Dealing With Employee Behavior Away From Work
By Jame Geathers, Jame Geathers Consulting
Many employers and employees alike believe that what the employee does while off-duty is off limits to the employer, but that is not always the case.
As an employer you don’t want to get into the habit of policing employee social activities and online profiles but you should have clear policies in place to protect your business from individuals that may not have the company’s best interest at heart. For example, if you find out one of your employees is arrested for murder over the weekend – extreme I know – it is pretty much general consensus that the employee can be terminated. But what about someone who is arrested for driving under the influence?
Both are illegal but do your company policies make it clear that both would result in disciplinary action? Not having clear polices in place can expose your business to wrongful termination claims and the worst case scenario of public embarrassment.
Let’s look at off-duty behavior/activities that you can and should discipline an employee for engaging in. For starters, in the case of the employee who gets arrested, he or she would be eligible for termination if you have a written policy in place. This is one of those gray areas that is not spelled out in state or federal law. When addressing this in your policy be sure to state clearly if employees are subject to disciplinary action as the result of an arrest or conviction.
What about moonlighting? As an employer you are allowed to have a moonlighting policy in place. However, I would strongly suggest that the policy is limited to working for competitors, during hours that create a conflict with their employment with you and/or engaging in work that could be damaging to the reputation of your business by association.
Being proactive and including these specifics in your moonlighting policy will help you set clear expectations for your employees.
Unauthorized work during non-work hours is another issue to address. With smartphones everyone is connected at all times. Many employees look forward to disconnecting during their off time but there are some that have a difficult time unplugging.
If those employees are exempt based on overtime regulations, that’s not a problem. If they are nonexempt, though, it could be a disaster.
Employees who are nonexempt must be compensated for all work-related tasks, including after-hours emails, phone calls and any other tasks. That’s why it is absolutely imperative that you have a strong overtime policy that includes prohibiting work outside of scheduled time without approval.
While you still must pay them for time worked, at least if you have a policy in place you can take disciplinary action when an employee chooses not to comply.
Lastly, let’s discuss sexual harassment. Employee A finds Employee B attractive but employee B has made it clear they are not interested. Employee A begins to reach out to Employee B via social media while off-duty. The contact is unwanted and Employee B has asked them to stop.
Even though this is taking place off-duty and off company premises, this is sexual harassment – regardless of whether the target of the unwanted advances is a co-worker, subordinate, a client or a vendor. Assuming you have a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy – if not get one now – this behavior would be covered and should be treated as such.
The recurring theme in each of these examples is be proactive and create policies that protect your business. If you need to create or review your current handbook and/or policies, please contact us.
Jame Geathers is a Human Resources and Operations Professional with more than 12 years of experience in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. Jame has spent her career building and supporting HR infrastructures that have provided her employers and clients with the structure and policies that all start-ups need but owners may not have time to create and implement. For more information please visit the Jame Geathers Consulting website, www.jamegeathers.com or call (706) 496-9691.