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Labor: Is your handbook ready for 2012?

Companies should look at three policies in particular as they head into the new year.

Fall is usually the time of year that employers dust off their handbooks for revision and review in time for the coming year. As we review 2011, there are a few policies that employers should consider adding to their handbooks in 2012.

1. Social Media Policy: Employee use of social media can affect the workplace. Whether it is Facebook, LinkedIn or blogging, employers need to establish guidelines regarding do’s and don’ts for employees in the social media arena. At a minimum, social media policies should address the following issues:

  • Are employees permitted to access social media while using company resources, such as company-issued laptops, iPhones or desktop computers?
  • If so, what are the limits regarding employee access during working time?
  • Are there restrictions on an employee’s use of social media while the employee is off-duty and using personal resources?
  • If so, what are the limits regarding disclosure of company information?
  • If so, what are the limits regarding commentary about the company?
  • What should an employee do if subjected to harassment by coworkers via social media?
  • Should supervisors “friend” subordinates?

During 2011, the NLRB launched a campaign against employers who discipline employees for violating social media policies that ban certain behavior. The NLRB believes that such policies go too far and suppress workers’ NLRA rights. Employers are well-advised to narrowly draft social media policies so as not to chill an employee’s ability to voice legitimate workplace complaints.

In light of this, employers may consider adding a disclaimer that makes it clear that nothing in the handbook is intended to interfere with employee’s NLRA rights.

2. iPhone/Blackberry Policies: The company’s old cellphone policy probably needs updating. Now more than ever before, employees are texting, emailing, picture-taking and even making videos on their mobile devices. Such policies may vary depending upon whether the device is personal or company-owned.

For example, if a device is company-owned, the employer may want to give employees notice that there is no expectation of privacy regarding use of that device and, as such, that the company may review text messages and other communications made by an employee at any time.

Safety issues are another major concern. More and more employers are banning the use of mobile devices while employees are driving during the course of employment—or requiring the use of hands-free devices.

3. Reasonable Accommodation: By now all employers should know about the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), which expanded the definition of “disability.” In 2011, the EEOC issued its new regulations regarding the ADAAA and now, when investigating an employee’s claim for reasonable accommodation, the EEOC routinely asks to review an employer’s policy in this area.

Such policies should, at minimum, include the following:

  • A statement regarding the employer’s willingness to accommodate employees and applicants
  • The procedure for requesting an accommodation
  • A statement regarding how employee medical-related information is stored and confidentially maintained


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Sara Ackermann

Sara Ackermann is a shareholder with Wausau, Wisconsin-based Ruder Ware, where she has substantial experience advising and representing clients in the...

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