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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

Asking the wrong questions can ruin your job opportunity

(BUSINESS NEWS) An HR expert discusses the best (and worst) questions she’s experienced during candidate interviews. it’s best to learn from others mistakes.

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When talking to hiring managers outside of an interview setting, I always find myself asking about their horror stories as they’re usually good for a laugh (and a crash course in what not to do in an interview). A good friend of mine has worked in HR for the last decade and has sat in on her fair share of interviews, so naturally I asked her what some of her most notable experiences were with candidates – the good and the bad, in her own words…

“Let’s see, I think the worst questions I’ve ever had are typically related to benefits or vacation as it demonstrates that their priorities are not focused on the actual job they will be performing. I’ve had candidates ask how much vacation time they’ll receive during an initial phone screen (as their only question!). I’ve also had them ask about benefits and make comparisons to me over the phone about how our benefits compare to their current employer.

I once had a candidate ask me about the age demographics of our office, which was very uncomfortable and inappropriate! They were trying to determine if the attorneys at our law firm were older than the ones they were currently supporting. It was quite strange!

I also once had a candidate ask me about the work environment, which was fine, but they then launched into a story about how they are in a terrible environment and are planning on suing their company. While I understand that candidates may have faced challenges in their previous roles or worked for companies that had toxic working environments, it is important that you do not disparage them.

In all honesty, the worst is when they do not have any questions at all. In my opinion, it shows that they are not really invested in the position or have not put enough thought into their decision to change jobs. Moving to a new company is not a decision that should be made lightly and it’s important for me as an employer to make sure I am hiring employees who are genuinely interesting in the work they will be doing.

The best questions that I’ve been asked typically demonstrate that they’re interested in the position and have a strong understanding of the work they would be doing if they were hired. My personal favorite question that I’ve been asked is if there are any hesitations or concerns that I may have based on the information they’ve provided that they can address on the spot. To me, this demonstrates that they care about the impression that they’ve made. I’ve asked this question in interviews and been able to clarify information that I did not properly explain when answering a question. It was really important to me that I was able to correct the misinformation as it may have stopped me from moving forward in the process!

Also, questions that demonstrate their knowledge base about the role in which they’re applying for is always a good sign. I particularly like when candidates reference items that I’ve touched on and weave them into a question.

A few other good questions:
• Asking about what it takes to succeed in the position
• Asking about what areas or issues may need to be addressed when first joining the company
• Asking about challenges that may be faced if you were to be hired
• Asking the employer what they enjoy most about the company
• I am also self-centered, so I always like when candidates ask about my background and how my current company compares to previous employers that I’ve worked for. Bonus points if they’ve actually looked me up on LinkedIn and reference specifics :)”

Think about the best and worst experiences you’ve had during an interview – and talk to others about the same topic – and see how that can help you with future interviews.

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Business News

AdvoCare MLM was painted as a pyramid scheme! Well color me surprised

(BUSINESS NEWS) AdvoCare is the most recent case of an MLM being called out as a pyramid scheme by FTC, but there’s plenty more MLMs where that came from…

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AdvoCare business structure

It’s always a good day when an MLM (multi-level marketing business) actually suffers legal repercussions. Granted, these days don’t happen nearly as often as we’d like – MLM CEOs have historically had deep pockets and a far reach – which means it’s all the more reason to celebrate when one gets called out.

Today’s culprit is AdvoCare, a Texas-based “wellness” company. AdvoCare has been fined $150 million by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) for operating a pyramid scheme. The company, as well as a few of its top influencers, have been misleading people when it comes to how much money they could earn. This is pretty typical behavior for MLMs in general, though many are careful to couch your potential earnings in vague terms.

For the record, the majority of users lost money, and most who managed to turn a profit made a maximum of just $250. I say ‘just’ because it’s hard to know how long someone would have had to work to not only break even, but manage to turn a profit. MLMs make big claims about earning money, but when you have to pour a hefty sum of cash into the products, it can take a while just to break even.

That’s why many MLMs, including AdvoCare, push contributors to recruit, rather than sell the product. And if you’re thinking that sounds like a pyramid scheme, you’re totally right. This method of putting recruiting first is part of the reason AdvoCare has gotten in trouble with the FTC.

In response, AdvoCare is moving away from multi-level marketing sales and pivoting to selling products directly to retail stores, which in turn sell to customers.

Now, with AdvoCare’s downfall, don’t be surprised if other MLMs insist that they’re different because they haven’t gotten in trouble with the FTC. In fact, plenty of MLMs are quick to tell you that they’re totally legal and totally not a pyramid scheme. Sure, Jan.

First of all, if there’s a big focus on recruiting, that’s obviously a big red flag. There are plenty of pyramid scheme MLMs out there that just haven’t gotten caught yet. But there are other sneaky ways an MLM will try to rip you off. For instance, some companies will insist you buy tons of product to keep your place, and that product can be very hard to unload. Not to mention, many of the products MLMs tout are subpar at best.

AdvoCare getting called out by the FTC is a great start, but MLMs seem kind of like hydras. Cut down one and two more seem to spring up in its place. So be vigilant, y’all. Just because an MLM hasn’t gotten caught yet doesn’t guarantee it won’t still scam you out of your hard earned cash.

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Business News

Bose is closing their retail stores, but we haven’t heard the last of them

(BUSINESS NEWS) Over the last 30 years Bose has become so well understood by consumers that they don’t even need retail stores anymore. We hear them just fine.

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Over the next few months, Bose plans to close all of their retail stores in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The company made the announcement last week. With 119 stores closing, presumably hundreds of Bose employees will be laid off, but the company has not revealed exact numbers.

However, this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the maker of audio equipment is struggling to stay afloat. Rather, the move marks a major change in how consumers purchase tech gear.

When the Framingham, Massachusetts-based company opened its first U.S. retail store in 1993, it was making home entertainment systems for watching DVDs and listening to CDs. According to Colette Burke, Bose’s vice president of global sales, these first brick-and-mortar locations “gave people a way to experience, test, and talk to us” about Bose products. “At the time, it was a radical idea,” she says, “but we focused on what our customers needed and where they needed it – and we’re doing the same thing now.”

When a lot of this equipment was new, consumers may have had more questions and a need to see the products in action before purchasing. Nowadays, we all know what noise-canceling headphones are; we all know what a Bluetooth speaker is. We’re happy to read about the details online before adding products to our virtual shopping cart. The ability for Bose to close its retail stores is probably also an indicator that Bose has earned strong brand recognition and a reputation as a reliable maker of audio equipment.

In other words, consumers are less and less inclined to need to check out equipment in person before they buy it. For those who do, Bose products can still be purchased at stores like Best Buy, Target, and Apple. But overall, Bose can’t ignore the fact that their products “are increasingly purchased through e-commerce,” such as on Amazon or directly from their website.

In a statement, Bose also said that it has become a “larger multi-national company, with a localized mix of channels tailored for the country or region.” While Bose is shutting down its retail stores in several continents, it will continue to operate stores in China, the United Arab Emirates, India, Southeast Asia, and South Korea.

Burke said the decision to close so many retail stores was “difficult” because it “impacts some of our amazing store teams who make us proud every day.” Bose is offering “outplacement assistance and severance to employees that are being laid off.”

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