Whether you are an employee or an employer, it can be hard to keep up with employment laws and their interpretations, as well as the possible implications that haven’t even been settled yet. There have been some recent changes that affect workers and their bosses on the national and local levels, here are five to know:
1) The Stored Communications Act allows employers to monitor ONLY employees’ e-mail stored on in-house computer systems. Philadelphia-based attorney Heather Herrington, Esq., a member of the Philly Society for Human Resource Management Executive Committee and VP of Legal, notes that employers may not access employees’ private emails access in cloud accounts such as Gmail or Yahoo if the employee is using their own phone, tablet or laptop, however, if the employee is using a business-owned device, the employer is permitted to access any info downloaded onto that device. Herrington points out that employees need be aware that their info is likely being downloaded.
2) Under the Purple Communications ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employers can't restrict use of company email accounts to business-only use during non-working hours. While this may sound relatively straightforward, it can get a bit dicey trying to define “working hours” in this electronic age that can sometimes include round-the-clock responsibility and an expectation of constant connectedness. To help keep things straight, Herrington recommends that workers keep everything separate, using a personal account for personal matters and a business account for business matters, regardless of the time of day.
3) Also on the national level, a recent ruling from the NLRB said that corporate social media policies cannot be overly broad or discourage employees from exercising their rights to engage in concerted, protected activity. Following multiple cases about the use of social media, this ruling found that a Facebook page is, in fact, private and employees do have the right to freedom of expression. However, if an employee is making posts using the employer’s device and that info is being cached or stored on that device, then the employer does have the right to access that information. This is a case where the company needs to have clearly defined policies and employees should tend toward discretion - especially as it isn’t clear that the law is going to evolve in an employee-friendly way.
4) Locally, in February, the City of Philadelphia enacted a Paid Sick Leave Law slated to go into effect this May. This ordinance requires businesses with 10 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for each 40 hours worked, allowing employees to accrue up to 40 hours in a year. Herrington notes that this new law also permits employees to use that time in the smallest increment possible, meaning if the payroll system allows employees to take 15 minutes off, the business must allow employees to do so.
5) Additionally, last year the Philadelphia Fair Employment Act extended the definition of sex discrimination to include pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. The new ordinances require employers to make reasonable accommodations, but acknowledge that in some cases this may present an undue hardship to the employer. Herrington says that these changes are being addressed in the federal court system right now, and it’s important to keep an eye on new developments.
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