HR 101: Personal email, overtime and protecting client info

Q. I know my employees spend time during business hours on personal e-mails, instant messaging and Web surfing. Do I have a legal right to monitor and restrict this activity?

A. It is legal for you to monitor and restrict e-mail and Internet use in your place of business. In fact, you can purchase software programs designed just for that purpose. If you feel that your employees are spending too much time on personal activities (including phone calls), and productivity or customer service is suffering as a result, you need to address the issue.

I recommend, however, that before purchasing monitoring software, you have a candid discussion with your employees about your concerns and expectations. The ability to enjoy some personal freedoms in the workplace can do much to bolster morale. If only one or two employees are abusing the privilege, you should limit your discussion to them. Be prepared to take more severe disciplinary action if the problems continue. It would also be helpful to talk about personal use of the Internet and e-mail at new employee orientation, or to create a written company policy.

Q. Can you explain how overtime works? I am a receptionist at an engineering firm, and I am often asked to work late to help finish projects. It’s usually only a half hour or so each time, but it adds up. Shouldn’t I be paid extra for this?

A. You are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that overtime must be paid at time and a half for any hours worked in excess of 40 per week. An exception to this is hospitals, which may pay overtime when hours worked exceed 80 in a two-week period or 8 in a day.

However, in your case, if your position is classified as nonexempt from overtime (meaning you are eligible to receive overtime pay), your employer must reimburse you according to FLSA guidelines. If this is not occurring, ask your supervisor about it.

Q. As an attorney, I work with privileged information on a daily basis. I store my client files in file cabinets which are locked each night before we leave the office. Are there regulations regarding sensitive information that I may be overlooking?

A. Storing your client files as you describe is not required by Michigan law. State bar associations generally set standards for how long and in what manner attorneys retain client information, all of which is considered confidential.

The Michigan Professional Rules of Conduct (MPRC) and Michigan Ethics Opinions define parameters for maintaining confidentiality of client information. Any written confidentiality plan should specify who has access to the information and the circumstances under which the information may be accessed. (Many thanks to the law firm of Molosky & Co. in Petoskey for their assistance with this question.)

Professional Solutions Plus specializes in employee leasing and medical billing services for small to medium-sized businesses. If you have questions about employment or HR issues, contact PSP president Liz Sayre-King,