As the current COVID-19 pandemic continues, organizations are reassessing their existing policies, procedures, and online presence in light of a global shift in business operations.
As companies continue to evaluate their options, one thing is certain: the COVID-19 pandemic will likely have a lasting impact on the future of all forms of business. With 2022 just around the corner, legal professionals are starting to consider key legal questions surrounding this pandemic.
Here are seven things you should look out for to avoid legal issues for your business in 2022.
However, as companies collect and keep vast amounts of personal data, keeping track of who has access to what can be extremely challenging. New privacy laws are more accessible for consumers to keep track of (and leverage against companies that violate them).
As most businesses turn to digital-first business models during the pandemic, they collect and analyze more data than ever. Savvy companies reap the benefits of consumer data, while those with poor privacy policies face serious consequences.
Businesses that collect user data must provide a basic privacy disclosure. And just like legally required disclosures on forms, these disclosures should educate consumers about what the company will be doing with their data.
It’s important that these disclosures aren’t overly-complicated. The goal of these notices is to inform consumers about what the company plans to do with the data they collect. So rather than burden consumers with jargon and complex legalese, they should keep the language simple.
Following these basic recommendations should keep your business out of trouble.
Companies should review their current email policies to ensure compliance during this pandemic. In addition, they should ensure all employees are following internal protocols and guidelines regarding email use during the pandemic.
Compiling with relevant laws and regulations is essential regardless, but the risks companies are facing are much greater during the pandemic. Unsafe email practices such as phishing scams, malware, and spam pose a more significant threat to business during the spread of COVID-19. Companies should take adequate measures to ensure email security during the pandemic.
Record keeping is essential to compliance. Especially during pandemics, companies should maintain regular communication between employees at all levels. Logging all email use and keeping records of all electronic conversations will be helpful to investigate compliance issues if needed.
Email archiving solutions can help make compliance much more manageable, both for employers and employees. They allow businesses to automate eDiscovery, compliance, and archiving processes while ensuring the safety of sensitive company data.
Many companies utilize smartphones and other mobile devices in their day-to-day operations, especially during the pandemic, as many are forced to work from home.
It may make sense for companies to consider creating a BYOD policy to determine if and how employees can use their own devices for work.
Some companies may decide to institute a BYOD policy because BYOD policies have many benefits, such as reducing the cost of mobile devices like phones and computers, since BYOD policies reduce the need for employees to pay for mobile devices outright. Employees also benefit from BYOD policies because they use their own devices and maintain the devices themselves.
There are also some drawbacks to BYOD policies. Companies lose the ability to track employees’ devices and data. Companies also lose the ability to control how the devices are being used.
To avoid these issues, it’s essential to clearly define (and communicate) what technologies a company will and will not use.
In addition, employees should be encouraged to only download apps and software from trusted sources, including company app stores and the individual provider’s app store. If employees choose to install apps on their personal devices, they should consider how comfortable they are with the apps they are using. It is recommended that employees only install apps that are vetted by IT since the IT department is in a better position to vet them.
In the light of a global pandemic, businesses rely more and more on social media. Many companies are adding social media to their business websites as an additional source of information and as an enticement for potential consumers.
Setting up a social media account can be easy, but ensuring that your social media platform is protected against misuse and data breaches is a real challenge.
Along with adding social media to your business website, you also need to review and update your existing policies. The cyberspace world is ever-changing, so businesses generally have to update their social media policies at least once a year.
A social media policy can help you ensure social media compliance and protect your company from potential legal action, data breaches, and reputational damage.
Keep in mind that your social media policies should be brief. Unfortunately, these policies can often be lengthy and can take too much time to read, understand, and keep track of. As a result, they are often ignored, and little action is actually taken.
The pandemic has forced many businesses to reevaluate their employee handbook. While current employee handbooks may still be in place (for now), it may be beneficial to update them to give clear directions to employees during this pandemic. In particular, HR managers and business owners should update handbooks to address COVID-19 close contact precautions.
The updated employee handbook should also address how organizations will comply with state, federal, and local laws regarding COVID-19. For example, employers may want to consider including a statement from HR regarding how the company will comply with COVID-19 workplace restrictions, such as business travel, the “stay at home” executive order, and how employees’ personal conduct may impact business travel and company access.
Other suggestions may include instructions on how employees should maintain their personal hygiene and what to do if they are sick.
In addition to addressing the specific COVID-19 policies, businesses may also want to update employee handbooks to address how employees should update their attire, including work attire, to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
For example, employers may want to provide guidance that employees should wear masks, long-sleeved shirts and cover their upper respiratory area, especially when they are in close proximity to others, such as when not working remotely or when meeting with customers or clients.
Another update to employee handbooks may be to include language that pertains to work-from-home policies. Some organizations may already have such policies in place. However, even organizations that did not have such policies may find it beneficial to update their handbooks to set them out in detail.
For example, organizations may want to consider addressing how telecommuting may be completed and who may be involved in telecommuting.
Many companies are placing a significant focus on updating their employment contracts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic., Companies should both review and revise their standard terms and conditions in accordance with the law.
Further, employers should be mindful of the reasonable expectations that their employees bring to the workplace and try to avoid any terms that do not serve to articulate those expected employee obligations clearly.
Furthermore, an employer’s ability to enforce its terms and conditions of employment is, to some degree, impaired given the impact the pandemic has had on the logistics of performing and enforcing employment obligations. As an employer, you may have the ability to change the terms and conditions of your employment in such circumstances by referring to relevant statutory or case law.
Many companies are updating their anti-harassment policies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This type of policy not only provides a set of guidelines that employees can rely upon to take action against harassment but also a layer of protection for companies in the event that a lawsuit is filed.
To update or develop your own anti-harassment policy, (1) review your current policy, paying particular attention to the types of behaviors you wish to prohibit and how you will define those prohibited behaviors, (2) seek advice from employment law counsel who has experience drafting and reviewing anti-harassment policies, and (3) update any areas needing clarification or drafting.
Also, keep in mind that a remote work environment is entirely different from a physical workplace. Take these differences into consideration and make sure to cover all possible incidents, such as sexual harassment, quid pro quo, coercion, threats, and abusive treatment that could happen in a remote work environment.
As the world continues to adapt to the COVID virus, it is clear that the pandemic will have a lasting effect on the future of your business.
That being said, it is critical that you review and revise your current policies and procedures to stay compliant during the pandemic.
By reviewing the legal aspects of business in the coming year, you can steer clear of legal troubles and help your business survive this pandemic.