The employee handbook. You know it’s common sense to have one, but amidst trying to keep up with the responsibilities of HR management, it can be easy to overlook this invaluable employer tool.
Ideally, companies should perform a review of their employee handbook on an annual basis. Because industry rules and regulations are constantly changing, failure to do so could potentially land your company in serious legal and financial trouble.
Following are some of the most important updates you should make now to ensure your employee handbook, and business, is ready for 2016.
According to a report released earlier this year by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employees have the right to discuss wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment with management, fellow employees, non-employees, and third parties such as the media. While employers may require that employees not share “confidential information,” this restriction should be carefully worded because the NLRB will consider unlawful any policy that can be construed by employees as limiting their rights to discuss employment terms and conditions.
For instance, the following statements are considered unlawful by the NLRB:
“Do not discuss ‘customer or employee information’ outside of work, including ‘phone numbers [and] addresses.’”
“Never publish or disclose [the Employer’s] or another’s confidential or other proprietary information. Never publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to [the Employer].”
“You must not disclose proprietary or confidential information about [the Employer, or] other associates (if the proprietary or confidential information relating to [the Employer's] associates was obtained in violation of law or lawful Company policy).”
While these statements are considered lawful:
“No unauthorized disclosure of “business ‘secrets’ or other confidential information.”
“Misuse or unauthorized disclosure of confidential information not otherwise available to persons or firms outside [Employer] is cause for disciplinary action, including termination.”
“Do not disclose confidential financial data, or other non-public proprietary company information. Do not share confidential information regarding business partners, vendors or customers.”
Under the same NLRB report, employers should not limit an employee’s rights to discuss his or her terms and conditions of employment on social media. Employees may not be banned from posting photos, commenting on or writing a blog post, or offering comments or statements from other employees or management that demonstrate substandard working conditions.
The Department of Labor (DOL) earlier this year released a proposed rule that would enable more salaried workers to become eligible for overtime pay. While a final ruling has yet to be reached, employers should consider the implications for their business and set forth clear guidelines on overtime work, including whether employees can work overtime and if they need authorization to do so. Employers also need to consider how much off-duty work is expected of their employees (i.e., checking and responding to email on personal devices) and adjust those expectations accordingly.
Same-Sex Benefits and Equality
In a landmark ruling earlier this year, the Supreme Court held that same-sex marriage is to be considered legal in all states throughout the country. Because of this, employers need to review relevant policies and procedures to ensure that the same rights extend to all married employees, regardless of sexual orientation. In particular, employers should update the language included in their FMLA leave policies, including spousal, bereavement and medical leaves, and make sure that all processes and documentation required for these leaves are the same for all employees.
Along with FMLA leave policies, employers should also make sure their anti-discrimination policy reflects the Supreme Court’s decision as well. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers LGBT-related discrimination to fall within the realm of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). While the EEOC’s position has not been adopted by federal law, the EEOC does accept and investigate charges relating to sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace, and courts are open to creative arguments. Furthermore, if you are a federal contractor or subcontractor, Executive Order 13672 prohibits you from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or identity.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has long held employers responsible for providing reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities. Although pregnancy itself does not qualify as a disability, complications that arise from pregnancy or childbirth that ‘limit a major life activity’ may be considered a disability and may warrant reasonable accommodation. To date, fifteen states have adopted their own pregnancy accommodation laws, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
Under the Nursing Mothers Provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must provide eligible employees with reasonable break time, in an area away from the public, to express breast milk for up to one year following the birth of a child.
Is Your Handbook Ready? The above list is a sampling of the latest rules and regulations that employers should make sure to incorporate into their employee handbooks. For a complete employee handbook assessment, contact PROXUS today.
PROXUS is a leader in HR, payroll, and benefits solutions, serving small and mid-sized organizations across a wide range of industries and markets. Our clients benefit from the proven experience of our team of over 26 professionals who deliver deep expertise and trusted guidance in all aspects of workforce management.