Are You Keeping Your Employees Safe? These Workplace Policies Can Help


Whether you have returned to your office or other physical location, permanently transformed to a virtual business, or created some hybrid solution, it’s essential you keep your employees safe—and I don’t mean from the coronavirus. Many small businesses don’t pay attention to HR and overlook creating company policies that are crucial to protecting their staff.

Creating company policies may seem like busywork, but if you don’t codify your expectations of certain behaviors, it could cost you a lot—even your business. Here are three workplace issues you should seriously consider creating official company policies around.

1. Sexual harassment

While sexual harassment is not a new issue, with the advent of the #MeToo movement, it should be top of mind for business of all sizes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate based on sex. In the late 1980s the Supreme Court expanded the definition to include sexual harassment in the workplace.

As the business owner, you are responsible for doing everything in your power to discourage unacceptable sexual innuendos, unwelcome physical contact, and more. Currently, it’s a requirement in seven states for businesses to regularly provide mandatory sexual harassment training to all employees, and most other states require training for public employees.

Sexual harassment can manifest in a variety of forms, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), such as:

  • The victim, as well as the harasser, may be a woman or a man, and the victim does not need to be of the opposite sex from the harasser.
  • The harasser may be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a coworker, or a nonemployee, such as a vendor or customer.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature. It can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, says the EEOC, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general

Even if training is not required in your state, as an employer you are liable for harassment lawsuits brought by employees or vendors of your company.

What should you do if someone files a sexual harassment claim? Contact your attorney immediately. There are some tips here as well.

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2. Cybercrime

This might surprise you but according to research by Ponemon Institute, 76% of SMBs in the United States experienced a cyberattack last year. And for a small business the cost of a data breach can be devastating. The average cyberattack costs smaller companies an average $3,533 per employee. It takes an average 206 days to identify a risk and another 73 days to contain it, making the life cycle of a data breach 279 days.

A key component to keeping your business safe from hackers is to create a cybersecurity program to educate employees what to look out for. Not sure where to start? Require employees to protect personal and company devices with passwords and antivirus software programs. Educate them about safe email practices, such as not opening suspicious attachments and clickbait subject lines. Passwords should be complex and changed at least every three months.

Remote workers need to especially follow cybersecurity policies and not share their devices with family members. Have your IT specialist inspect virtual employee systems and security measures to ensure sensitive information is safe from attack.

The FCC offers a free cyber planner wizard to create a custom guide for your business and offers expert advice to address your business’s concerns.

3. Remote working

More and more businesses are making the permanent switch to operating virtually. Whether you plan to go virtual full time, or offer it as a sometimes option, you need to establish consistent work-from-home policies.

First, make it clear whether the switch to operate virtually is permanent or temporary. Make sure you comply with any applicable state laws. And tell your staff what your expectations of them are, from work hours to mandatory meetings.

Ron Culler, Senior Director of Technology and Solutions at ADT Cybersecurity, offers some tips for making a work-from-home transition as seamless as possible:

  • Put smart home security systems to work. According to the FBI, a burglary happens every 22.6 seconds in the United States. And 88% of those burglaries occur in residential areas very often during the day. If your employees already have home security systems, they should treat their home security just as they would if working from the office. This includes arming the security system, leveraging smart home system devices like outdoor and doorbell cameras and motion detectors to see approaching visitors, and monitoring their surroundings so they can remain safe and focused on work.
  • Keep corporate equipment with employees. Working remotely might tempt employees to default to their personal devices instead of using corporate-owned computers. This poses a risk because personal laptops likely don’t have the same antivirus software and monitoring systems in place like work computers do to keep information secure. When at all possible, workers should use their work laptops for work and adhere to corporate-approved protocols, hardware and software—from firewalls to VPNs—to help avoid cyber headaches, especially if work-from-home policies last for extended periods of time.
  • Schedule more video conferences. Not only do virtual calls help maintain social interaction, they help keep communication flowing directly and in a controlled, private environment.
  • Keep data on corporate systems. Many businesses using cloud technology might not have this problem, but it’s important to remind employees that all files should remain on corporate-owned channels, whether that’s over email or on the cloud. The cyber protections that employees were used to having in place in the office might not carry over to an at-home work environment.

All these policies, and any others you create, should be codified in your employee handbook and on your company intranet (if you have one.) Make it clear any violations of the policy will have serious consequences, as a security breach resulting from employee noncompliance could lead to lawsuits or even the loss of your business.

RELATED: Could Your Company’s Social Media Policy Land You in Legal Hot Water?

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