Tag Archives: workplace policies

Is it Time for a Workplace Mobile Phone Policy?

Mobile phones are omnipresent in America and in much of the world. Pew Research Center states, “95 percent of Americans now own a cellphone of some kind.” Although these devices streamline communication and have in many ways revolutionized the world, they can be incredibly distracting in the workplace.

As a result, more and more employers are choosing to implement a mobile phone policy. Does this make sense for your company?


A Productivity Killer

According to CareerBuilder research, “One in five employers (19 percent) think workers are productive less than five hours a day. When looking for a culprit, more than half of employers (55 percent) say that workers’ mobile phones/texting are to blame.”

It turns out that this is actually the number one overall productivity killer at work eclipsing the Internet, gossip and social media. So it should come as no surprise that many companies are turning to a mobile phone policy to get things back on track.


How it Works

It’s simple. A mobile phone policy creates certain guidelines that dictate if and when employees can use these devices at work. Here are some of the common elements it covers:

  • The purpose of the policy
  • Who it applies to
  • Details of the policy
  • What is and isn’t allowed in the workplace
  • How mobile phones should be used
  • Consequences of an infraction

By setting a few parameters, you achieve a deeper level of control and can prevent mobile phone usage from getting out of hand.


Some Examples

The specifics of a policy can vary widely depending upon how a business is run and whether or not mobile phones are an integral part of job performance. Here are a few examples of limitations you might want to set:

  • Employees are only allowed to use their devices expressly for work-related purposes while on the job (no personal use)
  • They may use productivity apps
  • Personal calls and texts are only permissible during breaks
  • Calls and texts shouldn’t disturb or distract others (e.g. use a low ringtone)
  • Mobile phones should be turned to “vibrate” or “mute”


These are just a few examples. You can find a sample mobile phone policy at Workable. Once you have your own policy completed, add it to your employee handbook and send it as an email so that everyone is aware.


The Benefits

A clear policy gives you greater control over your employees’ mobile phone usage. Rather than letting it go unregulated, this can greatly diminish or even eliminate abuse. In turn, you’re likely to see a noticeable increase in productivity.

You can also ensure that your employees are following basic rules of etiquette. They can still use their mobile devices during certain situations without it becoming a nuisance to others.

If you’re finding that cell phones are adversely impacting your business, you may want to consider creating a mobile phone policy. It is a great way to keep this issue in check and prevent a minor issue from becoming a major problem.



Workplace Policies to Prevent Harassment Claims

While an employer’s hiring and firing practices may present the greatest risk for litigation, lawsuits based on a company’s employment practices can happen for many reasons. Poorly written policies or a manager’s style can embroil a business in the complaint of a single employee.

Workplace harassment can come from a lack of managerial action as easily as from offensive behavior. A company’s risk level if reduced when employees have a solid understanding of company policies, as well as employees’ rights and responsibilities. It is the employer’s legal duty to communicate workplace conduct policies and to ensure every employee understands and adheres to them.


Workplace harassment is one of the most difficult risks for an employer to control. Whereas most forms of litigation are based on claims of deceitful or improper actions by company management, harassment suits usually seek to blame management for the ignorant, inappropriate or hateful actions of their employees.

Harassment is any form of malicious or exploitive behavior that alienates or damages an individual to the point of affecting employment conditions. Harassment can be caused by co-workers or managers, either individually or in groups. When the harassment is pervasive or repeated, the situation creates a hostile work environment.

No matter what party is responsible for the harassment, the employer could be implicated in an employee’s complaint. While it may be difficult to be blamed on management, every instance of harassment must be regarded as extremely serious. Managers are responsible for promptly and thoroughly investigating and documenting all cases.

Types of Harassment

Though harassment comprises a variety of offenses, one of its more common forms is sexual harassment. While there are blatant acts of sexual harassment (threatening to fire subordinates if they do not grant sexual favors; an openly discriminatory system of promotion and pay), some less aggressive forms can be the result of an employee paying too much attention to a co-worker or an improper joke that had no direct target.

What constitutes as sexual harassment is not always clear to people. Opinions on offensive behavior vary widely, and courts often have to rule on what is defined as normal behavior. Generally, if an employee feels uncomfortable or harassed, he or she should report it immediately so the offensive behavior can be stopped.

General harassment claims are as serious as sexual harassment. Biases can easily result in the exclusion of a co-worker or create favoritism for similarly minded employees. Manager should not tolerate harassment and should take steps to counsel individuals who display signs of discriminatory behavior based on race, ethnicity, disability or religion. Discrimination based on religion can be particularly difficult to handle; it is often visually indiscernible, and co-workers may feel they have religious superiority or no reason to be considerate of another person’s beliefs.

Workers should feel that they can report harassment without any threat of repercussion. At least two channels for reporting harassment should be set up for situations where one is compromised or directly connected to the harassment. If employees do not feel they can report harassment safely, managers may not be aware there is a problem until litigation for a hostile work environment and negligent management is filed. Workers should be trained to recognize harassment of co-workers and be instructed to treat offenses seriously.

Employers can be held liable for harassment that happens outside the workplace. Job-sponsored events are often considered as being under a company’s liability. Although harassment completely outside of any work-related functions is not the company’s responsibility, employers should be open to receive reports of any harassment incidents between two employees and speak with the offending party. While an employer cannot reprimand employees for actions performed in their free time, he or she can remind them of the company’s no-tolerance policy for similar actions in the workplace and, if necessary, separate the employees involved in the situation.

An employer can take proactive steps to help prevent harassment and negligence litigation, which includes employees training, signed documentation of the training, and an agreement of understanding and willingness to comply with company standards. Training should happen on a regular basis, not just when employees are hired. Demonstrating and reminding workers of the severity of harassment can keep adverse actions from occurring and can demonstrate in court that managers made genuine preventative efforts.

Necessities of a Harassment Suit

While it is difficult to eliminate the possibility of individual acts of harassment, an isolated, uncharacteristic action by a single employee is not likely to result in a lawsuit against the entire company. Noncriminal harassment from a co-worker is not grounds for a lawsuit; harassment claims typically target the employer.

Handbook policies and managers are representatives of a company and its culture. If either causes an employee to be ignored, punished or fired for a “protected attribute,” it will be viable grounds for a harassment case. To minimize this risk, companies must have trustworthy individuals in positions of authority and establish clear, unbiased handbook policies.

Cases of hostile work environments are easier for employers to avoid. Employees claiming a hostile work environment typically must show that harassment 1) occurred repeatedly, 2) was not condoned by the employee in any way, 3) targeted a “protected attribute,” 4) was allowed by the employer, 5) interfered with job functionality, and 6) did not cease after appropriate actions by the employee.

Typically, a claim of a hostile work environment succeeds only if the claimant first made his or her employer aware of the situation and the employer failed to take appropriate steps to correct the problem.

Additionally, employees cannot claim that they were discriminated against simply because a manager or co-workers didn’t like them for personal reasons. However, employers or HR representatives receiving complaints should encourage individuals to be cordial and work well together despite personal attitudes. A targeted employee could assume (and therefore allege) that he or she is disliked because of a protected attribute. Employees should be trained on the aspects of a hostile work environment and behaviors that will not be tolerated in the workplace.

Employers should recognize that being able to prevent harassment litigation from being successful does not prevent the expensive litigation from occurring. Companies and managers take every step possible to keep employees from feeling harassed. Goodwill toward employees and an effort to accommodate concerns can prevent a host of legal issues. Most lawyers will not accept plaintiff cases unless an employer has disregarded the concerns of an employee.

Negligence in Hiring

There are situations in which an employer can be sued for negligence after a first incident of co-worker harassment. If a new employee is accused of physical harassment and it is discovered that he or she has been reported or arrested for similar behavior prior to being hired, a plaintiff could claim the employer showed negligence in hiring. Employers should do thorough background checks on job candidates before hiring to reduce the risk.


Proper action by managers and HR representatives is of little value if it is not properly documented. If a suit is filed, the employer will need to provide proof of the facts pertaining to the suit. This may include proof of policies, training and management’s response to the complainant’s original complaint. An employer needs solid proof that its managers took steps to prevent problems and inform employees about their rights. In addition, the employer must prove that when problems occurred, management responded promptly and appropriately.

The employer should have policies, practices and formal documents for handling complaints; every complaint should be logged and investigated using established methods. A separate and confidential file must be kept, which includes all documentation and notes pertaining to the complaint. The documentation should include a statement relevant to how the complaint was resolved and the steps that were taken to ensure the situation will not recur.

Having employees read and agree to company policies provided in an employee handbook is a key method a company might use to protect itself and educate its workers. Handbooks should be written carefully and kept up to date. They should include policies as well as the employees’ responsibilities and rights. Managers should be subject to the handbook as well and carry out all investigations and evaluations with the rules of the handbook in mind. Handbooks must comply with local, state and federal laws. The employer may wish to have the handbook reviewed by legal counsel.

While not all risk of harassment complaints can be eliminated, well-written policies, management and employee training can lessen their occurrence.

Many employers carry liability insurance that can mitigate expenses when unavoidable claims are filed.



Employee Handbook 101 – Creating a Comprehensive Handbook

An employee handbook is an easy way to transmit important information to employees in a comprehensive manner. Employee handbooks provide company information for new employees, serve as a reference for seasoned employees, ensure that all individuals are consistently treated with regard to company policies and procedures, and can protect the company from potential lawsuits.


When creating a handbook for your company, draft it as a quick reference guide for employees. Generally, it is best to keep the document under 20 pages. Handbooks should be reviewed every one to three years to ensure the policies and procedures are still relevant and up to date. In addition, it is best to individualize your handbook so that each policy pertains specifically to your company and employees.


Employee Handbook Best Practices

  1. Have your handbook reviewed by legal counsel to ensure it does not contain unlawful provisions or language that could be interpreted as creating an employment contract.
  2. Make sure your handbook clearly states that it is not a contract and that the employment relationship is “at will” and can be ended at any time with or without cause.
  3. Include a statement that Greenroom Interactive has the right to revise policies at any time.
  4. Include an effective date on each page of the employee handbook and include a statement that the current handbook replaces any previous handbook.
  5. Require employees to sign a statement acknowledging that they have received the handbook and understand its provisions. Keep a copy in each employee’s personnel file.
  6. Make sure that your handbook includes a list of offenses which are subject to discipline (but also note it is not a comprehensive list).
  7. Be sure to include an email, voicemail and Internet usage policy.
  8. Include a section concerning equal employment opportunity and harassment.
  9. General language gives you flexibility and allows your handbook to be changed easily.
  10. Common trouble areas include policies on discipline/progressive discipline, layoffs, severance pay, probationary periods, performance evaluations, work rules and employee benefits. If you choose to include policies on these topics, legal counsel should carefully review them.
  11. Make sure that the documentation within your organization is consistent.
  12. Define the terms that you use, such as “excessive tardiness,” “insubordination,” etc.
  13. Make sure supervisors understand that their discretion is limited and that they cannot modify the handbook. Consider supervisor training sessions on policies such as FMLA, ADA, harassment, employee discipline, interviews, etc.
  14. Review your handbook annually to make changes and then have legal counsel review those provisions. Give employees notice and have them sign off on significant changes.



Does Your Company Need an Affirmative Action Plan?

Equal employment in the workplace is a serious matter these days — and there are multiple federal and state laws in place to ensure that individuals aren’t discriminated against because of race, gender, disability, religion, etc. As a result, affirmative action must be taken by certain employers who meet the requirements. Here’s how to determine whether or not your business needs an affirmative action plan.

Affirmative Action Plan Definition

According to Helios HR, an affirmative action plan (AAP) is “A roadmap of an organization’s programs, policies and procedures for ensuring equal opportunity in all aspects of employment including recruiting, hiring, training, promoting and compensation. Affirmative actions include training programs, outreach efforts and other positive steps to support recruitment and selection goals.”

Simply put, this involves designing a program that avoids discrimination in your hiring, termination and training practices and ensures that all qualified individuals have the same chance.

Affirmative Action Plan Requirements

When it comes to determining whether or not your business is required to have an AAP, the criteria is pretty straightforward:

  • Federal contractors and subcontractors with 50+ employees and $50,000 in government contracts are required to have a written AAP.
  • Companies that work for the government are typically required to have one.
  • Companies with fewer than 50 employees are not required to have a written AAP no matter what their federal contracting status is.

Because of these requirements, you won’t usually have to worry about an AAP if you’re a small business — and it’s none of your concern. However, if you’re a larger company with over 50 employees and $50,000 in government contracts, then you’ll definitely need to have one.

The Benefits of Establishing an AAP

Besides the obvious benefit of not getting audited by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP), an AAP can yield three main advantages for your company. First, it’s a natural catalyst for workplace diversity where you’re more likely to employ a variety of individuals from all types of backgrounds. In turn, this often translates into new ideas, innovative approaches to challenges and allows you to break through cultural barriers.

Second, it’s an effective way to rid your company of biases that still pervade some of today’s workforce. This ensures that people are hired and promoted strictly because of their qualifications and what they bring to the table, which can ultimately increase the quality of your talent pool.

Third, it ensures that your business adheres to a strong moral code where everyone has an equal chance of being hired and experiencing career advancement. This is extremely beneficial from a public relations standpoint and helps you build brand equity.

It’s important to know whether an AAP applies to your company and if you need to create one. By understanding the specific requirements, you’ll be informed and make sure that your company is on the right side of the law. Even if it’s not a requirement for your company, you may still want to implement some sort of policy to ward off discrimination and promote workplace diversity.

For more information on this topic and other helpful resources, check out the U.S. Department of Labor website.

How to Keep Your Employee Handbook Useful and Current

An employee handbook is a great way to streamline communication between employers and employees and serves as an effective reference point. Not only does it set clear expectations and define company policies, it also provides comprehensive information that employees can reflect on whenever questions arise. When written correctly, an employee handbook will keep everyone on the same page and dramatically reduce your liabilities.


What Is an Employee Handbook?

The formal definition is “A manual that explains a company’s major human resources and employee policies and procedures and describes employee benefits. It is a toll that communicates that firm’s policies efficiently and effectively and helps to ensure that office procedures comply with employment laws.” Simply put, it’s a resource where employees can find information on topics like:

  • Company policies and rules
  • Employee rights and benefits
  • Your expectations of employees
  • Your legal obligations as an employer


What Should Be In an Employee Handbook?

Although the specifics will differ from company to company, there are some core topics that should almost always be covered. These include:

  • Policies regarding equal employment, anti-discrimination and harassment
  • A guide that explains how employees should go about reporting discrimination or harassment
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Scheduling
  • Safety procedures
  • Polices regarding leave (e.g. maternity leave, military leave and jury duty)

In addition, you may want to include an at-will statement, which means that you can terminate an employee at any time for any reason as long as it’s within the confines of the law. Although businesses in every state besides Montana operate on an at-will premise, it’s better to be safe than sorry.


Why It’s Important

Having a comprehensive employee handbook is important for three main reasons. First, it should minimize misunderstandings between you and your staff. By having everything clearly outlined, it should eliminate a lot of confusion and help operations run smoother with less friction.

Second, it prevents you from creating obligations for yourself that could come back to bite you in the future. For example, employees will know that there are no promises of continued employment and that you have the right to terminate them.

Third and perhaps most importantly, you can keep yourself and your company out of legal hot water and avoid unnecessary lawsuits. When there’s a formal handbook in place, this can be used in your defense in the event that you’re ever sued.


How to Keep It Updated

Due to the fact that there are consistent changes to laws and regulations, you’ll want to periodically update your employee handbook. To do so, you’ll need to keep an eye on new laws and regulations or changes to existing ones that will impact your company and make the appropriate edits.

In order to stay in the loop, it’s helpful to use resources like the Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor and the Learn about Business Laws and Regulations guide. If you find it difficult staying abreast of changes, you may also want to consult a human resources outsourcing firm for help to ensure that you cover all of the bases.

Creating and maintaining an employee handbook is important on many levels. Besides keeping your company in the clear from a legal standpoint, it can improve the quality of your relationships with employees and create a more cohesive workforce.