Four Basics Concerning Employee Handbooks, Policies, and Employee Monitoring
In general, San Diego businesses are permitted under California law to monitor employee workplace communications such as business phone calls and internet usage. More particularly, employers have the right to access employee business-use voicemail, email, texts, and other social media activity. See the information page here from the California Attorney General’s Office. However, in our increasingly litigious business environment, monitoring employee electronic communications can invite a lawsuit. To minimize litigation risks, here are four basic steps to take as a prelude to monitoring employee communications.
- Establish an acceptable-use policy
Your business should first create and publish to your employees an acceptable-use policy with respect to communications. This policy should clearly explain three concepts:
- What is allowed/prohibited,
- The consequences for violating the policy, and
- Enforcement mechanisms.
Thus, with respect to use of company phones and internet access, the company policy should clearly explain what personal calls an employee may and may not make, and what uses an employee can make of the company’s internet access. With regard to internet accounts, the policy should state whether personal accounts are allowed to have access to the company’s internet service (often via wireless internet connections). In general, this is probably a good thing to prohibit.
The policy should also explain the disciplinary consequences of violating the policy and should explain — clearly — that monitoring of business accounts is conducted. Notice to your employees of the monitoring is important under various California and federal laws. Notice also helps avoid litigation. A San Diego corporate attorney can help you draft a good company acceptable-use policy.
- Bundle the policies in your Employee Handbook
Employee handbooks are important tools in the workplace that help establish company procedures and expectations. An employee handbook can be as simple — like a three-ring binder — or more formally bound as a booklet. Here again, a good San Diego corporate attorney can help. Whatever the form, an employee handbook should contain all the company policies and notices required by law including the acceptable-use policy. The best legal practice is to have the Notice of Monitoring be a separate page and then also note the monitoring in the acceptable-use policy.
- Get a signature from your employees
While not essential, it is often helpful to have your employees sign an acknowledgment that they received and read the employee handbook. This is usually done as part of a new employee’s orientation. Likewise, when the policies are updated or when policies are added, it is a good idea to get an updated acknowledgment.
- Special rules for recordings
Note that monitoring and reading emails and/or texts is different than recording what employees are saying or doing. California law requires written consent for recording. Thus, if video monitoring also picks up sound, then you need to have your employees consent to the recording in addition to making them aware of the monitoring.
Contact San Diego Corporate Law
If you want more information, contact attorney Michael Leonard, Esq., of San Diego Corporate Law. Mr. Leonard provides legal services for San Diego businesses including advice and counsel with respect to employee handbooks and company policies. Mr. Leonard can be reached at (858) 483-9200 or via email.