A Spring Cleaning For Your Organization's Employment Policies
With spring almost at hand, this is a great time to review and update your organization’s employee handbook and other personnel policies to ensure that you stay compliant with legal requirements and best practices.
Here are some recommended steps for getting your policies into shape for the rest of the year:
Do A Headcount
Has the number of employees within your organization recently increased? If so, your organization may now fall within the scope of important state and federal laws, such as the Massachusetts Small Necessities Leave Act, the Massachusetts Domestic Violence Leave Act, the federal COBRA statute, and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Along similar lines, crossing the threshold to 11 employees requires Massachusetts employers to provide paid (rather than unpaid) sick time to employees.
This is an ideal time to adopt new policies and train managers on compliance with any laws that have recently become applicable to your organization.
Review Workplace Practices
Do your organization’s current employment policies reflect its actual practices? Does the organization allow employees to engage in activities that its written policies prohibit? We recommend reviewing all of your employment policies and updating any that do not align with its actual practices, as inconsistencies between the two can create legal risks.
Review And Update Your Policies
Every year brings changes in employment law, especially at the state and municipal level. It is important to ensure that your organization’s policies accurately reflect current legal requirements.
This year, we recommend focusing particularly on the following topics:
- Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) – States and municipalities continue to pass laws expanding anti-discrimination protections for employees and applicants. For instance, under the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”), which went into effect on April 1, 2018, employees who are pregnant or have pregnancy-related conditions (including breastfeeding) are now a specifically protected class in Massachusetts. Employers should update their EEO and similar policies to include such new protected characteristics.
- Sexual And Other Harassment – As sexual harassment continues to be a topic of focus in the media as well as the workplace, it is critical for every employer to have a detailed policy affirming its prohibition of sexual and other harassment and advising employees on what to do if they experience or witness such conduct. A number of states and municipalities, including California, Delaware, and New York City, have recently passed legislation requiring employers to provide sexual harassment training to all employees. Employers need to be aware of such requirements and ensure that their anti-harassment policies are compliant.
- Inquiries Regarding Salary History – A growing number of states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, have enacted laws prohibiting employers from inquiring into an applicant’s salary history during the hiring process. Employers in these states should review their hiring procedures and policies to ensure compliance with these new restrictions.
- Disability Accommodations – The Americans with Disabilities Act and equivalent state laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities. In Massachusetts, the PWFA has extended that obligation to employees who are pregnant or have pregnancy-related conditions. Specifically, the PWFA requires an employer to provide (among other possible accommodations) a private location other than a bathroom for nursing mothers for a reasonable time period after childbirth. Employers should ensure that they have written policies detailing how employees should request such accommodations and how those requests will be evaluated.
- Marijuana – Missouri recently became the 33rd state to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes, and an increasing number of states permit recreational use as well. At the same time, federal law still prohibits both medical and recreational use of marijuana. In light of these conflicting requirements, we suggest updating drug-free workplace policies to ensure that employees understand that the use and/or possession of marijuana in the workplace remains prohibited, notwithstanding any recent changes in state law.
- Paid Leave – A growing number of states and municipalities have enacted legislation providing for paid sick and/or family leave. For instance, effective April 10, 2019, a new law requires employers in Westchester County, New York to allow eligible employees to accrue and use one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours a year. Similarly, Massachusetts enacted legislation in 2018 providing for paid family leave of up to 12 weeks and paid medical leave of up to 20 weeks, beginning in 2021. Employers should ensure that their leave policies comply with all paid leave laws in the states and municipalities in which they operate.
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Although it is crucial to update your employment policies regularly, we know that this can be a daunting task. We are here to help! Our attorneys have a wealth of experience in preparing employment policies and counseling employers on compliance with workplace laws. We would be happy to audit your current handbook and provide recommendations for updates and revisions.