Monday, February 25, 2013

Handling Employee Complaints

Where there are employees, there will eventually be complaints.  They are an unavoidable part of running a company. The way a company deals with grievances is important, not only for the health of the company and its bottom line, but also for creating a positive, healthy work atmosphere for staff. Instead of dreading employee complaints, a company should use them as an opportunity for improvement.

Six important factors for dealing with employee complaints:

1. Establish Protocol. Every company’s employee handbook should contain a complaint policy that outlines to whom an employee makes complaints, how the complaint will be reviewed, and how claims will be resolved. It is very important to consult your attorney when developing the company’s policy in order to properly address discrimination and harassment issues, and to ensure that all procedures are compliant with labor laws. All employees should be trained on the complaint policy as new hires and again anytime it is updated.

2. Be Objective. Sometimes it is hard for managers to separate personal feelings about an employee from the actual complaint. If an employee is constantly negative, it is sometimes difficult to recognize a legitimate complaint. Also, if a complaint is made against someone that has other performance issues it is easy to make assumptions. However, every complaint must be investigated. The manager’s personal feelings about either party must not obscure the investigation. If it is impossible for the manager to be objective, the company should hire a third party to determine the validity of the complaint.

3. Call the Lawyer. Anytime an employee comes to management with a complaint about harassment, any type of discrimination, theft, or labor law issues, the first call should be to the business’s attorney. If these types of complaints are not taken seriously, the company is exposing itself to possible bad press, or even possible fines or litigation.

4. Protect Employees. It is often scary for an employee to come forward with a complaint, especially if it is about a coworker or a manager. When a complaint is made, the business should make every effort to shield the employee from angry feelings or backlash. If anonymity has been requested, it should be respected. If employees know that they will be protected, they are more likely to come to management with problems or concerns.

5. Be Transparent. Let your employees know when a complaint has been issued. Others may have had similar concerns or may have additional information that will help the investigation. Transparency regarding complaints creates an atmosphere that encourages employees to be open and honest with management. Apprise the whole company of complaints: discuss them at staff meetings, include them in the newsletter, or send employees an email. Giving as much information as the situation allows will alleviate speculation and gossip, as well as show that the company takes action when a complaint is made. If the complaint is extremely sensitive or there are legal constraints, consult with your attorney about what details can be disclosed.

6. Act Quickly. Once a complaint has been made, management should act quickly to resolve it. A thorough investigation should be conducted in a timely manner, including resolution for all parties. Employees will appreciate a company that shows them complaints are important by investigating and resolving inssues in a timely and considerate manner.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Creating a Mobile Device Policy

We have discussed both cell phones in the workplace and mobile devices’ role in the healthcare industry. Today we will look at having a policy in place for companies that use mobile phones for work purposes.

A survey in 2011 showed firms that use mobile technology earn $10.8 million annually, while their peers who are not as mobile savvy are earning $5.7 million. That enormous difference is a clear indicator that more and more companies will get on board and start using mobile devices for work. An important step to take before allowing employees to use their smart phones for work, or supplying them with company phones, is to create a Mobile Device Policy. These policies outline the employer’s position on how employees may use mobile devices for work, device protection, and any compensation or allowances.

The following main points are what should be included in your mobile device policy:

What platforms are supported? Some companies choose to use one platform, such as Blackberry or I-Phone. This is often indicated by the proprietary software that a company uses. Other companies may choose a particular carrier and allow employees to choose their own style of phone.

What protective measures will be employed? What will the company require to protect information on the phone? The use of passwords, encryption, and mobile locking or wiping in case of theft must be determined. It should also lay out instructions for employee actions in case of loss or theft.

What type of compensation is appropriate?  If the company provides phones, will they pay the entire package? If employees are allowed to purchase their own devices, what type of monetary support will the company offer? Often monthly stipends, expense reimbursement, or yearly rebates are used to subsidize employee costs.

What will data storage limitations be? How much data, if any, can be stored on a device? Will there be a specific way that the data must be removed, such as a phone being wiped before the employee leaves company grounds daily, or data being moved to a secure storage regularly.

Is personal use permitted? The company must determine if employees may use their phones for things that are not work-related. Also, will downloading apps be permitted? Keep in mind if the company is only providing a stipend towards the employee’s phone it will be difficult to enforce very strict rules.

How will the policy be enforced? What will the company do to police the use of the phones? What will the employee be agreeing to by using a work related mobile device? Be very clear on when or how management may monitor the actual phone and its usage.

Cross reference other policies already in place. Make sure that all company policies concerning mobile devices reference the existing confidentiality, discrimination, harassment and non-disclosure policies currently being used.

Using mobile devices in the workplace can boost productivity and increase an employee’s ability to do their job no matter where they are. It is important for the company to act responsibly when setting policy.  It should be discussed with an attorney to ensure that the scope and coverage of the policy is appropriate. Also, it is imperative that thorough training and review of the policy is conducted with all employees.

Crenshaw, Darryl. (November 16, 2012). Five Steps to Creating an Effective Mobile Device Policy. iOS @ Work. (Retrieved February7, 2013).

Ribitzky, Romy. (July 12, 2011). The Mobile Way to Biz. Upstart Business Journal. (Retrieved February 7, 2013).

Souppaya, Murugiah and Karen Scarfone.(July 2012).Guidelines for Managing and Securing Mobile Devices in the Enterprise. National Institute of Standards and Technology. (Retrieved February7, 2013).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Understanding the Legal Issues of Unpaid Interns

In the last few years companies have looked for ways to maximize their employees in a cost effective manner. Why not hire interns to work for free?  While it seems like a no-brainer, having an intern is more complicated than many employers understand. Not just any for-profit company can legally have unpaid interns. Legal criteria exist to protect interns from being “grunt workers” for free.

There are several things to think about before you start advertising for interns.  The basic premise of an internship is that it is real world, hands-on, job training that cannot be achieved in a classroom environment. The first question an employer should ask is, “am I prepared to offer an educational training experience?” Doing so takes manpower, planning, and often actually takes away from work production. In reality, the sole purpose of an internship is training and education.

The Department of Labor (DOL) has set guidelines for the hiring of unpaid interns. The following six criteria must be met:
  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

The DOL states that all six must be met, but the courts have been more liberal with their interpretation. Historically they look at the internship as a whole. What seems to weigh most heavily is when an educational institution is involved, and credits are given in return for a student’s participation in an internship.

It is important to develop a detailed plan for the company’s internships. The following are points that need to be considered and planned for:
  • Compensation—If all six criteria are not met should you be paying minimum wage?
  • Workspace—Is there a physical space for the intern to work?
  • Manager—Who will oversee the internship?
  • Trainer—Who will provide the required training and education that the internship requires?
  • Training and Experience—What will the actual training entail and what is the work experience you are willing to provide?
  • Tasks—What will the intern actually do?
  • Expectations—What are realistic expectations for the intern and the company?

Once these key points have been addressed and a plan has been made, it is very important to review it with your attorney. This will avoid any problems popping up once an intern starts, especially in the area of compensation. Other important points to discuss with your attorney concerning internships include unemployment compensation, international students and internships, non-compete agreements, worker’s compensation, non-disclosure agreements, and discrimination.

Having an internship program is not just about having free labor. It is a way to give back to the community, local universities and your chosen field, as well as helping students gain real world experience. Understanding the legal aspects of internships is the first step in starting a successful program at your company.

Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act. (April 2010).Department of Labor. (retrieved January 29, 2013)

Hlavac, Esq, George C. and Edward J. Easterly, Esq. (February 2010) Legal Q & A.  IUPUI. (retrieved January 29, 2013).
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