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Work Place Security

Posted June 2016 by S. Ward Heinrichs
Work Place Security

Work place “security” can be a very broad topic. It often includes issues like: physical safety, protection of company confidential information, use of social media, and cyber security. Certainly before the internet boom, work place security was associated with keeping people safe and protecting company secrets. Since the internet boom, the definition of security has expanded and, in some cases, the internet has become another concern linked to both physical and confidential information security.

Remember “going postal”? That was the term used after a series of gun violence incidents at the hands of disgruntled postal employees. Most businesses do not face such serious concerns, but sometimes employees can begin to behave erratically. Similarly, an employee might be a victim of violence or stocking. In both cases, employers and managers should pay attention to signs of potential danger. Employers have a duty to keep the work place reasonably safe. In California, employers must give time off to employees who have suffered domestic violence or are being stocked. If the potential wrong doer makes efforts to contact the victim at work, the police should be called. Work place safety policies should be in employee handbooks.

Physical safety at work also includes reasonably anticipating potential work place injuries. OSHA has many rules that are designed to prevent work place injury, and employers should strive to meet those rules. While Workers’ Compensation covers almost all work place injuries to employees, a safe work place can reduce insurance premiums and prevent lawsuits by non-employees who are injured on business premises.

Depending on the type of business, security of confidential information can be very important to an employer. Coca-Cola goes to great lengths to protect their “secret formulas”. Kentucky Fried Chicken still claims its “11 herbs and spices” recipe as a trade secret. Drug companies protect developing products through patents. Sales companies often try to protect lists of clients. Not all confidential information can be protected by patents or trade secrets. In those cases, confidential information may be protected by individual agreements with employees and by company policies.

Often, employers have social media platforms as part of their marketing campaigns. Hackers might use these platforms to spread viruses, commit fraud, or send spam. Additionally, employees might use the platforms to say negative things about their employers or co-workers. Sometimes, employees threaten or bully co-workers on social media. Companies that use social media should have IT departments that protect and monitor them, their websites, and their email. They should also have strong policies that describe how employees are to use company social media and email.
Employers should also have policies about how employees use their own social media and email while at work. In contrast, personal social media use outside of work is much harder to control. In many cases, an employee’s negative comments about an employer, or even a co-worker, are protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Of course, threats of physical violence rarely take the form of protected speech.

When enforcing policies, employers should approach each situation on a case by case basis and apply discipline evenly for all similar violations. Using a policy to discipline an employee while not applying the same discipline to other employees can create legal liability.

S. Ward Heinrichs, Esq.
Employment Law Office of Ward Heinrichs
4565 Ruffner Street, Suite 207
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 408-7543 (fax)

Employment Law Office of WARD HEINRICHS

4565 Ruffner St. Suite 207 San Diego 92111


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