Although I’ve written quite a few posts about employee handbooks, I just realized that I never have explicitly stated why an employer should have one – thus, the topic of this post.
An employee handbook is a collection of policies, procedures and other important information that is provided to every employee. Reasons for having an employee handbook include:
- To let every employee know what is expected of him or her on the job
- To help ensure that employees are treated equally and appropriately
- To reduce employee morale problems and complaints related to unstated policies or procedures
- To reduce the risk that employees will allege unfair practices or unlawful discrimination
- To enhance the perceived authority and appropriateness of employer decisions that are based on the handbook
In “Inspection of Employee Text Messages ? Be Careful“, I described provisions concerning company-provided technology that every employer should include in its employee handbook. A recent California Court of Appeal case, Holmes v. Petrovich Development Co., shows that such provisions are strong enough to defeat a claim of attorney-client confidentiality!
Gina Holmes brought suit against her former employer, alleging sexual harassment, wrongful termination and other causes of action. The employer presented as evidence e-mails between Holmes and her attorney – e-mails sent from her employer’s computer – that supported the employer’s case.
Their are obvious security-related reasons why businesses do not want employees to give their computer passwords the third parties. With the recent decision in Multiven v. Cisco Systems, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has given us a legal reason, as well.
Peter Alfred-Adekeye (“Adekeye”), a former Cisco engineer, left Cisco to form plaintiff Multiven. After his departure, Adekeye used a Cisco employee’s password, with the employee’s permission, to download certain proprietary Cisco software.
Prudent employers have known, for many years, the importance of Employee Handbooks in setting forth a company’s policies and operational procedures. However, the recent increase in the popularity of social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like – has taken many employers, and their Handbooks, by surprise.
Policies governing mobile phones, computers, Internet access and e-mail no longer suffice. With social media, every employee – for better or for worse, intentionally or unintentionally – can become a spokesperson for the company.
I am pleased to make the article “The Top Ten Legal Mistakes of Startup and Early-stage Companies” available as a Free Download on the Downloads page.
Here are the ten mistakes that are discussed:
- Failing to comply with corporate formalities
- Pretending that employees are independent contractors
- Neglecting to provide and update an employee handbook
- Failing to establish or adhere to discipline or termination procedures
- Failing to ensure that the company owns its intellectual property
- Believing that “open source” means “no restrictions”
- Thinking that all NDAs have the same terms
- Using another company’s standard-form agreement
- Giving “family jewels” to an overseas supplier
Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law +1 510 547-0545 dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.
“Texting” is booming in popularity, especially among younger workers. Are your personnel sending text messages on company-provided devices? If so, you should know about the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Quon v. Arch Wireless Operating Co., Inc., 529 F.3d 892 (2008).
Update: On June 17, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in City of Ontario v. Quon, overturned the Ninth Circuit decision, ruling that the search of employee text messages did not violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure because (a) it was motivated by a legitimate work-related purpose and (b) it was not excessive in scope. However, the Court expressly sidestepped the issue of whether employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their text messages, so the precautions listed at the end of this post still are relevant.