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Stay Ahead Of The Game: 10 Updates To Your Employee Handbook For 2019

Have you recently updated your employee handbook?  If not, it’s certainly something employers must do before 2019 rolls around.  Handbooks require regular review, especially considering the ongoing changes in federal, state and municipal laws.  An outdated employee handbook can leave your business exposed to financial risk if you become the subject of a lawsuit brought by an employee.

Here are the 10 topics in your employee handbook you may need to update for 2019:

  1. Sexual Harassment: Both New York State and New York City have enacted anti-sexual harassment legislation.  Employers must include policies regarding the prohibition of sexual harassment in the workplace and policies explaining how employees can submit complaints of sexual harassment.  Remember, writing a policy requiring employees to report incidents to their manager isn’t helpful if the manager is the one doing the harassing – there should be multiple people complaints can be reported to.

  2. Technology and Social Media: As social networking increasingly becomes routine in our lives, employers should implement policies to educate employees on the company’s expectations and limitations on usage.  Problems ranging from workplace distractions and decreased productivity to invasion of privacy, disclosure of confidential information, and harassment may all stem from employees’ use of social media in the workplace.  Click to read more about why your company needs a comprehensive technology policy.

  3. New York State Paid Family Leave: As of January 1, 2018, private employers in New York must have Paid Family Leave insurance.  Employees may take paid leave to bond with a newborn, adopt or foster a child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, or assist loved ones when a family member is deployed abroad on active military service.  Employees must receive written guidance concerning their Paid Family Leave benefits, so employers should include a policy in their handbooks explaining the process to request Paid Family Leave and the benefits provided to employees.

  4. Military Leave Absence Under FMLA: Employers with 50 or more employees are subject to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Employers are required to adopt a written policy detailing employees’ rights under FMLA.  In addition to FMLA leave for a serious health condition, eligible employees with covered family members serving in the military may take military caregiver leave or qualifying exigency leave under the FMLA.  Military caregiver leave provides eligible employees with the right to take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious illness or injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.  Military exigency leave allows eligible employees whose spouse, parent, son or daughter is called to serve active duty, to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave related to the call-up of their family member.

  5. Genetic Information: Genetic information should be added to your list of protected classes.  The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) went into effect on January 1, 2009, yet, it is still relatively unknown to many employers.  GINA protects employees from discrimination based on their genetic information, including information about an employee’s family members.  Genetic information includes information regarding an employee’s family history and the results of genetic tests.  Employers with 15 or more employees are subject to GINA.  Violations of GINA have resulted in liability exceeding $50,000.  Employers must be aware that laws and regulations continue to expand protections to new categories of individuals – companies must stay up to date on these laws and have their written policies reflect the changes.

  6. E-cigarettes: As e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular, employers should update any no smoking policies or policies that restrict where employees may smoke to include e-cigarettes and vaping.

  7. Active Shooter Plan: Employers should create policies that set forth the protocol employees are to follow should they encounter an active shooter in the workplace.  Developing an emergency plan and practicing drills with employees can be the difference between life and death for your employees.  Click to read more about active shooter plans.

  8. FMLA and ADA: If your business is too small to be subject to FMLA or if you have employees who have used up their leave under the FMLA, employers must be aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (or similar state or local law) may require the company to reasonably accommodate employees’ disabilities.

  9. Maternity/Paternity Leave: Check your handbooks to make sure that rules for baby-bonding are the same for mothers and fathers.  While it is permissible for employers to include different standards for mothers regarding the physical limitations arising from being pregnant, all policies regarding parental leave should use gender-less terms such as “primary caretaker.”  Employers may also want to distinguish between medical leave (i.e., for recovering from childbirth) and parental leave (i.e., for bonding with the new infant).  It is discriminatory to give new fathers less parental leave time than new mothers.

  10. Multiple Locations: It is not a good idea to have a single handbook with blanket policies for workers in different jurisdictions.  Employers may be subject to different laws and rules for employees working in different states or in different counties or cities in the same state.  If you have multiple office locations or employ remote workers in different states, be sure to add state or local supplements to the handbook that is distributed to employees working within those locales.


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