5 New Year’s resolutions for California employers

5 New Year’s resolutions for California employers

2014

By Joan Herrington

It’s the time of year when we think about making a fresh start for the new year.  Since I spend my days witnessing the consequences of workplace problems, I thought I would offer a few New Year’s resolutions I would like to see California employers make.

1.  Communicate with your employees.  Make sure they know what is expected of them and how they can succeed at their jobs.  Uncertainty creates anxiety and anxiety creates inefficiency. Whenever practicable, consult with employees about the things that will affect them.  Few things are more demoralizing than feeling ignored and unable to control your future.

2.  Pay them a living wage.  Your employees will be better able to focus on their work and productivity if they aren’t worrying about paying their bills.  So how about increasing the wages your lowest-level employees earn to something livable?  Some cities are demanding that employers do just that through their living wage ordinances.  And, at the state level, California is raising the minimum wage this year.  Although California’s minimum wage is not due to increase until July 1, 2014, some cities will increase their minimum wage rates as of January 1, 2014.  For example, San Francisco’s minimum wage is increasing from $10.55 to $10.74 an hour and in San Jose the rate will go up from $10 to $10.15 an hour.  Check your city’s ordinances to see if it will also increase the minimum wage rate in 2014.  By bridging the wage gap, we can get the economy back on track for working people.  In fact, studies by renowned economists show that such minimum wage increases can “serve to stimulate the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings potentially raising demand and job growth.”

3.  Don’t underestimate the contributions of older workers.  Older workers are an experienced, dedicated, under-utilized resource.  Studies show that older workers are skillful, reliable, focused, and loyal employees.

4.  Welcome veterans into your workforce.  Our armed forces have had a hard enough time fighting for us in foreign lands.  Don’t make our workplaces another battlefield for them.  Be sure to update your discrimination policies to prohibit discrimination and harassment based on military or veteran status.  Assembly Bill 556 amended the Fair Employment and Housing Act to add military or veteran status as a protected characteristic.  Train hiring officers so that they may inquire into an applicant’s military or veteran status in order to provide a preference in hiring, but make sure they know to keep this information confidential.  And train managers to assist veterans with re-entry into the civilian workforce.

5.  Don’t let a discrimination or harassment complaint become a trigger for retaliation.  Every employee complaint of unfairness deserves a prompt, thorough investigation.  The EEOC provides guidelines on conducting investigations.  If you find that someone engaged in harassment or discrimination, don’t make excuses for them.  Take action to stop the wrong-doing and punish the wrong-doer.  Even if your investigation exonerates an accused supervisor, take affirmative steps to prevent retaliation.  It’s hard for someone accused not to bear a grudge.  Remember that how you handle complaints and prevent retaliation speaks volumes to all of your employees about your quality as an employer.

May 2014 be a productive and fulfilling year for you and the people who work so hard to make your business a success!

 

Joan Herrington

About Joan Herrington

As a former Administrative Law Judge with the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission, Joan focuses on protecting employment rights. Joan helps the Department of Fair Employment and Housing enforce the Fair Employment and Housing Act by representing employees in lawsuits, such as discrimination and harassment based on race, national origin, color, pregnancy, sex, sexual orientation, disability, medical condition, age, and religion. Joan also focuses on protecting employees and whistleblowers from unlawful retaliation. As a qualified and experienced mediator, Joan also helps resolve employment disputes.

Celebrating Labor Day 3

Celebrating Labor Day

By Joan Herrington

What does Labor Day mean to you?  A day to sleep in, to fire up the BBQ, to organize school supplies, or to hit the sales?  How about a day to remember the Pullman strike?  The what? Why?

Labor Day was established in 1894 after federal troops killed workers during the Pullman strike.

Pullman railroad workers lived in company towns, rented company houses, and bought their goods in company stores…all at company-set prices.  They were fired if they tried to unionize.  When George Pullman slashed his railroad workers’ pay by 25%, they could no longer afford to live in Pullman Town.  To protest their non-living wage, Pullman employees went on a “wildcat” strike.  Over the next six days, to show solidarity for Pullman workers, over 100,000 railroad union members cross-country refused to service trains with Pullman cars.  At George Pullman’s request, United States Attorney General Richard Olney obtained a federal court injunction against the strikers, and federal troops were sent in to enforce it.

After federal troops killed some of the workers on strike, the trains started running again.  But scandal erupted when the public learned Olney was also a director of Pullman’s railroad.  In other words, Olney, the head of a taxpayer-funded federal agency obtained a federal court order and used federal troops to protect his own and corporate interests against striking workers.  Outraged at this abuse of power, rioters spread from city to city, causing 30 deaths and millions of dollars in damage.  To restore calm, within the next week, a bill establishing Labor Day as a national holiday honoring “the strength and spirit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” was rushed through Congress and signed by President Grover Cleveland.

The battle for a living wage continues to this day.

This Labor Day, some 15 million American workers struggle to live on minimum wage earnings. Just last week, fast food workers went out on strike for a living wage. 

Earlier this year, Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Labor Seth Harris travelled around the country to hear testimony in support of the proposed Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by 2015.  He listened to: a store clerk who doesn’t know how she will support herself and her five-year-old son since her employer cut her hours of work; a homeless shelter worker who often lives without power because she can’t afford to pay her bill; a solo father who sells his own blood so his two children won’t go to bed hungry.

Reflecting on the people he met, Harris stated:

I’ve met workers of every age, race, ethnicity and background. In superficial ways, they could have not been more different. But what unites all of them is this: the desire to work hard and the opportunity to make life better for themselves and their families. Too many of them are stuck at a wage that forces them to depend on the generosity of community organizations, family, friends or government just to stay above water. I haven’t met anyone who is looking for a handout. To the contrary, they just want a fair wage so they don’t have to rely on others.

The bill to raise the minimum wage is still stuck in Congress.  Why not honor this Labor Day by contacting your Congressional representative and ask him or her to support The Fair Wage Act of 2013?

Click here to find contact information for your Congressional representative or here for more information on The Fair Wage Act of 2013.

Joan Herrington

About Joan Herrington

As a former Administrative Law Judge with the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission, Joan focuses on protecting employment rights. Joan helps the Department of Fair Employment and Housing enforce the Fair Employment and Housing Act by representing employees in lawsuits, such as discrimination and harassment based on race, national origin, color, pregnancy, sex, sexual orientation, disability, medical condition, age, and religion. Joan also focuses on protecting employees and whistleblowers from unlawful retaliation. As a qualified and experienced mediator, Joan also helps resolve employment disputes.

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