah Balmer’s attendance record – which he did only after he was placed on a performance improvement plan.

The court found that Mr DeCicco failed to show that any of Mid-Atlantic's reasons for firing him were misleading and dismissed his age discrimination claims.

However, with regard to Mr DeCicco's FMLA claims, the court found that his FMLA request and completed application were so close in time to his final warning and dismissal that it was unusually suggestive of retaliation. The court denied Mid-Atlantic summary judgment on Mr DeCicco's FMLA claims and allowed them to proceed to trial.

British Airways (BA) recently announced they have partnered with Velocys, a renewable fuels company, after an earlier project with Solena which was scheduled to start production in 2017, didn’t materialise.

The original Solena project intended to use biofuels from a facility in East London to fuel BA’s London City flights but for a series of reasons, including a lack of Government support, the partnership failed to get underway. However, as the UK Government and the Department for Transport made changes to their Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) on Sept. 14th - announcing they will now provide incentives to progress sustainable fuels - BA, whilst acknowledging they are at a very early stage in this new venture, feel that this is a significant step in the right direction.

Willie Walsh, CEO of BA’s parent company IAG stated that this new partnership intends to design “a series of waste plants that convert household waste into renewable jet fuel” to power its fleet. Using this fuel which is derived from waste biomass, BA hope the plants will produce enough fuel to power all of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights from London to San Jose, California and New Orleans, Louisiana for a year. This would contribute to BA’s commitment to reduce net emissions by 50% by 2050, as according to BA, this type of fuel will deliver around a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fossil fuel.

 A number of questions for employers and employees are being raised due to the vagueness resulting from the Brexit referendum and the prospect of the UK leaving the EU. 

Dominating the HR agenda will be projects for data protection and gender pay reporting. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in May 2018 – when employers will be required to carry out audits of employee personal data that they collect and to make certain that it meets the conditions for employee consent.  Employers will also have to create new record-keeping requirements.  As this will come into effect before the UK leaves the EU, organisations not compliant will risk a fine of up to 20 million Euros or 4% of worldwide turnover.  

Organisations with 250 employees or more are also being required to publish gender pay gap information for the first time.  This will apply to the private sector, voluntary sector and public sector organisations.  The gender pay gap regulations are expected to have an implementation deadline of April 2018.

In addition employers are likely to experience increasing costs as the apprenticeship levy and extra fees for foreign worker sponsorship are introduced.  There were financial changes for employers sponsoring foreign workers which took effect in April but some new entrants to the job market - and some health and education staff - will be exempt from the new salary threshold until 2019.

Tax savings for employee benefits are also likely to be reduced and many employers will have had to reconsider their schemes, as salary-sacrifice schemes have been abolished.  However childcare, cycle to work and low emission car schemes have not been affected and all schemes in place prior to April of this year will be protected until April 2018.  Arrangements relating to car, accommodation or school fees are protected until 2021.

The alignment of rates for the national living wage - plus current and future rates for statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental and sick pay have already taken place.

New trade union balloting rules will apply too.  Under these rules, a successful vote for strike action will mean that 50% turnout and a majority vote in favour will be required.  Important public services will need a vote of 40% of all eligible voters.

The HR profession is being expected to help managers and employees to navigate their way through the short and medium-term implications of Brexit, especially as the effects of HR policy and practice become clearer.

In August, the NTSB released a Safety Alert entitled ‘Flying on Empty - Prevent the Preventable with Careful Fuel Management’. After investigating numerous fuel-related accidents, they have concluded that fuel exhaustion and fuel starvation continue to be leading causes in the list of top ten aviation accident occurrence categories. It ranks 6th on the list behind such categories as loss of control and system failure.

Between 2011 and 2015, there were on average 50 accidents per year caused by fuel management issues – 56% to do with fuel exhaustion and 35% fuel starvation. (Fuel exhaustion is the term for running out of fuel, whereas fuel starvation is where the fuel onboard isn’t reaching the engines).

In the Safety Alert, the NTSB stated that pilot complacency and overestimation of flying ability plays a role in fuel management accidents. This appears to be proved by the fact that 48% of pilots involved in this type of accident hold either a commercial or air transport pilot certificate, whereas only 2% were student pilots.

The Safety Alert goes on to state that “Running out of fuel or starving an engine of fuel is highly preventable”. It says that “Prudent pilot action” can help eliminate issues that contribute to these types of accidents and lists examples of what can be done. This includes visually confirming fuel quantities during pre-flight inspections and making sure there is a fuel reserve on every flight.

The full Safety Alert can be found here.

When President Donald Trump announced the projected cost  of new Air Force One aircrafts was too high, the U.S. Air Force (who oversee both the acquisition and operation of the aircraft) initially found a way to slash expenditure by buying a pair of Boeing 747-8 jets ordered, but never delivered to, a bankrupt Russian airline.

President Trump wants to save $1 billion on the estimated $4.2 billion replacement of the pair of 747’s currently in use as the “flying White House”, therefore further cost-cutting moves have been put forward by the Air Force. These include a proposal to eliminate the ability to refuel in flight. Although the current aircraft have allegedly never made use of the capability, the argument is that while it has always been considered an essential security feature (for keeping the president in the air and out of the way during an emergency), the latest jets have a range of nearly 1,800 nautical miles, which will allow them to take the President nonstop from Washington to almost anywhere in the world.   

Other ways of cutting costs that are being considered consist of using largely commercial interior furnishings (rather than custom made) and negotiating better deals with Boeing and their subcontractors for seats and other items inside the planes. Additionally, the air handling system will probably remain as an off the shelf commercial system, rather than the upgrade previously proposed.  

In a briefing last year to then President elect Trump, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg stated: “Understandably, all these modifications and customizations, implemented in the appropriately secure facility with all personnel cleared to the highest level, drive considerable cost into the aircraft...”

However, what the Air Force is unlikely to cut costs on are the secure communications, self-defense systems and electrical systems powerful enough to support all the systems. With engineers still figuring out the design, layout and costings, work on the presidential transport isn’t likely to even start until 2019.

Where gender pay gap reporting is concerned, new research has shown that many organisations are finding the process confusing and misleading and fewer than half of UK companies think the requirement to publish their gender pay gap will have any impact on closing it.

Mercer’s 2017 Gender Pay Gap Reporting survey was to further last year’s research conducted to gain information from HR and Reward professionals on their awareness, concerns and plans surrounding the legislation. It was also seeking to discover how far organisations had progressed.  Participants were found to welcome changes in the regulations and are in favour of the legislation in principle. It is clear that HR professionals implementing the legislation are concerned about the complexity, difficulty and misleading nature of the measures used and therefore, a lot of effort is expected to be made in clarifying and explaining the results - both internally and externally.

A study by Mercer of 165 companies revealed that 41% found the process complex; 29% thought it was confusing and 28% found the rules misleading. Just 7% described the process as comprehensive and only 3% said it was simple.

Of the businesses taking part in the survey, almost 44% plan on reporting later in the year –whilst 28% said they do not know when they will report.

Charles Cotton, senior performance and reward manager at the CIPD stated, “Employers shouldn’t be tempted to put off reporting to the last moment. If they haven’t already started, they need to think about how they communicate to employees, potential workers, existing customers and other stakeholders, what the figures mean, and what action they are going to take and why.”

Mercer also found that 70% of the organisations surveyed would release an explanation of their gender pay figures along with the hard data.

Chris Charman, principal and reward expert at Mercer said, “Although committed to the principle of reporting, many UK companies feel the figures will show an overly simplistic view and so see a need to explain further to their staff and shareholders.  Many companies are concerned about the risk of reputational damage when publishing their figures, especially as there still seems to be much confusion between the gender pay gap and the legal requirement of equal pay for equal work.”  He added, “Most organisations are focused on getting to grips with the figures and developing a narrative to explain. Leading organisations are well advised to think about how they can be looking ahead in order to be making improvements in future years. At the heart of this is looking at root causes, which can be found in pay, female promotion and the jobs that men and women predominate in.”

Mercer’s point of view on Gender Pay Gap reporting is partly about pay, but largely about workforce profile and dynamics - such as hiring; promotion rates of women versus men and occupational segregation. They state that understanding the wider issue requires insight, but real success comes from recognising this as a business issue – higher levels of diversity in organisations are associated with greater business performance and innovation.