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So the Labor Department is cool with unpaid internships again

(BUSINESS NEWS) Regulations on unpaid internships continue to wax and wane, and businesses that opt to use unpaid labor should be aware of new regulations.

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Unpaid internships are a deacreasingly common institution in the United States, with help from former regulatory attempts to make them more difficult to create.

That regulatory oversight might become more relaxed after the Department of Labor (DOL) issued new rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that governs the role of unpaid internships in the modern American workforce.

Last week, the United States’ labor governing body decided to revise its guidelines on unpaid internships using the concept of a “primary beneficiary test.”

The core principle behind the seven statements that comprise the primary beneficiary test revolves around the idea that the reason you are hiring unpaid interns is for work that provides the intern with the primary benefit (educational opportunities, hands on learning, and networking), not because the company isn’t paying someone else to perform the same activities.

So with these guidelines, there’d be no more call for jokes about interns fetching coffee or making copies. Sounds like a win for the intern, right?

Not exactly.

The guidelines stress, however, that there is no magic quota of yes or no answers that yields the unpaid intern in question has job duties that would require payment. That even includes answering “no” to the statement that reads: “the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.”

Of course, if a company were in violation of these guidelines, especially the one regarding compensation, it would be easier for adjudication to be brought against the company into a court of law. These rules start as the groundwork for any legal action interns can bring against an organization.

The first set of six guidelines were developed in 2010. By 2011, a lawsuit brought by unpaid interns against Fox Searchlight while working Darren Aronofsky feature, Black Swan, claiming the interns were performing job duties in need of compensation (read: they weren’t already paying employees to do the same roles, rather using interns as free labor).

The ruling in 2013 was in favor of the interns, but a different federal court reversed that decision in 2015. It is interesting to note that the revised guidelines published by the DOL only a week ago were derived from the Court’s 2015 decision on this case.

The larger trend of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns may cause a company pause if they reverse decisions about payment of employees.

Despite the judicial onslaught, some organizations may still choose to pursue unpaid internships in light of the relaxation of the guidelines by the DOL.

Alexandra Bohannon has a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Oklahoma with a concentration in public policy. She is currently based in Oklahoma City, working as a freelance filmmaker, writer, and podcaster. Alexandra loves playing Dungeons and Dragons and is a diehard Trekkie.

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Business News

As soda sales slump, companies consider crazy coffee

(BUSINESS NEWS) Retail trends continue to shift as new generations demand innovation – soda sales are slumping and brands are looking to coffee as the answer.

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Since the 1950s, beverage companies have been concerned with the shift of market share from soda to coffee in terms of breakfast and afternoon drink staples. Well now, that fortune has been reversed. According to analysis by the Washington Post, coffee may once again trump the caffeinated drink market, leaving soda manufacturers to question what may come next, while planning a strategy to enter the playing field.

The slump in soda sales are causing some beverage manufacturers and parent companies looking to merge or acquire others in order to hook the consumer throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Considering that in late 2017, Coca-Cola acquired hipster sparkling water favorite Topo Chico, other companies are falling in line to make sure that their reach goes beyond the high fructose corn syrup.

The secretive JAB Holdings, the German parent company of Panera Bread, Keurig, and Stumptown Coffee Roasters, acquired Dr Pepper and Snapple, making this 40+ drink brand company a bigger player than ever in the search for “the new soda.”

So what is going to be the “new soda”? One answer companies may have is the coffee beverages that are certainly similar to their current soda line-up. Outside of Pepsi and Coca Cola, bottling ready-made java drinks on behalf of Starbucks and Pepsi, some brands are really leaning into “soda, but not” for their coffee beverages.

The 2017 National Coffee Drinking Trends Report predicted four of the big trendy brands that soda is up against: regular cold brew, sparkling cold brew, nitro joe on draft, and ready-to-drink coffee products. Stumptown Roasters, underneath the Dr Pepper and Keurig mega brand umbrella, has been producing sparkling cold brew since early 2017, which seems unlikely to change in light of these market trends.

The morning mud appears to be an American drink pastime that isn’t going away, with the millennial and Gen Z market wanting exciting coffee innovations to keep their interest and cash loyalty. Soda companies, in this day and age, are struggling to balance their brand portfolio to make sure that dollar keeps flowing, just like their beverages.

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Business News

Failed new years resolutions? Try workplace wellness programs

(WORKPLACE) There are simple ways to better your organization through workplace wellness initiatives which is way cooler than it sounds, I swear…

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It’s February and most of us have already failed to keep our “don’t eat Taco Bell” new year resolutions. We’re not fat jerks, it’s just that Taco Bell has these new french fries and we have no self control.

Even though our diet resolutions have failed, we can all improve our own wellness. And we can maximize our efforts by focusing on workplace wellness, because I just had another batch of Taco Bell fries (that resolution is dead), and because we spend more time with coworkers than anyone else.

Why not mix it with workplace wellness and get some of your coworkers on board to make some health and wellness improvements (then maybe Betty in accounting will quit showing up with her ridiculously delicious chocolate chip cookies)? Betty…

However, what most people may not be focusing on are health concerns outside of eating healthier and staying active.

I stumbled upon TotalWellness Health while browsing for inspiration on how to better myself in the new year. According to their website, “TotalWellness is a national wellness services provider that provides tools and services to deliver better wellness programs.”

They partner with organizations specifically to better their workplaces and help their employees to be healthier. TotalWellness helps organizations to lower healthcare costs, prevent diseases, and create corporate wellness solutions to foster a safer and more productive work environment.

The company also provides: health risk assessment and reporting, corporate health fairs, various health screenings, on-site flu shot clinics, health education, and a wellness portal. All of this is designed to help organizations provide their employees with a well-rounded blanket of health services.

Having something like this, even if somehow done in-house, can also help improve the overall vibe of the workplace. Creating wellness events and activities can help bring employees together, inspire creativity, and, in turn, this will translate to productivity.

Also consider creating more of a collaborative community presence as a part of your workplace wellness.

This can be done through group volunteering events or fundraisers, anything that helps employees to bond and collaborate while helping others.

You can combine all of this together by researching charity events with a health component. For example, Run Ranger Run will be taking place during the entire month of February, and challenges groups of up to ten people to walk, bike, run, etc. a total of 565 miles (per group). This can be done remotely and logged into a portal, so it’s perfect for teams that may work remote.

The bottom line: make yourself more aware of different offerings and opportunities this year, because it can have a snowball effect that betters your workplace as a whole and helps you eat less fries.

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Business News

Hawaiian missile strike fallout: The importance of clarity in crisis communication

(BUSINESS) Companies can learn quite a bit from the recent Hawaiian missile clusterflip, particularly about timeliness and clarity in crisis communications.

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The federal investigation into the Hawaii civil defense snafu earlier this month revealed that there were serious errors in how the training exercise was conducted between two shifts and in the ongoing performance concerns of the employee directly responsible for sending out the alert.

For 38 minutes, citizens and visitors in the Hawaiian Islands cowered in fear, alerted to take immediate shelter by messages that were received on cellphones and broadcast on TV stations across the state. While officials attempted to calm the populace by taking to Twitter immediately to quell the concerns, many people were not—understandably—taking to tweeting what may have been their last thoughts, and thus were not informed until a follow up message was broadcast to cellphones nearly 40 minutes later.

The Federal Communications Commission, which conducted the federal portion of the investigation into the incident, put partial blame on a lack of clarity about the drill between the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency supervisors of the evening and the morning shifts and a subsequent lack of supervision.

The night-shift supervisor wanted to test the preparedness of the morning-shift workers with an unannounced drill, according to the FCC report. While the day-shift supervisor was allegedly aware that the drill was to take place, he thought that it was to test the night-shift personnel, not the morning crew. As such, he was not prepared to oversee the drill.

The test, which followed normal protocols, involved the night-shift supervisor playing a prerecorded message to emergency personnel warning them that a threat was imminent. The recording, which was simulating real notification from the U.S. Pacific Command, did include the words “Exercise, exercise, exercise,” according to the FCC report, but it also stated “This is not a drill” – which is what workers would expect to hear in a real warning for an active missile alert.

Adding to the confusion was that the worker who was responsible for transmitting the alert as an active emergency heard the language that reflected that it was not a drill, but did not hear the “exercise” language in the tape playback. The employee, believing that it was an actual alert, rather than a drill, responded affirmatively to a prompt asking “Are you sure that you want to send this Alert?”, said the FCC. He was, according to both the FCC and the state investigation into the incident, the only employee to believe that it was an actual alert, and the only worker not to hear the “exercise” portion of the drill.

Adding to the confusion was the revelation by Hawaii state officials on Tuesday that the employee in question had a troubled work history stretching back over the past decade.

The state investigation revealed that the employee had been counseled and corrected for poor performance over the previous 10 years, including that, on at least two occasions, the employee also “confused real life events and drills.” While other members of the employee’s team were reportedly uncomfortable with him and his work for some time, this mistake proved to be the final action of his career with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, as he was terminated last week, pending appeal.

Vern T. Miyagi, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, resigned Tuesday morning as the investigation results were released and “has taken full responsibility” for the incident, according to Major General Joe Logan, the state adjutant general, who oversees the agency.

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