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Avoiding unique employment law challenges posed by the Generation Y work force

BY CSA STAFF

By Lonnie Giamela, [email protected]

Generation Y workers, defined as those individuals born between 1977 and 1995, are becoming an increasing part of our workforce. These individuals occupy a wide variety of positions from cashiers at a retail store, to warehouse employees at a distribution center, to administrative employees at a corporate office.

This younger generation of workers presents challenges based on their desire for autonomy, flexibility, recognition and ability to balance work and family. Their established societal norms on what is considered proper and appropriate has demonstrated a tolerance for conduct that may have been shunned not just 50 years ago, but 10 years ago. One need only compare the interaction between the sexes on television shows such as “I Love Lucy” and “The Cosby Show” with “Jersey Shore” and “Sex and the City.” This tolerance of conduct by Generation Y employees has spilled into the workplace in the form of violations of anti-harassment and similar policies.

Recognizing the unique challenges posed by this group of employees along with a depressed economic climate and increase costs associated with litigating such claims, a heightened emphasis must be placed on preventative measures that will reduce risk and strengthen a retail company should it need to assert or defend its interests in litigation. The following preventative steps are recommended for those in the chain store industry, to minimize risk and protect interests:

1. Implement stringent confidentiality agreements: Employee defection has become a recent “hot button” topic in HR and companies must do whatever is lawfully necessary to protect confidential information and trade secrets. Such action includes, but is not limited to, requiring employees to sign confidentiality and proprietary inventions agreements. These agreements should not just be limited to individuals in upper management, but should be provided to any individual who has direct, or indirect, information to a company’s confidential information and trade secrets. All too often, non-managerial employees will frequently use tiny mobile storage devices to download information and transmit information to a third-party for his/her own personal benefit. These employees have access, but no need to access, the important information.

2. Revise computer/email/Internet policies to acknowledge the use of social networking sites: Employees have increased personal use of the Internet while at the workplace. A recent study found that almost two-thirds of Generation Y employees have either intentionally or unintentionally viewed a pornographic website while at work. Perhaps more problematic are opinionated employees who draft blogs post messages on websites, or maintain their Facebook pages while at work. This content usually contains inappropriate, offensive or unprofessional comments that may unnecessarily subject companies to liability. Employee handbooks should have comprehensive policies on Computer Use In The Workplace and Social Networking. With respect to the latter, employers have the right and should implement policies limiting usage or reference of their names, for professional and/or non-professional purposes, on employees’ social networking sites.

3. Determine whether “love contracts” are necessary: Almost half of the Generation Y workforce has been involved in a workplace romance while approximately one-fifth have been involved in two. Thirty percent of workplace romances end up in marriage which means that more than two-thirds fail. These failed romances may eventually evolve into workplace violence incidents. Companies must protect themselves against potential harassment suits and conflicts of interest by documenting relationships within the workplace and prohibiting a manager from supervising an employee whom the manager oversees. The document, commonly referred to as a “love contract,” requires employees to acknowledge that they have voluntarily entered into a relationship, are aware of the company’s zero tolerance policy towards harassment and agree that they shall notify the Company should any such conduct occur in the future.

4. Be mindful of meal/rest break policies and the energetic employee who always wants to “work through lunch”: Wage/hour lawsuits are increasing rapidly and employees are not hesitating to challenge their employers’ policies on meal periods, rest periods and overtime. Such violations include intentional violations where a Company does not recognize state laws (if applicable) and unintentional violations where eager non-exempt employees seek to increase performance by eating at their desk and working through lunch. Violations of meal period laws, in states where such laws exist, occur as frequently in a retail store setting than in any other industry. Employees either elect to, or choose to based upon persuasion from a manager, to delay or refrain from taking a meal period because of a high level of customers in the store. Employers must ensure that handbooks contain proper policies, that any waiver of meal periods permitted under state law is authorized in writing by the employee and that managers are trained on how to coordinate subordinate’s schedules to ensure compliance regarding same.

5. Prioritize exit interviews for employees with confidential information: Develop a comprehensive exit interview procedure by which managers retrieve all documents and electronic records containing the company’s confidential information and secure the exiting employee’s written assurance that everything has been turned in and electronic copies permanently erased.

6. Review offer letters to ensure that “at-will” language is contained therein: Each offer letter of employment should confirm to the individual that employment will be on an at-will basis and that nothing in the offer letter is intended to create an implied term of employment or any guaranteed length of employment.

7. Update handbooks on a regular basis: Recent studies have found that more than half of HR professionals are not sure what exactly should go into a Policy Against Harassment or Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. These studies show increased concern over policy drafting in companies that have operations in many states. With revisions to the Family Medical Leave Act and recent case law expanding employer obligations in fair employment and wage/hour matters, it is important that companies update their handbooks because it is the most useful document in litigation defense. Companies that have not updated their handbook in the past two years are very likely to have a handbook that is not in compliance with applicable state and federal law.

Lonnie Giamela is a partner in the Los Angeles office of national labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP (laborlawyers.com). He can be reached at [email protected].

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NRF: Expected rise in container traffic sign of economic recovery

BY CSA STAFF

WASHINGTON — Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be up 9% in April over the same month last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“These numbers are an indication that the economy is recovering and retailers are expecting continued increases in sales through the summer and beyond,” NRF VP supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said. “There are challenges ahead from rising prices for gasoline and other essentials, but inventories are under control and retailers are optimistic.”

U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.1 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units in February, traditionally the slowest month of the year and the latest for which actual numbers are available. That was down 8% from January but up 10% from February 2010. It was the 15th month in a row to show a year-over-year improvement after December 2009 broke a 28-month streak of year-over-year declines. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

March was estimated at 1.2 million TEU, an increase of 11%over March 2010. April is forecast at 1.24 million TEU, up 9% from a year ago; May at 1.32 million TEU, up 4%t; June at 1.38 million TEU, up 5%; July at 1.45 million TEU, up 5%; and August at 1.54 million TEU, up 8%.

The first half of 2011 is forecast at 7.4 million TEU, up 8% from the first half of 2010. For the full year, 2010 totaled 14.7 million TEU, a 16% increase over 2009. Last year’s percentages were high because 2009’s 12.7 million TEU was the lowest level seen since 2003.

“The economy is slowly on the mend with many of the key short-term indicators providing positive directions,” Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said. “Consumers are buoyed by falling unemployment and are somewhat freer with their money.”

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Walmart returns to form with pricing campaign

BY CSA STAFF

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — With pricing studies, such as this one, revealing little difference between Walmart and Target, Walmart is looking to distinguish itself from the competition. The retailer announced that it is reinvigorating its price leadership promise, bringing back products its customers have asked for and simplifying its ad match policy.

"Walmart’s reputation was founded on the principle of providing low prices day-in and day-out on the broadest assortment of merchandise," said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S. "Our company is determined to create the best one-stop shopping experience and low prices on the right products backed by a clear, consistent ad match policy."

In order to provide the best value to its customers, Walmart said its store managers and product buyers are checking the competition more often to help ensure its stores offer lower prices on the right mix of items. In addition, Walmart said it will work more closely with suppliersto lower the cost per item and pass those savings on to customers.

Walmart has also simplified its ad match policy by no longer requiring customers to bring in a competitor’s advertisement.If customers find a lower advertised price, Walmart said it will match it at the register. To ensure this policy is enforced, Walmart has implemented additional training for associates.

The company is looking to appeal to more customers by broadening product assortment by approximately 8,500 items or 11% in an average store. According to Walmart, these assortment changes will bring back customers’ favorite local food and consumables, among other products. Additions to dry grocery aisles have been in progress, the company said, and over the next few months new products to fresh grocery and consumables will be added, and general merchandise categories will expand later this year.

Walmart said it will help customers identify these itemswith new "It’s Back" flags on store shelves later this month. In addition the company is launchinga national television advertising campaign, which Walmart said will help customers better understand its low price promise and Ad Match Guarantee on the widest assortment of products.

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