HR professionals are on the front lines of the need for, and implementing requirements around, paid family leave. Given the uncertainty at the federal level in the policy area of paid family leave (PFL), with a recent proposal being floated that would open up workers’ social security benefits for them to “borrow” against their own federal retirement benefits to fund their current PFL time, it’s no wonder that states are stepping in to fill what they see as a gap in employees’ very real and unmet needs in this area. The results are creating significant business, compliance and human resources challenges in implementing a patchwork of legal requirements across the United States.As we observe the most recent law coming into effect in January of 2018 in New York, it’s important to consider how operationalizing legal requirements for paid family leave is not as simple as it seems. These are some of the challenging issues that must be resolved by HR:Alignment of current paid leave programs such as PTO, short-term disability benefits, FMLA, and sick leave with the state and local requirementsUpdating technological systems such as payroll programs and solutions for those in affected states so that accruals, usage and notifications are compliant with the lawChanging processes, documentation and protocols for leave requests so that legal requirements are fulfilledTraining HR, management and others on new processes and requirementsEnsuring that sufficient staff capacity is available to handle state-based processing requirementsRecognizing the complex situations that arise where state, local and federal law, as well as collective bargaining agreements and other requirements create the potential for complying with one set up requirements but violating another, and coming up with ways to avert this riskBuilding the internal expertise and relationships across siloed departments to effectively handle novel issues that may arise, in a way that treats employees like human beings and not problemsTo continue reading this post, please click here.
Our Syrian hosts told us that the two dozen soldiers and another five or so plain clothes intelligence officers who accompanied us everywhere were necessary to protect us from the mortars rebels fire indiscriminately at civilian areas. But the Iranian and Russian journalists I saw close to the front lines did not merit the same VIP escort. Later, when I told one of my minders at the hotel that I wanted to go across the street to buy water at a kiosk, he demurred, urging me to return to my room. Minutes later, a hotel staffer brought me a frosty bottle. I was not sure whether to feel like a king in his castle or a prisoner in his dungeon.* * *The medieval stalls of the Old City where Venetian traders established the first European consulate in 1548 have been reduced to charred stone. Minarets still stand, but their pockmarked bricks tell the story of the quarter’s suffering. “We only used light weapons because to use heavy ones here would destroy our national treasures,” Colonel Abd al-Majid told me. There’s little evidence of such restraint. Outside observers have blamed both sides for the destruction that has obliterated pre-modern travelers’ inns, religious seminaries and mausoleums.Nearby lay the remains of the Carlton Hotel housed in a 19th century building. The rebels destroyed it in May 2014, tunneling several miles to plant underground explosives. An estimated 30 to 50 government forces were killed. The day before our visit to the Old City, Presbyterian Reverend Ibrahim Nseir told us how the rebels destroyed his church in 2012 using the same kind of munitions. Such tunnel bombs have proved to be one of the rebels’ most effective weapons in an asymmetrical war in which they face daily air bombardments.As I came out of the Suq al-Zarb near the Citadel, I glimpsed a stocky man with light skin and ruddy cheeks leaving a battle front area escorted by six Syrian soldiers. His gold necklace hinted that he was a foreigner. When one of our hosts told his retinue, “Get him out of here!” I understood he was a Russian. Another Russian in our group caught up with him, learning that he was from a base in the province of Samara on the Volga river. The soldier was likely from the city of Tolyatti which houses the 3rd Guards Special Forces Brigade, a contingent that has fought in Chechnya and Ukraine and is counted among Russia’s elite forces. Moscow has repeatedly denied that its ground forces are fighting the rebels and instead argued that they are only battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But the soldier’s presence in Aleppo confirmed that Russia is willing to exhaust all its resources to prop up Assad.An eclectic group of foreigners are certainly keeping Assad in power even as he remonstrates against the foreign jihadists destroying his country. But Assad refuses to acknowledge the contribution they have made to keep him in power. Ten-year-old Muhammad Nur came four months ago from Bab al-Nayrab, an impoverished neighborhood filled with shoulder high garbage for a mile the last time I visited in 2012. “I stayed in the house because I was afraid of mortars and artillery,” he said, explaining why he didn’t play in the street. “I was happy when I came here because the army protects us.”With the heavy intelligence and military contingent meandering around the complex, it was difficult to ascertain where pre-rehearsed pro-government slogans ended and real sentiments began. Most regurgitated the government line that the rebels came from abroad and were backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. But their denunciations of the rebels were noteworthy if only because they are from the same destitute classes. The IDPs living in cramped wooden containers were not the wealthy business moguls with their polished English and European cut clothes who dined with us in posh establishments. The IDPs’ support of the government merely illustrates how maladroit the insurgents are and why their backers in the West were so woefully wrong in urging another intervention in the Muslim world.Our hosts did not have to do much to illustrate this. They merely took us to the al-Razi hospital to show us the rebels’ handiwork. An ambulance brought in a soldier whose bland camouflage uniform was covered in dark red around his left ankle. A trickle of others brought in more soldiers, casualties of a rebel offensive in Halab al-Jadida, replete with two suicide bombers and a barrage of mortars. But soon civilians inundated the hospital as well.One was Hazim Sharif, a 26-year-old doctor with a coin-sized hole full of shrapnel in the chest. When he was initially rushed to the emergency room, he was barely conscious, his eyes glazed over. His mother wailed, “Please do not cry for my son. Pray for the Messenger.” When I next saw him behind the hospital, he was covered with a blue cloth in the back of an ambulance. The EMS technician lifted the covering. His eyes were closed. On an elevated curb adjacent to a hospital entrance, a woman was grieving the loss of her husband. Inside was a makeshift morgue and seven bodies of those who died in the attack. Taxis and civilian cars periodically appeared to ferret away the dead. “These are the moderate rebels the media talks about,” al-Shehabi lectured me. “They don’t distinguish between soldiers and civilians. They want to kill us all.”We waited for several hours, but just like at Bustan al-Qasr, no one dared venture out of east Aleppo.The next day we were taken to humanitarian crossings, frontline posts the government has opened to allow rebels and civilians to leave besieged east Aleppo. At the Bustan al-Qasr crossing, a canal and piles of rusted car chassis divided the two sides. A captain told us the crossing was first opened five months ago. Twelve civilians had crossed to the government side for medical care before they returned. Two fighters did as well. But on the day of our visit, the streets were empty. The industrial sector of Layramun in northwest Aleppo tells the story of this war. Its 1,200 factories have been looted and destroyed. In their place are piles of concrete rubble filled with rusted metal. Collapsed water tanks peak through the ruins. Where bustling factories and the din of machines once churned out bundles of yarn, only the occasional explosion of distant artillery can be heard. In the weeks since I visited the besieged city in early November, the Syrian military along with its foreign backers and proxies have staged a massive offensive that is imminently close to retaking the eastern half of Aleppo held by rebels for more than four years. Relentless air strikes have driven some 20,000 civilians to flee the ravaged industrial city, Syria’s second largest.“Sixty percent of the companies here were textiles, like sewing. But we also had companies which made plastic and steel moldings,” explained Ziyad Berri, an owner of a pharmaceutical company located in rebel territory.Berri was one of a handful of industrialists and public figures who accompanied me and a dozen American and British journalists during our four-day trip inside a city that has dominated headlines for months but which few Western reporters have seen. What we saw, along with the devastation wrought by years of civil war, was evidence of how the Assad regime has maintained control over its most prosperous areas and why the rebels failed at capturing not only the city but the entire country. Though he waged an unpitying counterinsurgency campaign that has contributed to the deaths of 430,000, displaced half of his country’s population and leveled vast swaths of Syria’s major cities, President Bashar al-Assad managed to maintain the allegiance of a good portion of his citizens by offering them a thin veneer of normalcy. It is Assad’s people who are losing the war.When I met with Assad days earlier, he posited, “Let’s suppose that these allegations are correct, and this president was killing his own people and committed crimes…after five years and a half, who supported me?” From my brief visit to Aleppo, it was clear that it was not Syria’s silent majority.On the journey to the city, I saw a Hezbollah funeral procession outside Homs. In Aleppo, Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units held positions in Bani Zayd, a neighborhood which houses no Kurds. Iranian backed Shi’i militias actively post their exploits on social media. And though the skies were quiet during my visit, Russian fighter jets have been pummeling rebel held areas of east Aleppo for months. Assad is winning this war because his backers have zealously embraced the use of overwhelming force while his adversaries, and their supporters, have not.But it is Assad’s people who are losing the war. Nearly 11 million Syrians have either fled the country or are internally displaced according to the United Nations. With a pre-war population of 21 million, that means about half have left their homes. In February, the Syrian Centre for Policy Research estimated that 11.5 percent of the population had been killed or injured through 2015.Dead bodies lined-up on the ground following air strikes by the Syrian government | Abd Doumany/AFP via Getty ImagesThe government has survived a failed revolution because it provides what the rebels can never do—a consistent wage and the promise of a modicum of governance. The regime deftly understood early on that it was necessary to preserve the façade of normalcy. The fate of Libyan leader Mu’amar al-Qadhafi provides a stark contrast. After Qadhafi lost the eastern half of his country in a matter of weeks in 2011, he severed rebel held areas from regime-held territory. He cut off the mobile telephone networks. He ceased providing government services there. Qadhafi was under attack and he ensured that all Libyans knew this.But Assad drew from a different playbook. He continued paying government salaries to civil servants in rebel territory. Utilities such as electricity and water were only cut off in the most besieged of territories. And the government tried its hardest to make residents forget a war was raging outside their cities. Assad has certainly starved out his enemies (food shortages have been a way of life in places like Aleppo for years and shipments of emergency rations have even been intercepted in rebel enclaves such as Daraya outside of Damascus) in ways reminiscent of World War II. But Assad has justified it to his supporters and fence sitters as a necessary move to stomp out the foreign jihadists threatening their existence. While his critics in the West scoff at such claims they resonate among a population that looks around the Middle East and only sees chaos when governments are toppled in the name of freedom and democracy.This explains why even some of the poorest, most beleaguered Syrians have not forsaken their leader and instead rail at the rebels, who claim to want to liberate them from a despot. At the Hafiz al-Assad mosque, internally displaced persons (IDPs) from rebel held east Aleppo were eager to tell us how wicked the fighters there are. “Bashar pays our monthly wages and utilities,” 72-year-old Salah Yassin said, struggling to enunciate words between his missing teeth. “The terrorists took our money and didn’t give us any food.” For others, such as Aleppo’s industrialists, Assad bet smartly on the knowledge that most of their fortunes s are tied to his survival and prosperity. Some of them made their money from their contacts with the all-powerful intelligence services that control the country and well-placed civil servants who can navigate the complex bureaucracy. Others were cognizant that a revolution is never kind to the wealthy. When the Ba’ath took power in 1963, it nationalized factories and banks and imposed land reforms that severely restricted private holdings. Overnight, fortunes extending back centuries were wiped out.Syrian men carrying babies make their way through the rubble of destroyed buildings in Aleppo | Ameer Alhalbi/AFP via Getty ImagesIt was not only the businessmen’s wealth the rebels threatened, but their lifestyles as well. The Syrian rebellion in Aleppo was launched by the rural classes. They “came from Idlib and rural Aleppo,” parliamentarian Zayna Khawla told me, speaking in a contemptuous tone, as if the rebels were the Beverly Hillbillies descending on Rodeo Drive. “They are not like us,” industrialist Raf’at Shammeh explained. “Their values are different. We want to protect our country. They want to destroy it.”“This is commercial terrorism,” our host Fares al-Shehabi noted. His position as Chairman of the Chamber of Industry gave him an aura of gravitas. But in Syria, where titles and positions mean nothing, it is proximity to the halls of power that matter. Shehabi’s real influence derives from his late uncle who was the military chief of staff for 24 years. Shehabi showed us sacks filled with a substance he claimed was yellow sulfur used to make mortars. It was impossible to tell. The Chinese produced sacks were labeled dicalcium phosphate and titanium dioxide, two non-flammable substances.What was certain was that the narrative our government hosts spun us was only partially true. The rebels undoubtedly looted Layramun’s factories, stripping them of everything that could be moved to Turkey, where industrialists have been scooping up equipment at fire-sale prices. Indeed, during a 2012 visit to Aleppo’s most modern industrial complex, Sheikh Najjar, I saw rebels carting off heavy machinery.In Syria, there are no prizes for critical thinking or dissent.But the rebels lack the artillery to pancake buildings. That is the work of the Syrian and Russian forces, who have only stepped up airstrikes since the beginning of the recent offensive. I stopped two of our military escorts, pointing to a building that had obviously been destroyed by airstrikes. I asked if government fighter jets had demolished it. One of the escorts studied the building’s collapsed floors and was about to nod his head before his comrade blurted out “gas canister bomb,” a projectile popular with the rebels. The pensive soldier abruptly froze and agreed. In Syria, there are no prizes for critical thinking or dissent. The Castello road crossing was more of a carnival affair. Buses lined dirt mounds, ready to transport civilians to less imperiled locations. The government promised to relocate fighters to nearby Idlib where their position is much stronger. A dozen Russian soldiers from the Centre for Reconciliation beamed video from their drones to Moscow for Ministry of Defense press conferences. We waited for several hours, but just like at Bustan al-Qasr, no one dared venture out of east Aleppo. Either they were comfortable dodging fighter jets strikes as they waited out the siege with no food, or as is more likely, they were too afraid of the consequences of crossing into government territory. All we saw from the east side was a mortar which landed 200 hundred feet away.The government, supported by Russian fighter jets and Iranian backed Shi’i militias, is confident it can retake east Aleppo. But it has been slow to move into the remaining besieged areas which shelter between 5,000 to 15,000 rebels according to local activists and insurgent group leaders. Whether it can deploy the forces necessary to do so remains to be seen. But what is certain is that the pain of Aleppo’s civilians will endure long after the last mortar falls. Sectarian enmity and distrust will complicate a rebuilding process that is already estimated at more than $260 billion. If Assad wins, most Western observers will attribute the triumph to his use of naked force. But it his reliance on primordial loyalties, a fear of post-revolutionary chaos and appeal to the self-interest of Aleppo’s merchant class which will have been the real keys to his success. In the end it may well look like a victory that would have been better avoided.Barak Barfi is a fellow at the New America Foundation where he specializes in Arab and Islamic affairs. Also On POLITICO France calls for UN meeting on Aleppo By Esther King EU pushes for Aleppo emergency aid plan By Laurens Cerulus
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