Tag Archives: Social Media Policies

Employee Handbooks: Have you covered the basics?

By on August 3, 2015

Many companies use an employee handbook or manual, which can be a useful management tool when properly utilized. An effective handbook sets forth company policies in plain English and covers every important company policy. Clarity is vital when implementing any kind of policy, and employees will benefit from understanding both what the company offers and what it expects in return. Although an employee handbook is recommended for most businesses, it is possible to do more harm than good, particularly when policies are poorly presented, or if the company sets forth a series of policies but fails to follow them.

There is no one-size-fits-all employee manual. Some manuals that just cover the basics may be ten to fifteen pages long, while some large corporations have manuals numbering into the hundreds of pages. In general, an employee handbook should serve as an employee resource, a convenient way for a company to communicate with its employees.

Most handbooks set forth employer commitments, which are useful to provide clarity to employees and as a partial defense to some employment-related claims. For example, employers should include policies relating to discrimination, sexual harassment, workplace bullying, drug and alcohol use, and violence, and then state how complaints are handled. This ensures that employees know that the company will not stand for any kind of dangerous and illegal conduct. Employees will feel safe in the workplace, and should a problem occur, the employer will be prepared to handle the problem and minimize the impact. For example, should an employer face a claim from an employee regarding sexual harassment, an anti-sexual harassment policy in a handbook will demonstrate that the employer has taken proactive steps to comply with the law and provide a safe environment, which can be helpful in resolving the claim with a minimal cost.

Employers and employees will also benefit from clearly stated internal policies and procedures related to the day-to-day operations of the company. For example, employees should be well aware of the company’s dress code, the company’s standard business hours, what sort of lunch breaks and other breaks are permitted, as well as how the company handles tardiness and unexcused absences. It is also wise to set forth how the company handles various kinds of leave: paid vacation is considered a “wage” in Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth recently enacted the Earned Sick Time law. There are also laws governing time off for holidays and jury duty. The various employment-related laws provide benefits and obligations to employers and employees, and so it is in everyone’s best interest to set forth how the company handles these matters in writing.

Today’s technology focused world has many traps for the unwary. Companies of all sizes have begun implementing policies related to the use of social media in (and sometimes outside of) the workplace, the use of company email, and the requirement to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive company information. Although risk can never be eliminated, an effective handbook can minimize the company’s exposure to lawsuits and costly government investigations.

An effective handbook can aid with both hiring and firing. On the hiring side, there is a real cost to bringing on a new employee, as that person must spend time learning the ways in which matters are handled by the company. A good handbook will ease the transition, minimizing the time that must be spent learning the company’s system and also acting as a resource for questions the employee has regarding company policy. On the firing side, an effective handbook will set forth grievance and termination procedures, so both the managers in charge of firing and the employees understand what is expected of them. A handbook also aids an employer in fighting off wrongful termination lawsuits by showing that a particular policy was in place, an employee was warned about violating such policy, and then the employee was ultimately terminated for violating the policy. Further, fired Massachusetts employees are entitled to unemployment assistance unless the employer can demonstrate one of a few factors, including the employee’s deliberate violation of a company policy. A handbook, read and signed by each employee, is evidence of the existence of company policies.

Any company with more than a handful of employees should consider developing an employee handbook. Consulting with a qualified employment attorney will ensure that the handbook complies with current law and does not expose the company to unnecessary risk.

Social Media Policies

By on April 6, 2015

Social media is a part of everyday life, regularly used by both individuals and businesses. Businesses from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies use social media for advertising and marketing purposes, and many of their employees use social media on their own time. The term “social media” includes communicating information of any sort on the internet, via a website, blog, chat room, or social networking site. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all popular, and many employers maintain an account on each service. With the ability to reach millions of potential customers without any intermediary, particularly when customers can opt in to the receiving the information, the business benefits are real and growing. Given the ubiquity of social media, it is wise for employers to develop a written policy governing its employees’ use of social media. However, employers must be careful, as there are several pitfalls to avoid, coupled with a new and rapidly evolving legal landscape.

Employers may have stand-alone social media policies, or may incorporate their policies into an employee handbook. An effective policy will provide employees with a clear understanding of the employer’s social media expectations. Employers should consider addressing both social media use in the work place and social media use outside of the work place. As with any set of legal policies and procedures, the language should be tailored to reflect the employer’s specific business.

Guidelines for a Social Media Policy

Although a social media policy should be tailored to fit the specific employer, there are general guidelines that any company should consider. With respect to the company’s use of social media generally:

– Explain who is empowered to maintain the social media accounts, including access to account passwords;

– Remind employees that the employer owns both the social media accounts and all social media-related intellectual property posted by the employer;

– Provide internal channels for employees to ask questions and clarify what is permitted;

– Remind employees that every social media post is a public statement directly attributable to the employer.

With respect to the content of the company’s social media updates:

– Prohibit use of discriminating, harassing, or similarly unacceptable language;

– Provide guidance on use of the company name and trademarks;

– Provide guidance on protecting trade secrets and other confidential information;

– Avoid liability for misleading advertising statements or product descriptions;

– Ensure that any statements are honest and accurate;

– Avoid referencing any of the employer’s vendors, suppliers, customers, or other third-parties without receiving express permission to do so from a manager;

– Avoid speaking to the media on behalf of the employer without receiving express permission to do so;

– Avoid violating any state or federal laws.

Employers should also consider whether they already have related policies in place, regarding topics such as harassment, ethics, trade secrets, and confidentiality. If so, it is important that the policies be consistent to ensure that expectations are understood. It should also be made clear that improper use of social media can lead to formal discipline, up to and including termination. Employers should have all employees sign the policy, acknowledging that it was read and any questions were asked. As with any legal policy, it is important that the policy be applied consistently across all employees; few actions lead to lawsuits faster than unequal treatment of similarly situated employees. Employers should contact an attorney for assistance in drafting or updating their social media policy.