The White House announced some time ago that President Obama would sign an executive order that prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender workers who work for the federal government, its contracting agencies, and federal contractors. That order become official today.
Several state and local governments have already adopted similar protections. Estimates are that the federal changes will affect nearly twenty-five thousand companies and touch approximately twenty percent of all workers in the U.S. The signing comes after the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly referred to as ENDA, again failed to move forward in the U.S. House.
The signing served to amend prior executive orders that prohibited discrimination against federal workers and federal contract workers on the basis of race, nationality, gender, and religion. The DOL is tasked with enforcement.
Job descriptions are important. They are not specifically required by law or regulation. However, the essential functions of a job must be considered in many contexts such as questions involving disability status or leave.
Job descriptions allow the employer to clarify what responsibility an employee has within the business and how the employee is expected to operate. This information matters from the first interview through the end of employment. Descriptions allow the employer to define relationships and obligations between co-workers and departments or divisions. They can set out educational, training, and skills requirements. They can also be the first place an employer looks to consider coaching, counseling, or evaluation. This information helps the employer evaluate performance for different positions too. Likewise, descriptions tell employees what is expected and serve as a form of communication to outline accountability.
While it may not be subject to a strict policy, use of email and electronic communication policing often falls to HR. But sometimes there are specific personnel policies implicated such as social media, confidentiality, use of company devices, or harassment policies. Effective email use and email etiquette are important even if no policy applies. Consider whether a primer on email for your employees would be helpful. There are probably countless topics that you could cover, but here are some of my areas of concern:
1. Subject line. It is beneficial to describe the topic in the message line, whether by project or client or task. That helps the recipient identify what is important and stay organized.
2. Unnecessary use. Email can turn into a game of hot potato. Also, there are often innocuous or unclear replies that serve no purpose. If the message does not advance the conversation, don’t send it.
3. Case and punctuation matter. ALL CAPS ARE HARD TO READ and akin to yelling. Lack of punctuation can compromise clarity.
4. Control over destination. Remind employees that once a message is sent, its final destination is out of the sender’s hands. What was meant as a simple comment or snide remark can be distributed to co-workers, customers, or competitors.
5. Security and safety. Recall that sending email can resemble sending a postcard through the mail. It, along with its attachments and information about its participants, can be seen or obtained by others unless encrypted or protected.
6. Record. Email can create a record of information when there need not be one. The volume of communication through email is staggering, and consideration of the implications of sending messages is often ignored.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is proposed federal legislation to prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment decisions on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by businesses with 15 or more employees.
The bill prohibits preferential treatment and quotas but does not permit disparate impact suits. It also exempts religious organizations and the military. ENDA has been introduced in the United States Congress on numerous occasions since 1994.
The Senate voted 64 to 32 to pass the most recent version. ENDA is unlikely to pass the House.
If your employees receive company information or can access company resources via cell phone or other device, then you need a policy that outlines expectations and actions. You should consider:
- Requiring password protection
- Restricting access to critical proprietary information
- Creating a procedure for lost device including report to company and ability to wipe data
- Developing a procedure for removal of data at end of employment
- Ensuring consistency with other computer usage policies
- Covering after-hours work on company matters by non-exempt employees
- Defining expectations of privacy and what may be accessed or removed by employer
There are other issues, and interplay with your existing policies and practices is important. As with all policies, the specifics should be tailored to your business needs.
The use of dual-purpose electronic devices in the workplace, from smartphones to tablets to laptops, has exploded. This use creates legal risks for employers. When the devices are employee-owned, use for both personal and work purposes has become the norm.
Employers are advised to consider the security of business information that is accessible to or stored on those devices. Regardless of ownership, individual privacy rights for the employee also become an issue when devices are used for personal matters. Employers must develop and implement policies and procedures to address employee use of devices to managing the risks that arise in and out of the workplace.