Smart devices, handbooks for managers, and upsetting separations

My employees are constantly checking their smartwatches and it’s too distracting. Can I enforce a no smartwatch policy?

 The legal side of things: Not so fast! We know this seems like a logical solution. But we also know how the National Labor Relations Board feels about policies that ban smart devices. The board regularly challenges policies that could be seen as infringing on employees’ rights to talk about their working conditions, and fully restricting access to personal devices tends to fall under that category.

While it’s far more likely that your employees are using their devices to talk to family and friends or check social media than chatting with each other about their working conditions, a policy that doesn’t allow smart devices at all is still risky.

Now for the human approach:You may not be able to fully ban smartwatches, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set rules around when they’re used.

It’s okay to have a policy that says that employees can’t use them around patients or in clinical rooms. And it’s okay to issue corrective actions to employees that don’t follow the policy. What’s important is that the policy is customized for your business and the language isn’t overly broad. The last thing you want is the NLRB taking an extra look at your policies.

Our blog about smart devices has some more guidance.

I want to offer managers significantly different benefits than what I offer the rest of my staff. Should I create a separate employee handbook for them?


The legal side of things: The same laws, and the majority of your policies, will apply to managers and non-managers. Keeping up with employment law is time consuming, and having to update two employee handbooks instead of one can get confusing.

 Now for the human approach:The bottom line is that managers are still employees, so they should be given the same handbook as everyone else.

It needs to be crystal clear that even though they’re managers, the same policies (i.e. sexual harassment, attendance, ethical guidelines, etc.) still apply to them. If you want to offer managers different benefits, you can cover this through a separate document.

Remember that the handbook is for office policies, not specific job expectations. Managers may have different responsibilities and general duties than employees, but these should be addressed through their job descriptions and your communications with them. 

Don’t forget to take state law into account when deciding which benefits to offer! Certain fringe benefits, like sick leave or retirement plans, may actually be required for all employees depending on where you’re located. Talk to an HR expert if you’re not sure. 

One of our employees left on pretty bad terms. What’s the best way to address this with the rest of my team?


The legal side of things:There’s no doubt you need to let your team know when someone no longer works there. But that’s pretty much all you need to say. In fact, we advise against sharing any other details.

Believe it or not, we’ve seen ex-employees try to come after employers for things like defamation of character or sharing confidential information because the employer told staff about the specifics of a separation. This obviously doesn’t apply in every situation, and more often than not these cases stem from the ex-employee’s immediate anger and then fizzle out, but the safest option is to keep the details between you and management. 

Now for the human approach:Whether it’s a termination or resignation, there’s always a chance that an employee will be upset. Sometimes those negative emotions escalate more than others. As curious as other employees may be to know what happened, there’s no need for an explanation.

We understand that you may also want to “clear the air” in case they’ve heard anything from the ex-employee about how things went. The truth is, people will talk. In these situations, there’s undoubtedly a rumor or two that go around speculating about what really happened.

The best thing to do is keep it short and direct. Let the team know the person no longer works there and fill them in on how this affects their day to day. That’s it. Those who were directly involved will respect your confidentiality, and those who weren’t don’t have a need to know.

May 17, 2023

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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