Beyond Flip-Flops: Dress Code Policies for All Seasons

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Beyond Flip-Flops: Dress Code Policies for All Seasons

With a long hard winter behind us and summer temperatures finally arriving in Northeast Ohio, now is an ideal time to take a good look at your dress code and perhaps provide your employees with a little refresher as well.

You’ll probably want to touch on the eternal flip-flops or no flip-flops in the workplace debate, but enforcing dress code goes far beyond weather related clothing choices to some much more serious considerations that could have legal and safety related implications for your organization and your employees.
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Weather Policies: Were You Ready for the Polar Vortex?

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Weather Policies: Were You Ready for the Polar Vortex?

The so called “polar vortex” that had Northeast Ohio firmly in its grip in January 2014 presented employers with weather that could unquestionably be categorized as “severe”. But the conditions resulting from sub-zero temperatures were somewhat atypical from the usual snowstorms and impassable road conditions that plague the region’s winters, prompting many organizations to question whether or not closures or delays were appropriate.

Although no formal survey was conducted on how organizations handled this most recent bout of inclement weather, a look at some of the highlights of ERC’s 2013 Inclement & Adverse Weather Practices survey report can begin to shed some light on what types of policies employers were working with when making their decisions earlier this week.
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Local Wellness Programs and the ACA

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Based on the results of the 2013-2014 ERC Policies & Benefits survey, Northeast Ohio employers are well positioned to take advantage of the recently released Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulations increasing the maximum rewards employers may offer employees for participation in wellness programs. Local employers have consistently outpaced the national averages in terms of their wellness initiatives, with specific programs illustrated in Figure 1 below.

One key program that is particularly relevant to Northeast Ohio employers within the context of the ACA regulations is smoking cessation classes. More and more local organizations are placing restrictions on tobacco use as part of their hiring policy and 31.1% of local employers do not allow smoking anywhere on the premises of their organization. In comparison, the national average is 10% lower at 23.1%.
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The Smart Guide to Managing Smartphones in the Workplace

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Smartphones and mobile devices have become critical business communication tools in the workplace, making it essential for organizations to establish policies. This guide summarizes important things to consider in managing legal risks of smartphone use outside of work, providing smartphones to employees, creating smartphone policies, and allowing smartphone use at work.

Smartphone Use Outside of Work & FLSA Compliance

Increasingly, non-exempt/hourly employees may use smartphones and mobile devices after hours for work, which creates challenges for complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In fact, a 2013 employment lawsuit involving policemen in Chicago seeking overtime pay for "off-duty" time using their Blackberrys clearly illustrates this risk.
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Internet and Email Use in the Workplace

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Internet and email use has unquestionably become a necessary part of conducting business for the vast majority of organizations and their employees. According to the bi-annual ERC Policies & Benefits Survey, the percent of organizations with employees accessing the internet has remained fairly constant since 2008, at about 96% of non-union employees. The largest variation in this accessibility is found, unsurprisingly, among non-union maintenance and production workers, where access may vary according to specific job duties or departments at about 30% of organizations.

With such a large proportion of the workforce accessing the internet at their place of work, a heated debate over the pros and cons of internet and email use for personal purposes while at work has naturally evolved. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on or what fits best into your organizational culture, clear policies around internet and email use are key- so let’s take a look at what organizations are doing in Northeast Ohio and across the country to effectively manage this 21st century workplace challenge.
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Social Media Policies Guide Employees and Protect Companies

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Your employees use social media.

It’s a safe assumption to make—almost 70% of internet users use social media. And because your workers are using social media, it’s crucial that you supply a social media policy.

Why do social media policies matter?

Social media policies establish guidelines for how your employees use social media. These policies outline what is and is not appropriate for employees to post on social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and other related platforms.

Successful social media policies:

  • Offer guidance to employees.
  • Protect companies.
  • Are clear and straight-forward.
  • Are easy to understand easy to use.

An effective policy will inform employees of the boundaries of acceptable posting. It should encourage employees to avail themselves of social media, both independently and as an employee.
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An Employer’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Device Policies

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As new technology continues to shape the workplace and the use of social media and mobile devices at work becomes more widespread, organizations must create and enforce employment policies to protect themselves from the risks and liabilities associated with these new applications for working. Here's a short guide which contains important tips and guidelines for creating social media and mobile device policies.

Social Media Policies

Social media policies must balance a range of interests. First, they need to protect other employees and the company’s information and reputation without prohibiting employees from engaging in conversation about employment at your organization. Second, social media policies need to be flexible enough to allow your marketing, sales, recruiting, and PR employees to promote your company and network, but restrictive enough so  employees won't excessively use these platforms for non-business related purposes.

Below are several guidelines and best practices for creating social media policies, consistent with recent guidance issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and endorsed best practices published by the Society for New Communications Research. Additionally, this 2012 policy was approved by the NLRB and is helpful for employers as they create their own guidelines.

  • Require that social media usage is consistent with other workplace rules and policies, including federal laws related to discrimination and harassment.
  • Encourage employees to be respectful and fair to coworkers, customers, vendors, and other individuals affiliated with the company online and when using social media. Promote dealing with conflicts or complaints directly with one another rather than via social media outlets.
  • Educate employees that if online complaints or remarks are construed as disparaging, malicious, or threatening, their postings could be perceived as harassment or contribute to a hostile work environment, and thereby be unlawful.
  • Communicate that social media postings be accurate, factual, and truthful. Clarify how your organization will handle mistakes and edits to content. For example, many organizations require that mistakes be corrected promptly and edits or deletions to online content be communicated.
  • Define specific types of appropriate and inappropriate content to publish online. For example, trade secrets, private or confidential information, and financial disclosure laws/regulations can be reasonable content to protect.
  • Specify how employees should represent themselves online. Make clear that employees are not to represent themselves as spokespeople on behalf of the company and that employees who publish anything online related to their work or subjects associated with your organization should identify who they are and that their views do not represent those of their employer.
  • Specify if and when employees are able to use social media on the job. You may restrict employees from using social media at work if it is not job related or delegated by one’s manager, or if excessive use of social media is affecting job performance.
  • Don’t prohibit employees from talking about your organization online or expressing their personal opinions. The NLRB has been especially critical of employers who are trying to prevent employees from discussing terms and conditions of the workplace.

Bring Your Own Device to Work (BYOD) Policies

In addition to social media policies, every organization should have a Bring Your Own Device to Work Policy (otherwise known as a BYOD or a Mobile Device Policy) because employees are increasingly bringing their own mobile devices to work and accessing company networks through smartphones, tablets, IPADs, and laptops - to name just a few.

Although these devices can be of benefit to employees and employers alike by increasing productivity and providing flexible access points to company information, BYOD creates huge risks for employers in terms of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), privacy and compliance mandates, etc. if mobile device policies are not in place. Here are some guidelines for developing those policies.

  • Consider the adverse effects of not allowing these devices in the workplace. Bans on mobile devices are usually not feasible because inevitably there is an employee who needs mobile access.
  • If your organization needs to remain compliant with certain regulations (HIPAA, etc.), take special precautions to safeguard this data and restrict employees’ access to it on their own devices. Work with your IT department to design those precautions.
  • Define and provide examples of what is acceptable use and transfer of organizational data on mobile devices.
  • Put into place guidelines regarding confidentiality and data ownership, including a procedure for data retrieval when an employee leaves the organization via voluntary or involuntary termination or when a device is lost or stolen.
  • Require strong or complex passwords in order to login to your company networks on mobile devices.
  • Have employees formally consent to an acceptable mobile device use policy, such as by signing off on your policy.
  • Establish clear rules for non-exempt employees about what they can and can’t do with their mobile devices during non-working hours to protect you in terms of FLSA requirements
  • Suggest that employees not use their phones or mobile devices with driving, in light of Ohio's recent ban on texting while driving
  • Indicate disciplinary consequences for employees who inappropriately use business data on their mobile devices.

Two final pieces of advice when creating these policies. Collaborate with your employees to create a policy. Be sure to include your legal department, your core users of social media for business purposes (for social media policies) and IT department (for BYOD policies). Finally, update these policies on an ongoing basis. With technology constantly changing, these policies need to be revisited at least annually.

Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application.

Drug Testing Policies in the Workplace

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Drug testing has become a hot button political issue with the 2012 report by the  National Conference of State Legislatures that 28 states across the country have either considered or passed legislation establishing drug testing requirements for individuals enrolled in various types of public assistance programs, including unemployment benefits. The constitutionality of many of these laws is currently in question, but what do drug testing policies look like outside of the realm of the State?

While some limited data on drug testing policies and practices in the workplace does exist, ERC’s 2012 Drug Testing Policies and Practices Survey provides data about drug testing policies for 163 organizations right here in Ohio. In addition, the report offers a detailed look into the frequency with which organizations have encountered failed drug tests, many of which result in rescinded job offers to otherwise qualified job applicants or even termination for existing employees.

Drug testing policies were common, with 78% of employers reporting that they would not hire an otherwise qualified applicant based on a failed drug test. This policy was applied to hourly positions (78.6%) slightly more often than to salaried positions (77.5%), a trend that continued across all breakouts regardless of industry or organizational size.

Although these hiring polices around drug testing were slightly more common for hourly than salaried positions, the survey found much larger differences in the reported testing failure rates among the hourly (33.5%) than the salaried group (13.2%). By and large, employers reported that their failure rates have remained the same from 2011, both for pre-employment testing as well as for drug tests performed on existing employees.

To download the full survey report of 163 participating Ohio organizations, please click here.

Additional Resources

ERC members save on drug testing with Preferred Partners.

Local Trends in Compensation Policies & Strategies

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According to a research study conducted by ERC, the majority of employers (58%) have no written compensation policy. Twenty-percent of respondents indicate having a compensation policy that is confidential, and 21% have a written or published policy that is made available or distributed to employees.

Despite not having a compensation policy, 62% of employers report having a strategy to stay even with the area labor market and 49% have a strategy to stay even with industry competitors.

ERC's HR Help Desk notes that “the foundation of an effective compensation system is a philosophy, policy, and strategy for how your organization will pay employees relative to the market – whether that is above, at, or below market rates. This helps HR make decisions about pay and guides an organization’s compensation practices."

Additional Resources

More Employers Have Space and Policies for Nursing Mothers

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The 2010 ERC Health Care Reform Issues Survey shows that the regulations imposed by the health care reform law appear to have influenced Northeast Ohio employers’ practices for nursing mothers. When compared to 2009, nearly all (98%) employers surveyed now have space set aside for nursing mothers, compared to only 79% of employers in 2009. All respondents with fewer than 100 employees and over 500 employees had these spaces.

Similarly, many more employers (28%) have nursing mothers’ policies in place compared to 2009 (6%). Larger organizations (over 500 employees) were more likely to have nursing mother policies compared to smaller organizations (fewer than 100 employees).

The survey’s results show that since the law’s regulations went into place in 2010, which required employers to provide nursing mothers with reasonable break time for nursing activities and functional space to do so, employers have changed many of their practices relative to nursing mothers.