Navigating employment laws can be an overwhelming task, but there are steps all companies can take to address risks and fix problems before they become costly mistakes.
- Update your Employee Handbook – Admit it. You have not looked at the thing since 2001. Things have changed. New laws have been passed. Regulations have been updated. The Employee Handbook is the book that guides your organization- covering everything from sick leave to overtime pay- and it is essential that it does not guide people astray.
- Develop a social media plan – Social media is everywhere. Your customers are using social media to engage with your company, and your employees are interacting daily on blogs and social networking accounts. Many companies are surprised to learn that federal law permits employees to engage in certain types of activity online and a company can actually violate the law if it terminates an employee in violation of these rights. It is important that clear protocols are established and that the policies are not so sweeping as to interfere with an employee’s legitimate rights. Developing a comprehensive social media policy not only addresses permissible and improper behavior of employees while online, but it clearly establishes privacy and ownership rights over company accounts and devices and contains protocols to respond to a social media “emergency”before it becomes a public nightmare.
- Count your employees – Seriously, I mean it. Different laws apply to companies of different sizes. There are some major thresholds that a company crosses when it expands from a seven-person shop to an office of 15 and then to a superpower of 100 employees. If you noticed you are outgrowing your offices, there is a good chance you are in need of a tune up as to which laws apply to your company.
- Prepare confidentiality agreements – Your most valuable assets are your employees and your information. Don’t let your employees walk off with your proprietary information. While there are some protections built into the common laws of various states, you can also require employees to sign agreements to protect your confidential and proprietary information. These agreements need to be narrowly tailored to your protectable interest and drafted in accordance with the laws of your state.
- Review your data privacy and security protocols – The laws are constantly evolving in this world. There was a time when the mom and pop shop did not have to worry about hackers stealing their information, but now there are legitimate threats out there that may jeopardize- not only the company’s information- but the private information of its employees and customers. Companies need to ensure that they are protected against breaches and cyber-attacks.
- Bring on the BYOD policy – No, I am not talking about a BYOB party from your college years, I am referring to “Bring Your Own Device” policies. It is becoming more the norm than the exception to the rule for companies to allow employees to check their work email on their personal phone. A BYOD policy addresses this arrangement and sets the ground rules for what happens in various scenarios- such as if the employee is terminated, if data is compromised, and the process if the company needs to delete data or company emails from the phone.
- Revamp your applications- Oftentimes, the first thing prospective employees read when they come to your company is your application. It is the most general of documents, but it is also a minefield for legal issues. Some questions are simply unlawful to ask on a job application- such as questions relating to an employee’s arrests or an employee’s protected class (race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, veteran status, or any characteristic protected by applicable law).
- Train, train, train your employees – And when you think you have trained them enough, train them again. Training involves more than just the run-of-the-mill “this is how you do your job” approach. Supervisors should get sexual harassment training to help avoid any potential issues and so that the company can utilize appropriate defenses if a lawsuit is nonetheless brought by an employee. All employees should take part in safety training as companies have an obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment. Job-specific training helps boost productivity and morale as employees will further develop their own niche and expertise.
- Audit job classifications – Do you have independent contractors working for your company? Do you have salaried employees who are not eligible for overtime pay? These are the types of positions that are prime targets for lawsuits and should be the focus of an audit. An audit is essentially a third party (such as outside counsel) coming in and reviewing the various job classifications and ensuring that everything is compliant with local, state, and federal law. There are a myriad of factors that need to be considered when evaluating compliance and just because a company and a worker agree to a certain arrangement does not mean it is necessarily lawful.
- Check the Form I-9s – Make sure they are properly completed by employees and retained by the company. Failing to properly verify an individual’s identity and eligibility to work can have serious consequences for a company.
*Just for clarity, I am not your attorney and this post is not legal advice (nor are any of the posts on this site). If you need legal advice, you should seek the advice of an attorney practicing in your jurisdiction.