Columbia EDP Blog

News From Columbia EDP

Posted: 2021-08-29

Can I ban cell phones at work?

To answer your first question: yes, you can limit or even prohibit the use of cell phones during work hours. Employees can be expected to give their undivided attention to the work you pay them to perform, and if that means cell phones need to be turned off or put away, you are entitled to make this request. However, employees should be allowed to use cell phones during their break and meal periods, as this time needs to be truly their own in order to satisfy the requirements of state law. Fair warning: if you attempt to prohibit cell phone use during all non-break time, you may receive some fairly aggressive pushback. A more lenient policy may do the trick. Our standard language says, "Personal cell phone use should be kept to a reasonable limit during working hours. Reasonableness will be determined by your manager." This language gives your managers considerable discretion, but they should be trained to use the same standard of reasonableness for all employees to avoid claims of discrimination.

To answer your second question: no, audio, video, and photography cannot be strictly prohibited, but they can be limited. The National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the National Labor Relations Act, has said that employers cannot outright prohibit recordings as this could interfere with employees' ability to organize with respect to their terms and conditions of employment. For instance, employees might choose to record a conversation during their lunch hour related to asking for raises, and want to share that recording with employees who work different shifts. This would need to be allowed. However, you can still have a policy that prevents recording (via audio, video, or photograph) confidential information, such as proprietary business practices, customer lists, client or patient information, or employees' personal information. Be aware that you cannot deem all information confidential, e.g. "all conversations in the office" or "anything related to customer/patient care."

If you feel it is important to have such a policy (for reference, this is not one we generally include with the handbooks we make for clients), I suggest something like, "Audio and video recording devices, including cameras and smartphones, may not be used to record or capture any confidential information, whether it is proprietary business information or clients' or employees' confidential personal information. If recording non-confidential information, e.g. taking photos of colleagues, please seek the consent of all parties to the recording." A policy like this can be added to your handbook during your next handbook review, or if you feel the need is urgent, you can distribute it to all employees now and have them sign an acknowledgment form. 

Posted: 2021-05-31

Good Employees Are Hard to Find! Here's Help...

If you’re finding it difficult to hire employees, you’re not alone. Bloomberg reports that many small businesses are struggling to find people who currently want to work—in fact, 42% say they have jobs they can’t fill. The number of people quitting jobs right now is also higher than average.  

Posted: 2021-03-01

How to Make Good Use of Your Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks are a nifty communication and reference tool for the workplace, but only if they’re used and not collecting dust on some physical (or digital) shelf. A handbook is only as good as what it does. At the minimum, it should do the following:

Introduce employees to the fundamentals of your organization’s culture—the beliefs and values that members of the organization are expected to share. This introduction explains what you do and why you do it. It may also give employees a look into the history of your organization, how you got to where you are, and where you intend to go. Last but not least, it gives employees an idea of how they can contribute to the culture.

Communicate to employees what general behaviors and procedures are expected of them. These include general safety responsibilities, confidentiality expectations, timekeeping processes, reporting procedures, dress codes, and any other ways of doing things at your organization.

Educate employees about what they can expect from the organization’s leadership. Executives, managers, and HR departments have obligations to their employees—both those they’ve established themselves and those required by law. A good handbook tells employees what those obligations are and how they will be met. If your employees are entitled to leaves or accommodations, for example, your handbook should explain these.

Support consistent enforcement of company policies. Employers expose themselves to risk when they interpret, apply, or enforce policies inconsistently. Transparency about policies and how they are enforced helps keep everyone accountable and the enforcement of rules consistent across the company.

Showcase the benefits the organization offers. Does your organization offer vacations, 401(k), health insurance, paid parental leave, or other employee benefits? If so, your handbook should outline these programs and their eligibility requirements.

Let employees know where to turn for help. Employees should feel safe turning to HR or a manager to report workplace violations, get workplace-related assistance, and get answers to any other questions they may have. The alternative is for them to turn to an outside third party, like the EEOC, the DOL, or an attorney, which could trigger a costly and time-consuming investigation. When a handbook provides multiple ways for an employee to lodge a complaint (ensuring they won’t have to report the problem to the person creating the problem), they are more likely to keep their complaints in-house.

Posted: 2021-01-25

The Implications of Wage and Hour Audits for Employers

Recently, the Wage & Hour (W&H) division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has increased its enforcement and audit efforts with employers. The W&H division wants to ensure workers are fairly paid and employers uphold the law. Unfortunately, businesses that have violated wage and hour laws can face heavy fines and penalties. Many employers often assume a low likelihood of being audited, but they can be targeted, and the likelihood of an audit has been increasing.

Posted: 2021-01-24

The New Form 1099-NEC Summarized

In recent years, non-employee compensation was reported in Box 7 of the 1099-MISC form, that box now goes away. Instead, the 1099-NEC form Box 1 will be used to report non-employee compensation only. Other kinds of payments should be reported using the other 1099 forms (1099-MISC, 1099-INT, etc.).

Posted: 2020-12-29

When to send an employee home for illness

An employee of ours had a brief coughing fit today, but she says she just had something caught in her throat. As far as we’ve seen, she hasn’t experienced any symptoms associated with COVID-19 other than this one time. Do we need to send her home just in case?

Posted: 2020-12-28

Returning belongings to terminated employees

How should we handle returning personal belongings to a terminated employee? Can we pack them up for the employee?

Posted: 2020-12-14

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, should we cancel our annual holiday party?

We would certainly recommend not having an in-person event this year, which could put your company, employees, customers, and community at risk. If your event spreads the virus, your employees could become sick, much of your workforce may need to quarantine, and your event could make the news.

We understand, however, that cancelling this event could be disappointing to you and your employees. One way to spread joy, but not the virus, would be to host a virtual party. You could provide gift cards to local eateries or food delivery services, organize a home decorating or ugly sweater contest, and facilitate interactive games.

You could also offer employees the option of having the cost of the gift card they would otherwise receive donated to a charity (while still having the virtual shindig). Or, if a virtual party isn’t feasible or employees aren’t in the mood, you could donate the entire cost of the celebration to a worthwhile organization. If you take either charitable approach, we recommend allowing employees to help you choose the charities, so they feel like they’ve participated in the giving.

Posted: 2020-12-02

Paying a salary employee on days off

What is the minimum amount of time that a salaried exempt employee must work to be paid for the entire day? 

Posted: 2020-11-11

Can we require employees give notice before quitting

Requiring departing employees to give notice could jeopardize thier at-will status (if applicable). To avoid this, we recommend requesting that employees provide notice instead of requiring it.  Asking for notice as a professional courtesy makes it more likely that you will have time to make plans to find a replacement or otherwise cover thier duties.  Two weeks' notice is most common.