Category: Protecting

The Employee Handbook: The Holy Grail of Your Business

Employee handbooks address the who, what, where, why, and how of your business operations.  Your employee handbook will protect you and your business by setting appropriate expectations, and providing consistency for your employees when situations arise.

What Information Should an EmployeeHandbook Include?

Ideally, employee handbooks address anything significant related to your company, employees, operating policies, and applicable laws – as well as how rules and policies are followed and/or enforced.  The following topics are commonly addressed in employee handbooks:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws.  Business owners must comply with EEO laws concerning all forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on various protected classes under federal, state and local law, such as race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, genetic information, disability, or veteran status.

Employee handbooks need to detail which laws are applicable, state that the company complies with them, and address the procedures for employees to voice concerns (e.g., filling out a form, consulting with a supervisor, or bringing something to the attention of Human Resources).  

  • Compensation / Benefits.  Business owners should also describe the types of compensation and benefits that are available to employees, including information related to eligibility and procedures for receiving them. Several important topics to address in an employee handbook are:
  • Bonuses
    • Deductions for benefits (availability and eligibility for health insurance, retirement plans, and wellness programs)
    • Disability (long and short time)
    • Lunch and break periods
    • Overtime pay
    • Pay schedules
    • Performance reviews
    • Wage increases
    • Sick/vacation pay
    • Tax deductions (federal and state)
    • Timekeeping policies
    • Workers’ compensation
  • Work Schedules.  Explain your business’s policy regarding an employee’s work schedule.  Discuss absences, attendance, regular and flexible schedules, punctuality, reporting, telecommuting, and how the company handles non-compliance.
  • Standards of Conduct.  Describe expectations (and consequences) for employee conduct regarding ethical behavior, dress code, demeanor, communications, disciplinary measures, performance improvement programs, termination, and anything applicable to government regulations.
  • Physical Safety.  Illustrate how your company complies with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and outline how employees should report and respond to accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, bad weather conditions, health and other safety related issues.
  •  IT Safety.  It is also incredibly important that you address technology and internet security issues (involving both hardware and software) by having clear and concise rules stated in the employee handbook. Included in these rules should be steps to keep company data safe (e.g., updating passwords, installing firewalls, storing and locking computers when not in use, guidelines for installing anti-malware software, and policies regarding personal use of a business-owned computer).  It’s also a good idea to outline the consequences of non-compliance.
  • Leave Policies.  Describe your company’s policy on the various types of leave: medical leave covered under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), jury duty, military leave, vacation, holiday, sick time, bereavement, maternity and paternity leave, and any other types of leave your company offers.  It goes without saying, but make sure your company’s policies are compliant with federal and state laws.

Does Every Business Need A Handbook?

If you operate a sole proprietorship with no employees, a handbook isn’t necessary. However, if you add just one employee, the game changes.  Every employee (even if it’s just one) needs to understand the company’s rules, what is expected of the employee, the consequences for failing to adhere to the rules, and any benefits the employee is entitled to.

Make sure that every employee receives a copy of the handbook and signs a document stating that he or she has read, understands, and will comply with the policies.  There’s nothing like ending up in court and having an employee say, “I didn’t know that was against the rules….”

What to Do Next

If you need help creating a new employee handbook or revising your existing employee handbook, give us a call. We are here to assist you so the relationship between you and your employees can be a happy and prosperous one.

4 Social Media Mistakes that May Put Your Company’s IP at Risk

4 Social Media Mistakes that May Put Your Company’s IP at Risk

Being active on social media is hardly a choice anymore for small to medium sized businesses—it’s a given.  After all, your customers are there.  Connecting with your target audience in the social web can boost your brand and level the playing field between you and big competitors with larger advertising budgets.  But before you rush out to tweet a deal or share pics of your new logo on Instagram, take a minute to learn about common mistakes smaller businesses make with their intellectual property (or IP)  in social media—and how you can avoid them.

Mistake # 1:  Not having a plan

It’s important to remember that when you tell your customers something on social media, you’re telling your competitors too.  Think through what you want to disclose and whether you have taken the right protective steps to register or claim your branded IP (more on that below).  Make sure you have a social media policy in place both for site visitors and the employees who are able to post to your accounts.  Your social media policies must take IP into account and clearly state the ways in which your content, images and logos may and may not be used.

Mistake # 2:  Under protecting your IP

Have you considered filing trademark or trade name applications for the proprietary names or logos you’ll be sharing in social media that are critical to your brand?  While it’s certainly not essential to register every word you write or every image you use, socializing a compelling motto or a trendy logo without protecting it first can be a risk.  Sure, it may go viral.  It also may go on your competitor’s next product– and there will be little you can do about it.  Registration heightens your chances of prevailing if you need to ask a third party to cease and desist from using your IP or go a step further and file a Digital Media Copyright Act (DCMA) infringement notice to have the offending website blocked from search engines.

Mistake # 3:  Not displaying ownership marks, or using the wrong ones

Most of us are so accustomed to seeing those little superscript marks next to brands, logos and content, that we hardly notice them.  But these tiny icons can have a big impact on your ability to protect IP from infringement and abuse.  For the protections to apply, it’s important to use the right kind of mark for the given situation.  For trade names and logos, use the symbol ™ if you claim ownership but either have not filed an application or have filed and are waiting on approval.  Only use the ® symbol if you have an approved and unexpired trademark or trade name registration on file with the U.S. patent and trademark office.  For your original written content, you can use a © symbol whether or not you have filed a copyright application.  For audio files, use a ℗ symbol.

Mistake # 4:  Not monitoring third party use of your IP

Once you have planned your strategy for protecting your IP in the social media world and taken the right steps to register for protections and display ownership marks, you’re still not done.  Continuous monitoring of the ways in which your IP shows up in social media is critical too.  Setting google alerts for your unique branded phrases can help you track where content ends up and whether it’s been properly attributed to you.  Tools like Hootsuite and Topsy can help you track mentions across social platforms.  Copyscape.com can tell you when your fantastic blog post or article has been the victim of a cut, paste and repost.

The opportunities social media offers for you to expand your reach, spread your message and elevate your brand are huge.  With a little planning, protection and monitoring in place, you’ll be positioned to make the most of them.