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To google or not: Legitimate screening method or privacy breach?


The popularity of Internet blogs and social networking sites such as MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook and Friendster is causing confusion and concern for some employers. At a time when it’s easy to search the web for information on just about anyone, what steps should a reasonable employer take to investigate the background of an employee? …

Caught on camera! Public employers can snoop on employees during fraud probes


California has a tough statute that protects celebrities against the paparazzi. But California law doesn’t necessarily shield the privacy of public employees. Government agencies can order and conduct intrusive investigations if they suspect public employees are committing workers’ comp and benefits fraud …

New Jersey courts let air out of unions’ rat balloons


Unions should think twice before inflating menacing rat balloons in New Jersey. The inflatable rat, long known as a symbol of protest against nonunion labor, has received a serious blow from New Jersey courts. In two recent cases, courts concluded rat balloons are not always protected speech under the First Amendment, nor are municipal ordinances banning sign balloons preempted by the National Labor Relations Act …

Can we search employees’ work areas while investigating a string of thefts?


Q. I work for an Internet company with about 50 other employees. Recently, there have been several complaints around the office about theft of personal property. The problem has become a distraction in the workplace and I was asked to investigate the incidents.

Our employee manual does not have any policies prohibiting theft of personal property, and there are no notices that warn employees that their work areas may be searched. What right does my company have to search a suspected employee’s work space and personal items to try to locate property not owned or related to my company? …

Sample Policy: Computer Usage

The following sample policy was excerpted from The Book of Company Policies, published by HR Specialist, © 2010. Edit for your organization’s purposes. _____________________________ “Employees have access to one or more forms of electronic media and services (computers, e-mail, telephones, voice-mail, fax machines, external electronic bulletin boards, wire services, on-line services, the Internet and the […]

Protecting business—and reputation—Against ‘Cyber-Slander’


Complaints from employees, customers and competitors are nothing new in the business world. Until recently, if complaints crossed the line from mere opinions to false statements—that is, downright lies—companies could threaten a defamation lawsuit. Often, the mere threat of litigation will cause a disgruntled critic to back off. Today, however, companies face a more insidious and growing problem: Internet libel, commonly known as “cyber-slander.”

Do supervisors’ ‘Unofficial’ employee files raise any legal red flags?


Q. We have several supervisors who insist on keeping their own private files on employees in their departments, especially to record absences and comp days. Is this legal? …

Don’t share HR files that wipe out attorney-Client privilege


If you want to avoid airing your organization’s dirty laundry in public, take note: Before you turn over a copy of an employee’s personnel record, go through the file carefully. Remove any correspondence between the HR office and your attorney. It is technically privileged communication …

Consider ADA, discrimination, validity issues when using personality tests


Some employers use personality or psychological tests to screen applicants and employees being considered for jobs or promotions. Proponents say personality tests are an economical way of screening employees. However, critics argue that these tests might not accurately reflect an individual’s honesty, integrity or other personality traits. Others say the tests violate the employee’s privacy …

Going paperless: Can personnel records be electronic?


Q. We’re drowning in paper and would like to go paperless. Can we create strictly electronic personnel and payroll records? — T.P., Indiana …