At the SHRM 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition last July, attorney Lynn Lieber, a subject matter expert with Austin, Texas-based Workplace Answers, Inc., led a presentation on Five Must-Have Policies: Social Media, Retaliation, Data Protection, Wages and Confidentiality.
As part of our commitment to our clients, we’d like to share Lieber’s thoughts about these five policies: why every organization needs them, how to draft them correctly, and how to communicate them to your employees.
- In discussing these policies, Lieber expressed sympathy for already overburdened human resources professionals and said she understands why creating and enforcing these five workplace policies might not be high on their priority list. “As HR people, you have arrows coming at you from all directions…and you’ve got to have a lot of people sign off on these policies. This isn’t an easy task,” Lieber told the audience.
It is, however, a necessary task.
According to Lieber, far too few companies have these policies in place, especially in the areas of social media and retaliation. “Every single lawsuit filed today that alleges harassment or illegal discrimination of any type has retaliation in it,” says Lieber. And in that kind of lawsuit, your company can accumulate huge punitive damages, in addition to spending astronomical amount of money on legal fees and having to deal with bad press on top of everything else.
If employers could implement just one of the five policies, which one should it be?
“I’d suggest starting with social media,” says Lieber, “because that bleeds into so many areas. It bleeds into revealing your trade secrets, your confidential information, et cetera.”
Lieber cautions, however, that you may want to consult your lawyer when drafting this policy. Many employers draft overly broad social media policies, she says, which might violate the NLRA. A social media policy has to be restrictive enough so the employer is not giving employees too much license, but it also has to stay within bounds of NLRA guidelines.
What else should employers avoid when creating policies?
Making definitive statements, says Lieber. She explains, “Employers tend to make definitive statements in their policies, such as, ‘We will do this if this happens,’ but you might not want to do that… Employers need to give themselves more leeway.”
For example, if the policy says ‘supervisor will take the following five steps if a complaint of harassment is filed,’ and the supervisor doesn’t follow those steps, you’re going to be held liable because the supervisor didn’t follow the contractual agreement with the employee.
Again, the policy has to be worded carefully and should be reviewed by legal counsel.
How should employers communicate these policies to employees and ensure they’re aware of and understand what’s at stake? “Get employees to sign off that they understand, acknowledge and abide by these policies. Because what you want to do in any disciplinary action is reference back and specifically state the reason why the employee is being disciplined or terminated – the objective facts,” says Lieber. “The more you can prove the employee violated the policy, the less likely they’re going to come back and say they were terminated because they were discriminated against or harassed.”
For more information on these topics, contact Synerfac or get your free copy of Five Must-Have Policies: Social Media, Retaliation, Data Protection, Wages and Confidentiality here.