Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Employee privacy - what about it?

The issue of employee privacy featured high on my to do list this month. I had two clients who had a great deal to learn and a high price to pay because they did not understand the issue of employee privacy.

Firstly, my one client was dismissed because of the content of skype communications she had with her husband where she discussed her management and expressed her frustration that she experienced at work. She had signed an electronic communications policy and the Company claimed she breached the policy and dismissed her. Secondly, my other client, an employer, had to deal with a PA who sat on facebook and social webpages for hours at a time during working hours. The Employer had no policy in place and also discovered that the employee had been sending her confidential material via mail to friends and other contacts. Several downloads were made from websites and printed at work. This client had to spend a lot of time and money to correct this situation and to prevent this from happening again.

Whilst doing research on these two cases, I read that the Federal Cabinet in Germany has approved a draft law, which states employers can search for information about a job applicant online…but only on search engines or professional networking sites, not Facebook. This is because Facebook is a social, not professional, networking site, so the employer would be invading the applicant’s privacy.

I’m curious to see if South Africa will adopt a similar stance. The issue of employee privacy should be at the forefront of your mind, given the Protection of Personal Information Act .
Both my clients asked questions like, can an employer monitor private emails and Internet use, and are they allowed to monitor their private laptops and memory devices while they’re on company property?

As an employer, you must state in your employment contract or company policy that you have the right to monitor this. Furthermore, the employee must have signed that he/she agrees to this. If you don’t have signed consent, you may still be able to monitor activity if you have informed the employee you will, and it's for legitimate business purposes. The 'ROICA' legislation regulates this. This won't apply to private laptops where the employees may have an expectation of privacy, unless they have consented explicitly.

I strongly urge all employers to implement a policy that allows you to monitor electronic communications at the workplace and to which employees consent before you go ahead and please get all your employees to sign this policy!

It is important that staff acknowledge that they are aware of the Company’s IT Policy and that there is no guarantee or expectation of privacy on their part when using the Company’s IT systems and to this end, expressly waive any right to privacy that they may be entitled to when using the Comapny’s IT systems.

Expressly inform staff that any failure to observe and adhere to this Policy may, if applicable, result in the Company instituting disciplinary action against them, and if found guilty of such infringements this may lead to removal of their Internet privileges or dismissal, amongst other disciplinary sanctions, in terms of the Company’s Disciplinary Code.

It was sad to see how two individuals were affected negatively as a result of their failure to regard this issue in a serious light. Internet abuse and e-mail abuse is no laughing matter and if left unmanaged, it will have a detrimental effect on your profit and productivity.

If you do not have systems or policies in place to protect your business interest regarding internet and e-mail usage, you could face a serious challenge in terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act. And to all employees out there, don’t loose your job because you think the Company will not enforce their communications policy. It’s just not worth it!
For more information regarding this issue, please contact me. As always, I am happy to help.

Yours in service,
Ilene Power

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do the smoking laws apply to your business?

The answer – in almost all cases a resounding YES

As employers, we are not always 100% sure which new laws create any liabilities or responsibilities for us. You may think that you only have a small business, employing perhaps only one or two people, both of whom may be smokers. Fact is – smoking is prohibited in all public places! This includes any indoor, enclosed or partially enclosed area that is open to the public – yes, this includes a workplace!

The new tobacco law (Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act, 1999 (Act No. 12 of 1999) ) gazetted on Friday, 29th September 2000 by the South African Department of Health was passed to protect the rights of all South Africans to breathe clean air by controlling smoking in public places and to ensure a healthy environment for daily activities –from work to travel and public events.

What does this mean for employers? Now you have an ethical, moral and legal responsibility to protect the environment of all people in your workplace by establishing a smoke-free workplace, even if you work from home or have a small business where there are only one or two smokers.

Further, employers must have a written policy on smoking in the workplace and you are also totally free to prohibit smoking in the workplace. You are required to display signs and make announcements to inform any person who enters an area where smoking is prohibited or of the prohibition. So make sure you source the appropriate signs to display prominently and amend your existing smoking policy and rules in the workplace to ensure they comply with the amended smoking act.

Non-compliance with the tobacco act: any employer failing to comply with the obligations stated above, imposed by the act is liable for a fine not exceeding R100 000, similarly any employee that fails to comply with the regulations may be liable for a fine not exceeding R50 000.

If we can assist you in any way to compile your smoking policies or any other workplace policies, please call us for a consultation – 021 8515493 / 078 802 9708.

Remember – you may completely prohibit smoking and yes, you do need a policy!

Wishing you great success,

Ilene Power

Friday, June 18, 2010

Don't get caught on the back foot

My client got a nasty surprise the other day, and so did I. Usually I love surprises, but this one, was not pleasant.

A surprise visit by the Bargaining Council agent, turned into a nightmare when the agent made a big deal out of something my client thought was trivial. In fact, he thought that the requirements did not apply to him. One visit and one inspection resulted in 5 charges and an award against him that could criple his business. Ouch... that hurt! Now, we have to approach the Labour Court and attempt to review the process. It's a lot of money and time, stress and effort.

This incident made me understand why some sole proprietors out there feel that it's impossible to obey the law. How do you give attention to something that seems pretty insignificant when you have so much to deal with?

I'd like to help you say goodbye to those labour headaches out there and make it easy for you to follow the law and apply to law to the benefit of yourself, your staff and your pocket. Many professing businessmen and women appear blissfully unaware of their obligations, or they think some requireents don't apply to them because they employ only 5 or 10 people.
Something very trivial is displaying summaries of the Employment Equity Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Skills Development Act. Like I said, you might think this is pretty insignificant but, its going to be a big thing to the inspector if you are not doing it. According to news reports, the Department of Labour is going to become even stricter on employers who don't comply with labour alws. If employers who aren't doing the simple things thought they might get into trouble before, I have bad news for you. Department of Labour will be taking no prisoners when it comes to employers who are not complying.

My first business tip........ you need to display the BCEA, EEA, OHSA, and Skills Development Act somewhere your employees can read them. It could cost you if you don't. And, don't give an inspector an excuse to give you a fine. Simply order these posters asap - they cost about R175.00 each, certainlly less than the fine you'll have to pay.

It really couldn't be easier to make sure you are doing things properly and help relieve the stress of a visit from the labour inspector.

happy to help,

Yours in service,

Ilene Power