A new year brings new opportunities. Unfortunately, it also ushers in big changes that can leave businesses scrambling. Recent changes to legislature or ongoing trends can leave your company open to legal problems if you don’t take appropriate action. A good employee handbook can be a key tool to make sure that your business is prepared for 2018.
An outdated handbook is a serious problem for any business. It’s important to make sure that your handbook evolves as new laws go into effect. Here are five parts of your handbook that you should update in 2018.
Sexual harassment is one of the biggest topics in the news so far in 2018. Every handbook should cover sexual harassment, but you should look at ways that you can further enhance your anti-harassment policy to double down on how sexual harassment is unacceptable in the workplace.
Late in 2017, The Society for Human Resource Management offered up recommendations for updating your handbook’s anti-harassment policy recommendations. They suggest that your handbook includes definitions and examples of the two types of sexual harassment:
- Quid pro quo, in which someone demands sexual favors in exchange for certain benefits or to avoid negative outcomes
- Hostile work environment, in which harassment is so severe and prevalent that it creates an environment that negatively impacts an employee
Not only should you to include information on what is and isn’t acceptable, you’ll also want to have a policy in place to let employees know multiple methods for reporting incidents. There may also be specific compliance requirements depending on your state, so make sure to evaluate your local sexual harassment training requirements to ensure that your policies are up to date with the latest regulations.
Workplace Conduct and Social Media
According to SHRM, federal organizations like the Department of Labor (DOL) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) should be friendlier to employers in 2018. Part of this shift includes changes that limit workers’ rights when it comes to social media policies, confidentiality, and workplace conduct.
For example, SHRM reported that the NLRB “overruled a prior decision that placed limits on employer handbook policies that could be "reasonably construed" by workers to limit their right to engage in protected concerted activity” toward the end of 2017. That trend may continue into this year, meaning that stricter handbook policies on workplace conduct and social media may be judged as justifiable under the current administration.
If your business doesn’t have a policy on parental leave, you may want to change that in 2018. This year, New York became the fourth state to offer paid family and medical leave, joining California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
Even if your business isn’t in a state that requires paid parental leave, it can be a very attractive benefit for both your current and potential employees. According to the Harvard Business Review, 42 percent of employees would consider choosing a job that offered paid parental leave over one with a higher salary or hourly rate. Of course, these policies need to be clearly laid out in your handbook. Make sure your policy is specific about your plan’s details, including:
- Who is eligible for parental leave
- How long the leave can or will last
- How compensation works
- When requests for leave must be made
- Timelines for when leave can be taken
- How termination affects parental leave
Disability, Arbitration, and Medical Marijuana
Legal cases and court rulings may play a big role in what handbook policies need to be updated in 2018. Disability leave, arbitration agreements, and medical marijuana are all subject to ongoing legal discussions and reviews, which may mean that additional handbook updates are a part of your future.
One key case involves a ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving reasonable accommodations for extended leave beyond the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In the case in question, SHRM reports that the 7th Circuit decided extended leave “is not a reasonable accommodation required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)” after an employee exhausts their FMLA leave. However, organizations like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission don’t see eye to eye with this ruling, which may lead to more cases that affect leave of absence.
When it comes to arbitration, you’ll need to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times reported that the Supreme Court has been divided over “whether to give employers a powerful tool to bar class actions over workplace issues” late last year. A ruling will be made eventually, and you’ll have to be ready to adjust your policies to comply with that ruling.
Medical marijuana is another area that faces constant changes. Legal shifts can put business leaders in a bind if they don’t have clear drug policies in their handbook about how to handle testing and medicinal use. This is also complicated by the fact that marijuana laws can differ greatly between states. It’s important to pay attention to any changes to your local marijuana laws so that you can adapt your company policy if necessary.
Prepare Your Business for the Future
If you think keeping your employee handbook up to date is a lot of work, you’re right. Creating and maintaining a comprehensive document of policies requires collaboration between business leadership and both legal and HR experts. As the owner of a small business, those responsibilities may fall to you if you don’t have help.
Fortunately, a Professional Employer Organization can be the HR partner your business needs to help you keep your handbook in order and manage critical HR functions. Our experts can provide you with guidance about your handbook and other risk management strategies to help protect your business and save you time. Contact GMS today to learn more.