Strong employment policies are crucial to any organization and should be updated regularly. Changing regulations, new case law and technology advances can quickly result in outdated, inefficient or non-compliant policies. Here are three policies that I recommend you review in light of recent events:
1. Electronic Communications Policies
Advanced technologies make companies vulnerable to attacks on their electronic networks. The latest scheme involves Ransomware – malicious software that infects a computer and restricts users’ access to it until a ransom is paid. In most cases, the software is introduced because an unsuspecting employee opened an email attachment from an unknown sender or a sender disguising himself as legitimate. In addition to setting up firewalls and other technical means of blocking this type of intrusion, employers should update their electronic communications policies to prohibit employees from:
- opening attachments or downloading files from unknown senders,
- sharing network passwords,
- obtaining unauthorized access to, or use of, network data, and
- using USB or other storage devices unless properly screened.
2. Policies Prohibiting Bullying and Unprofessional Behavior
Workplace homicides are rising, and employers should ensure their policies protect employees. For example, in June 2017, a former employee fatally shot five former co-workers in Florida. A co-worker complained about the shooter’s behavior two years earlier and sought two protective orders against him.
Employers should adopt policies prohibiting unprofessional behavior, bullying, or threats, and include zero-tolerance for workplace violence. This policy should cover employees, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.
3. Sexual Orientation/Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policies
Most federal courts do not believe sexual orientation falls under Title VII. However, recent circuit court decisions indicate this may change. Earlier this year, the Eleventh Circuit maintained sexual orientation is not a form of sex discrimination; whereas, the Seventh Circuit broke ranks and ruled it is, creating a circuit split. The Second Circuit is poised to join the Seventh Circuit, when it considers this issue in Zarda v. Altitude Express in October. Although the Eleventh Circuit is not bound by the decisions of these other circuits, the Supreme Court is more likely to consider such a groundbreaking issue in light of the circuit split.
Employers may want to get ahead of the issue and update their policies to include a prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination or harassment. More employees are likely to bring these challenges until the law is changed, and no employer wants to be the “guinea pig” on this issue. At a minimum, employers should include catchall language in their policies, such as “or any other classification protected by federal or state law,” to ensure they are fully covered if the law changes.