Each year, employers should review and reevaluate their employee handbooks and policies. This is an important practice as new laws will often go into effect at the start of a new year. It is also a safe way to ensure employee policies are not out of date. This practice is especially critical now as many employers have changed their employment structure and many states have amended their leave laws. Below are five practical tips to implement when reviewing and rewriting employee handbooks and policies:
1. Consider each state in which you have employees
Generally, employers should ensure that their policies and handbooks comply with all state and local laws in which the company has locations. These days, however, many companies have employees spread across the country regardless of whether the business has a physical presence. With teleworking increasingly becoming the norm, many employees have chosen to move to different cities and states based on real estate prices or even consolidated households with family members in different parts of the country. Thus, it is no longer sufficient to cover only cities and states in which an employer has a physical location. Rather, employers should consider every city and state in which their employees are working, even if there is only one employee in a particular city or state.
2. Consider employment trends
While employee policies must comply with federal, state, and local laws, employers may also want to consider policies their competitors are providing to their employees. For example, many employers are now offering their employees additional paid sick leave time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some employers are also getting creative with their paid time off policies to allow sharing of PTO hours in an effort to assist those employees who may be hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers should think about the benefits they wish to provide to their employees in light of the “new normal” and update their policies accordingly.
3. Add new protected characteristics to your EEO policies
Federal law protects employees from discrimination based on various protected characteristics such as race, gender, national origin, and disability, to name a few. This year, the Supreme Court of the United States added two more protected characteristics to that list: gender identity and sexual preference. Additionally, many states and localities have updated their anti-discrimination laws to become increasingly more inclusive. Employers should review their EEO policies to make sure all protected characteristics under federal, state, and local law are included.
4. Review emergency policies and procedures
Unfortunately, the country has seen an increase in mass shootings over the past decade. Employers should review their safety procedures to provide employees with clear direction in the event of a safety emergency. The procedures should include an escape route and/or a safe zone as well as who employees should contact in the event of an emergency.
5. Policies for Teleworking
With an increasingly larger amount of the workforce teleworking, employers should consider adding policies specific to telework and updating existing policies to cover remote employees. Employers should consider how their remote employees are tracking their time, hours during which remote employees are expected to work, and policies and procedures for maintaining a secure remote work environment.
Cozen O’Connor has a national Labor and Employment Practice. Our Labor and Employment attorneys can assist you with all of your handbook and policy needs regardless of your location.