Employee Use of District Equipment a Risky Proposition

Special thanks to Business Owner’s Toolkit for granting the CSD Pool permission to use the following content to produce this article: Using Policies to Address Employees’ Personal Use of Business Equipment, and Work Rules Must be Communicated to be Effective

Every district uses equipment which employees need to do their job, and this equipment is generally provided by the district. While a reasonable amount of personal use of district-owned equipment like computers or photocopiers is realistic, there are many types of equipment that pose serious problems if used outside the scope of an employee’s job responsibilities because they significantly increase the likelihood of a loss.

Problems that can arise from the personal use of district-owned equipment such as tools or vehicles include:

  • Dramatically increased liability if an injury or property damage is a result of personal use of equipment.
  • Broken or damaged equipment, which may cause disputes over who is responsible for repair.
  • If something goes wrong outside of business hours, how will a district prove that it didn’t happen during the work week?
  • Premature wear and maintenance on the equipment.
  • Lost productivity, as employees use work time for personal tasks involving district equipment.
  • Morale problems if these habits are curtailed or if only some employees are allowed to use the equipment.
  • Personal use of district equipment could be considered an illegal use of public funds.
  • If an employee is injured using district-owned equipment on premises outside of their normal schedule, the district could be liable for those injuries.

Fortunately this can be managed with policies that address the personal usage of district-owned equipment. However, simply having rules in place doesn’t mean much unless employees know that the rules exist and understand them.

Effectively communicating your policies or standards is important not only because it helps employees understand the rules, but documented communication of those rules makes it easier to enforce them when necessary.

The following are issues you should consider when determining the best way to make sure that employees get the message about standards of conduct in your workplace:

Oral communication of work rules: Talking to your employees allows give-and-take. However, it’s difficult to document a conversation and be sure that both parties have come away from it in agreement.

Written communication of work rules: Giving employees your policies, rules, and expectations in writing has several advantages: it allows you to document that the employee was informed about the rules and, if you’ve written them correctly, it’s clear what your expectations are.

When is the best time to communicate these policies?

Once you’ve decided how to communicate your policies, you’ll need to make sure all employees are aware of the rules before they have the chance to break them. There are times when communicating policies is natural.

Orientation: Giving new employees the work rules is the best way to make sure that they get off to a smooth start. If employees know what the rules are, they may be less likely to break them.

Disciplinary Counseling: If an employee breaks a rule, you’ll want to go over your expectations again. While the employee may have known that there was a policy against whatever he or she did, it never hurts to reinforce your expectations. Be sure to ask if he or she has questions about the rule or policy.

When an employee asks about rules or procedures: Employees might be confused about how they should handle a certain situation. It should be clear that they can ask for clarification of policies whenever necessary.

When you change or add rules or policies: If you change or add restrictions to your policies, it’s essential to formally notify your employees. Make an announcement, send a memo or an email, or post something on a bulletin board where employees gather.

No matter what your policy is or how much you try to enforce it, be consistent and vigilant in creating and enforcing workplace rules to ensure that personal use of equipment doesn’t put the district at risk.

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