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Court rules against In-N-Out’s political pin ban #flair

(BUSINESS) Can a company forbid employees from wearing a political button or “flair”? One court calls this into question.

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While consistency, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, may be the last resort for those lacking in imagination, being consistent in the little things as a business owner, such as the enforcement of employee dress codes, can keep you out of court.

That’s the message that was delivered to In-N-Out Burger earlier this summer, when the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that while In-N-Out Burger had a well-defined employee dress code, they lacked consistency in enforcement. Operating more than 300 locations throughout the United States, In-N-Out Burger’s dress code specifically states that “[w]earing any type of pin or stickers is not permitted.”

While the prohibition against wearing pins or buttons at any time of the year seems clearly stated, In-N-Out management intentionally contravened their rule by requiring their employees to wear pins during the holiday season to wish customers Merry Christmas, and do so again in April, in order to advertise and solicit donations for the In-N-Out Foundation, a corporately related nonprofit organization that combats child neglect and abuse.

In April 2015, employees of an In-N-Out location based in Austin, Texas attempted to wear buttons that advertised their solidarity with the “Fight for $15” campaign, advocating for a higher minimum wage for those in the food service industry. As the Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM) noted, the buttons themselves were unobtrusive, approximately a quarter in size, with an image of a raised fist, with a “$15” over the fist.

Once managers on-site saw the buttons, they instructed their employees to remove them, citing the company rule that forbade them. The employees did so, but soon thereafter filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB), alleging that the company’s position prevented the employees from advocating for their conditions of employment. The NRLB investigated, and soon thereafter issued a complaint against In-N-Out, stating that the company’s total prohibition and enforcement were violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

In order to address these areas, In-N-Out was ordered by the NLRB to cease enforcement of a total prohibition against outside buttons that had no exceptions for those which pertained to conditions of work, including such protected activities as discussions of such terms or conditions of employment to include salary or hours, as well as any union or protected activities, by removing it from the employee handbook. Additionally, they were required to ensure that employees were notified by the change in the rule by posting notices at all locations about their rights.

In-N-Out appealed the action to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and maintained the position that they were simply preventing employees from wearing buttons because they wanted to maintain a consistent public image and to ensure employee and customer safety.

These arguments, however, were not compelling for the justices. The 5th Circuit found that by having their employees wear buttons of the company’s messaging, that employees of In-N-Out were not required to be free from pins or buttons or the messaging that they may have. The claim of safety presented by In-N-Out failed when it was revealed that no one from the company had ever examined the pins to see if there was a safety risk from them to the employees or customers alike.

So what’s to be done if you want to maintain a consistent employee image safe from rogue pieces of flair? First and foremost, understand that any prohibition should apply to all employees, cover all messages, and be enforced equally at all times. Because In-N-Out demanded that their employees wear buttons with corporate-approved messaging at designated points throughout the year, they failed to meet this threshold.

By having any exceptions at all, even well-meaning and universal ones, they opened the door to allowances for other messages to be worn.

The NLRB provides employees a generous swath to discuss their conditions of employment or other protected union activity in the workplace through the National Relations Labor Act, and relevant provisions should be reviewed and referenced in advance when creating and enforcing company policy to be referenced in employee handbooks or dress codes.

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Business News

So you were asked an illegal question in an interview, now what?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Interviews are nerve racking enough without having to wonder if your potential employer is playing by the rules. Be aware of these tips in case you find they aren’t.

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Interviews are universally nerve-wracking. You’ve got the resume, the references, the outfit – but you never know what your interviewer(s) are going to throw at you.

You expect questions relating to your skills and your ability to do the job, but sometimes a question comes out of left field and you’ve got to scramble for a coherent answer.

“If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors,” asks Apple. And Gallup wants to know, “What was the last gift you gave someone?”

Well, when I ordered a pizza last night, I tipped the delivery person with scissors . . .

Unfortunately, some questions that seem just wacky, or harmless and friendly, are not just inappropriate to ask in an interview, but are actually illegal.

Illegal questions are generally those that request information irrelevant to the job description. Here are the most common categories of illegal questions, shared across all states:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex/Gender/Orientation
  • Military discharge
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Birthplace
  • Age
  • Disability/Health status
  • Marital/family status

Any of this personal information could be used, intentionally or not, to discriminate against them. A direct inquiry regarding any of these topics is obviously off-limits, but sometimes the question might come from a tricky angle.

“When did you graduate college?” = “How old are you?”

With this information, employers could decide you’re too young or old for the role, no matter how qualified you may be.

“Orizaga is an interesting surname – is it Spanish?” = “Are you Hispanic?” A biased interviewer could use this information to determine that you are or aren’t a “good fit.” Similarly, “Is English your native language?” = “Are you from an English-speaking country or not?”

“Is that your maiden name?” = “Are you married?” And so on.

These questions are often asked innocently, by untrained interviewers looking to make conversation. Nonetheless, you don’t have to answer them, and your best bet is to tactfully avoid the question without demanding your constitutional rights in the middle of the interview.

Tone is everything, but if you respond to an illegal question with something along the lines of, “Is that relevant to this role?” in a calm, mild voice, most interviewers will take the hint and move on.

If the situation allows for it, you can keep your answer nice and vague without avoiding the question.

For example, if you’re asked about your college graduation date, you could say, “It’s been a while, but I still view college as one of the best experiences of my life.”

It’s important to note that asking an illegal question is not equivalent to committing a crime. The information must be used in a discriminatory manner, as determined by a court.

If you believe that an act of discrimination has been committed, you should contact a labor attorney, or file a charge with your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office. Then, order yourself a pizza and ask the delivery person about their scissors.

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Business News

10 time tracking tools for productive freelancers, entrepreneurs

(PRODUCTIVITY) We’re all obsessed with squeezing more out of each day, but what if we used one of these time tracking tools to inject more chill time into our lives?

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Part of today’s culture is seeing how much one can get done in a day. We’re always so “go, go, go” and we treasure productivity.

This is incredibly true for freelancers, and, as such, it makes total sense that app and software technology would capitalize on this need. The following apps and programs are designed to help you save time and/or increase productivity.

1. Timeular: This app is designed to visually show you how you spend your time and, as a result, become more productive. Instead of wondering where your time goes every day, you’ll see it visually. This is done through a physical time tracker, where you can define what you want to track and customize your Tracker. You then connect via Bluetooth and place the Tracker face up with the task that you are working on (if you’re taking a phone call, the symbol facing up would be a phone). It then tracks all of your tasks into a color-coded visualization of the day’s activities. Dangerous for people like me who waste a lot of time on Instagram…

2. Bonsai: This bad boy is time tracking for freelancers. You can break down each project and track time individually in order to see where your time is going and how much is being spent on each entity. You then are able to automate invoices based on the time spent. Genius!

3. Tasks Time Tracker: Say that three times fast. This is a phone app that has multiple timers so you can track more than one thing at a time. This app gives you the option to input billing rates to easily track your earning. You can then export all of the info in a CSV format.

4. Azendoo: Everything in one place. This is a time-tracking service that assists your team’s needs and workflow. It puts project organization, team collaboration, and time reporting all in one place. A cool feature on this is you can input how much time you anticipate spending on a project, and then Azendoo compares that to how much time you actually spent.

5. Continuo: Similar to Timeular, you get to see all of your activities in a color-coded format on a calendar. This lets you easily breakdown how much time is spent on each activity and allows you to plan for the future. You are able to see your progress over time, and see how you’ve gotten faster and more productive.

6. PadStats: Described as “a simple app will help you to learn more about yourself”, PadStats will help you track and analyze your daily activities or daily routine. This app includes more quanity-based tracking, allowing data to be more user-oriented and stats to be more accurate.

7. Pomo Timer: This productivity boosting app is a “Simple and convenient pomodoro timer based on the technique proposed by Francesco Cirillo in the distant 1980s made in a simple and clear design,” according to iTunes. For those who like visually simplicity, this app is for you.

8. Blue Cocoa: This program overturns the stigma of a smartphone being a distraction, by turning it into a productivity tool. You start by creating a timer and working on something, and, if you get distracted, the timer senses this and tries to help. This is all in an effort to keep you on track of your task, while tracking the time spent.

9. Timely: A fully automatic time app. This features automatic time tracking, project time management, and team time management. It works to improve timesheet accuracy, increase project profitability, and optimize team performance.

10. Toggl: This is a simple time tracker that offers flexible and powerful reporting. It works to crunch numbers that you’ll need for reporting, all while syncing between all of your devices.

Pick one or two of the above ten, and reclaim your time. No need to “go, go, go,” if you’re a more productive person – this way you can “chill, chill, chill.”

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Business News

This fake company weeds out crappy clients

(BUSINESS) The former CEO of Highrise used a fake website to weed out toxic clients. How can you keep problematic customers out of your business?

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Sorting through your client list to weed out potentially toxic customers isn’t a process which garners the same attention as a company removing problematic employees, but it’s every bit as important — and, in many cases, twice as tricky to accomplish. One innovative journalist’s solution to this problem was to set up a fake website to act as a buffer between unwanted clients and his inbox.

If you’re anything like Nathan Kontny, your inbox is probably brimming with unread emails, product pitches, and pleas from people with whom you’ve never met in person or collaborated; unfortunately, many of these “people” are simply automated bots geared toward generating more press for their services.

Nathan’s response to this phenomenon was to create a website called “Trick a Journalist” in order to see which potential clients would sign up for the service.

Hilariously enough, the trap worked exactly as planned. Anyone signing up for Trick a Journalist was blacklisted and prevented from signing up for Nathan’s CRM software, with Nathan’s justification being that the CRM software in question should never be used for something so egregiously predatory as Trick a Journalist.

By creating a product which sets apart unwanted clients from the rest of the pack, Nathan succeeded in both attracting and quarantining present and future threats to the integrity of his business.

While this model may not be practicable at face value, there’s an important lesson here: determining the lengths to which your clients will go to gain the upper hand BEFORE working for them is an important task, as your clients’ actions will reflect upon your product or services either way.

Ruthlessness in business isn’t unheard of, but you should be aware of your customers’ tendencies well in advance of signing off on their behavior.

Of course, one minor issue with Nathan’s model of operation is that, invariably, someone will connect Trick a Journalist to his brand and miss the joke entirely.

There are less risky routes to weeding out potentially problematic clients than blacklisting them via a satirical website — though one might argue such routes are less fun — but the end result is essentially the same: keeping unsavory clients out of your inbox and off of your product list.

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