April 2017

Spring is here! In this month’s Advisor Newsletter, we feature a guide to drug testing and drug-free workplaces – common concerns with the continuing legalization of marijuana at the state level. We also look at steps you can take to keep your company data and databases secure from cybercriminals. Ever wonder whether you can ban employee cell phones in the workplace? Our Q&A has the answer.

HR Alerts

Healthcare Reform Update

Efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have so far been unsuccessful. The House Republicans’ “repeal and replace” bill – the American Health Care Act – was intensely debated but withdrawn on March 24 because it did not have sufficient support. President Trump has indicated that a new healthcare reform bill will not be coming soon. However, this does not mean another effort could not be initiated by legislators.

As we reported in January, President Trump’s first Executive Order signaled the administration’s agenda with respect to healthcare. That Order directed agencies to ease the economic burden of the ACA by not applying penalties when doing so was at the discretion of the agency. So far that directive has not affected any employer obligations.

We’ll be keeping an eye on the healthcare issue, as well as other potential changes to federal employment law and enforcement as a result of the change in administration.

A Guide to Drug Testing and Drug-Free Workplaces in the Era of “Legal” Marijuana

With medical and recreational marijuana use becoming legal in more states nationwide, you may be wondering what kind of drug-testing policy your business should have. The answer to that question depends on several factors: the types of jobs that are done and the degree to which they’re safety-sensitive, legal requirements that may apply to your business, and your company culture. In this article, we’ll give you a general overview of these considerations so you can determine what policy is right for your organization.

Prohibiting Drug Use

Many employers opt for a no tolerance or other very strict policy to help ensure a workplace free of drugs. Employers who choose or are required to take this stance should have a written and consistently enforced workplace policy tailored to meet their specific needs. When crafting a company drug-testing policy, you should consider the following questions:

  • Who will be tested (e.g., staff, job applicants, employees in safety-sensitive positions)?
  • When will tests be conducted (e.g., pre-employment, upon reasonable suspicion or for-cause, post-accident, randomly, periodically, post-rehabilitation)?
  • Which controlled substances or drugs will be tested for?
  • What will the outcome be for positive drug tests (e.g., discipline, termination)?

You should be familiar with any local, state, and federal laws that may affect when, where, and how testing is performed. California, for example, does not typically permit random testing of an employee whose job duties cannot be shown to directly impact public safety. Given all the legal ins and outs, employers may want to seek legal counsel before starting a testing program.

Some matters of testing, however, are straightforward. If you observe suspicious behavior, don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, get another manager or HR representative to corroborate the observations. If you determine a drug test is warranted, you should not administer it yourself, but instead send the employee to a nearby clinic that’s certified to perform drug testing. Do not have the employee drive themselves to the testing facility; take them yourself, have another manager drive them, or call a cab.

To establish your right to test an employee when you have reasonable suspicion that they are under the influence, you need to have put them on notice that such testing is a possibility. A written policy that has been distributed to all employees and acknowledged with their signature is essential.

Supervisor Responsibilities

The responsibilities of supervisors should include monitoring employees’ performance, staying alert to and documenting performance problems, and enforcing the policy. Supervisors should not, however, be expected to diagnose drug-related problems or provide counseling to employees who may have them. If supervisors are responsible for making referrals for drug testing based on reasonable suspicion, they also must be trained on how to make that determination.

Complications Due to State Marijuana Laws

Drug testing has long been a complicated HR issue, but it can feel even more vexing for employers due to the spreading legalization of marijuana at the state level. Despite still being illegal at the federal level, more than half the states have decriminalized marijuana for medical use. Eight states and the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational use. Understandably, the discrepancies between state and federal law have raised questions for employers.

In most states, you can terminate employment for on-duty or off-duty use even if the employee has a medical marijuana card. However, termination solely for possession of a medical marijuana card is inadvisable in any state.

Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, you are not required to make accommodations for use under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some states, however, have anti-discrimination language written into their marijuana statues or there is advocacy to add such protections. To what extent these additions require employers to accommodate the presence of marijuana in an employee’s system while on duty remains somewhat uncertain.

Complicating the matter further are the differing needs and preferences of employers. Some employers want to prohibit and test for marijuana because use of the drug could disrupt operations, because positions are safety-sensitive, or because they are legally required to do so. Other employers want to allow off-duty use and avoid testing altogether—or as much as possible. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Allowing Off-Duty Use

With more people using marijuana (the percentage of adults who use it has doubled since 2002), many employers have chosen to have a more lenient policy on the matter. These employers don’t want to turn down or terminate quality workers for drug use that has no impact on job performance or safety.

The catch with allowing off-duty use of marijuana is that it can be difficult to definitively prove when on-duty use has taken place. THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) can be detected for several days or even weeks after use, depending on whether the person being tested is a casual or frequent user. Consequently, testing won’t reveal whether use of the drug took place at work or elsewhere. A best practice – regardless of how effective a drug test might be – is to focus on performance of job duties. Documentation that an employee had slurred speech, the giggles, and was unable to assist customers in a professional manner is much stronger support for discipline or termination than an inconclusive drug test.

It goes without saying that a lenient policy would not be appropriate for safety-sensitive roles or employees that drive frequently for work. Furthermore, employers with driving positions subject to Department of Transportation regulations must comply with very strict drug testing requirements.

Question & Answer

Q: Can I ban cell phones at work? How about audio and video recordings?

A: Thank you for your questions. They bring up issues that have been the subject of recent litigation, so it’s a great time to be asking.

To answer your first question: yes, you can limit or even prohibit use of cell phones during work hours. Employees can be expected to give their undivided attention to the work you pay them to perform, and if that means cell phones need to be turned off or put away, you are entitled to make this request. However, employees should be allowed to use cell phones during their break and meal periods, as this time needs to be truly their own in order to satisfy the requirements of state law. Fair warning: if you attempt to prohibit cell phone use during all non-break time, you may receive some fairly aggressive push back. A more lenient policy may do the trick. Our standard language says, “Personal cell phone use should be kept to a reasonable limit during working hours. Reasonableness will be determined by your manager.” This language gives your managers considerable discretion, but they should be trained to use the same standard of reasonableness for all employees to avoid claims of discrimination.

To answer your second question: no, audio, video, and photography cannot be strictly prohibited, but they can be limited. The National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the National Labor Relations Act, has said that employers cannot outright prohibit recordings as this could interfere with employees’ ability to organize with respect to their terms and conditions of employment. For instance, employees might choose to record a conversation during their lunch hour related to asking for raises, and want to share that recording with employees who work different shifts. This would need to be allowed. However, you can still have a policy that prevents recording (via audio, video, or photograph) confidential information, such as proprietary business practices, customer lists, client or patient information, or employees’ personal information. Be aware that you cannot deem all information confidential, e.g. “all conversations in the office” or “anything related to customer/patient care.”

If you feel it is important to have such a policy (for reference, this is not one we generally include with the handbooks we make for clients), I suggest something like, “Audio and video recording devices, including cameras and smartphones, may not be used to record or capture any confidential information, whether it is proprietary business information or clients’ or employees’ confidential personal information. If recording non-confidential information, e.g. taking photos of colleagues, please seek the consent of all parties to the recording.” A policy like this can be added to your handbook during your next handbook review, or if you feel the need is urgent, you can distribute it to all employees now and have them sign an acknowledgement form.

Tips for Keeping Your Company Data Secure

Small businesses are a popular target of cyber criminals. Thousands of attacks happen every day, successful ones can cost organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars, and over half of small businesses soon close following a successful cyberattack.

Fortunately, there are effective measures you can take to prevent hackers, scammers, and other ne’er-do-wells from compromising your network, stealing information, and harming your organization, employees, clients, or customers. Here are a few of our recommendations:

  • Protect your network with security software and keep this software up-to-date. A quality firewall is a must. As is encryption for your sensitive files.
  • Install quality antivirus and anti-malware software on all computers used for company purposes, and set up regular scans.
  • Back-up your databases on a regular basis. If your files are ever compromised, you don’t want to lose everything. Having a recent backup will enable you to restore your data so you can continue to operate.
  • Train employees on your internet safety and security policy and procedures, your security software, recognizing potential security threats, and creating strong passwords. Training also should include your response plan.
  • Regarding passwords, avoid dictionary words. Use multiple letters, numbers, and symbols. Phrases or long acronyms are especially hard to ascertain or break.
  • Note in your policy what security measures employees should follow when they’re out of the office and not using your firewall and secure network.
  • Be extremely cautious of unexpected emails that ask you to click a link to log into an account to update information or fix a problem. These are likely fake and designed to steal valuable information.
  • Never enter credit card numbers or other valuable information on a website that is not secure. If a website is secure, its URL will begin with HTTPS, instead of just HTTP. You should also double check that you’re on the site you intend to be on whenever entering such information.
  • Never, ever email sensitive employee information such as W-2s, benefit enrollment forms, completed census forms, or anything with social security or credit card numbers. Email databases and accounts are inherently insecure, and if malicious parties get access they can often see or get everything.
  • Scammers may also pose as company executives or employees to steal information. If you receive a request to email any such sensitive information, do not respond to it.
  • When getting rid of physical documents with sensitive information, use a secure shredding company to ensure proper disposal and that documents related to an employee’s identity are secure.
  • When getting rid of hardware or donating it, completely wipe its hard drives and storage. You don’t want someone finding an old company laptop, thumb drive, or computer and gaining access to information stored on it.

Tool of the Month:

2-Minute HR Trainings

Our 2-Minute HR trainings serve up important HR topics in segments that you can watch in less time than it takes to drink a cup of coffee. Take a couple of minutes to learn some great HR basics, tips, and best practices. Browse our most recent trainings under the Learning tab, or filter them according to the HR topic you’re most interested in.

Accommodating Pregnant Employees

Pregnancy is a protected class under state and federal law. Find out what this means for your business by listening to the next HR Cast, available on the Support Center on and after the 15th.

If you don’t already have a policy on employee cell phone use at work, you might want to consider it. Even a very simple policy can be a useful tool when dealing with employees who are more involved with their phones during the day than you would like. Text such as this could do the trick: “Personal cell phone use should be held to a reasonable limit. Reasonableness will be determined by management.”

More elaborate or restrictive policies may be implemented as well, but be sure not to run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (see Q&A). As with any policy, you’ll want to make sure your managers are able and prepared to enforce it consistently and fairly and set a good example themselves.

The average number of years an employee spends at a given job isn’t any shorter than it was 20 years ago. In fact, average tenure has increased from 4.0 years in 1996 to 4.2 years in 2016 (after a drop from 4.6 in 2014). Those with higher levels of education have longer stays on average, as do managers and employees in professional roles. Workers in the service industry, who are generally younger, have an average tenure of 2.9 years. Within that industry, food service workers have the lowest average, at 1.9 years per employer.
“As a leader, it’s a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow.” – Himanshu Bhatia
April 18 – Tax Day
April 22 – Earth Day
April 26 – Administrative Professionals Day
April 27 – Take Your Child to Work Day
Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
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PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630Additional Contacts
Phone: (916) 496-8750
Fax: (916) 496-8754
Email: [email protected]

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