Thought Leaders

The Workforce & Employment in a Connected World: 5 Policies Employers Should Consider

Elizabeth A. Campbell and J. Marshall Horton (Co-Authors)
Straightline

Summer 2015

Technology and apps enhance workplace efficiency, and at the same time create tempting opportunities to connect real-time with friends, shop and click through to viral videos. By its very appeal and availability, technology creates risks for employers and employees under labor and employment laws, requiring new policies and continuous updates. Even a quick check of Facebook at work can present a dilemma: Click through to an article on Seven Surprising Superfoods to pick up health-enhancing tips (a legitimate benefit to employer and employee alike), or resist a time-wasting distraction that might compromise the employer’s data security? Technology can test the limits of traditional labor and employment-related policies. Along with efficiencies, technology also brings a host of unforeseen risks. Five trends in particular are attracting attention in the technology-driven workplace:

1. Social Media

A quick check of Facebook usually isn’t a firing offense. However, inadvertently disclosing sensitive information about a client to Facebook friends is bad for business. Employers should have a written social media policy with meaningful training to highlight key risks. A formal policy provides direction to employees and safeguards against social media mishaps by outlining the employer’s expectation of acceptable use of social media. So, for example, every employee knows not to post on Facebook a selfie from the deal closing that shows confidential documents in the background.

2. Privacy 

Specific statutes regarding employee privacy exist in some states. However, the key to complying with the law in most jurisdictions is to manage employees’ expectations of privacy—meaning to communicate the circumstances and means by which an employee’s activities can be monitored. Employees should be made aware that they do not have an expectation of privacy with respect to electronic devices that they use for business purposes. Privacy policies should be crafted to provide the company access to electronic devices employees use to conduct business (including personal cell phones), as necessary, for legitimate business purposes. For example, under an employer’s well-written privacy policy, the IT department can monitor internet activity to see how much time an employee spends on Facebook.

3. Data Security and Loss

Most corporate wireless networks are secured, but when employees are out of the office, they often connect via unsecured wireless networks. Inevitably, employees download apps and access unknown websites when surfing the web for personal use. Unsecured networks and web-surfing can facilitate malware attacks and compromise corporate data. Employers should establish a policy that gives higher-risk devices limited access to confidential information. Employers should have a plan to address any malicious software attacks against company information and systems. In particular, employers should have a breach plan or protocol in place which includes how to manage or address a breach of company information on company devices as well as mobile personal devices used by employees for company business.

4. Confidential Information

Not only are mobile phones, tablets, iPads, laptops and other emerging technological devices all prone to getting lost or stolen, but employees often keep such devices after the employment relationship ends. Employers should take measures to protect confidential, proprietary, trade secret, customer and personal information stored on mobile/personal devices by obtaining confidential/trade secret agreements from its employees, in addition to having policies regarding the treatment and ownership of competitively valuable and sensitive information.

5. Wage and Hour Regulations

Mobile phones, tablets, iPads, laptops and the like can provide employees with valued flexibility to work outside of the traditional workplace. However, employees may not capture all time worked when using mobile devices, especially if they use devices to work remotely outside of business hours. Clear policies regarding employee reporting of all time worked can help ensure that employees are fully and appropriately compensated for all time worked, lessening the risk of violating wage and hour regulations. For these reasons, appropriate monitoring should be in place so that employees do not violate wage and hour policies, even inadvertently, by “working off the clock.”

The temptation to click has become a fact of life in the workplace, as well as a source of risk to employers and employees alike. These risks can be mitigated or managed by adopting targeted policies, with regular updates to reflect evolving technologies.


Straightline is a publication from Andrews Kurth Kenyon for women, by women. We will give you the bottom line on women’s issues, be on the front line for timely substantive legal topics and serve as the hotline for firm news.

Click here to view past issues or to subscribe to Straightline.

People

Associated Practices