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Employee Handbook Updates - 2016 Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

Employee Handbook Subjects needing to be updated

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


If it has been a few years since your last employee handbook (if you don’t have one, we need to talk), now might be the time to dust it off and give it a good update. On the federal, state and even local levels, there have been many new laws enacted and critical court decisions that need to be reflected in your handbook.

1. Protected Speech and Social Media:

Mobile devices are increa­singly becoming a mainstream workplace tool and the use of social media permeates both our personal and profes­sional lives. While the positive aspects of these tools are obvious, there are serious concerns — companies want their employees to share positive, relevant inform­ation about the business, but not negative or confid­ential inform­ation. Few handbooks older than three or four years have sufficient language to address this concern.

Your employee handbook should discuss approp­riate online conduct. It is fine to contain language prohib­iting employees from revealing confid­ential business inform­ation, such as data on vendors and customers, but the text should avoid any language that could be interp­reted as infringing on speech and actions that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects, such as discus­sions on terms and conditions of employment such as wages, hours, collective bargaining and working condit­ions.

2. LGBT Rights

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that states must recognize same-sex marriages and companies must provide same-sex married couples the same health and retirement benefits that they offer to other wedded people. More than 20 states have gone on to expand their anti-d­isc­rim­ination protec­tions to include transg­ender indivi­duals, while the Equal Employment Opport­unity Commission (EEOC) has establ­ished that gender identity is included within protec­tions covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To demons­trate their compliance to this evolving area, employers need to revisit their benefit policies to reflect the new definition of "­spo­use­," and they should consider altering their non-di­scr­imi­nation and non-ha­ras­sment policies to include marital status, sexual orient­ation and sexual identity.

3. Retali­ation

The most common charge brought by the EEOC is retali­ation against an employee for making a complaint or because they filed a charge of discri­min­ation against their employer. It is critical to remember that how you handle a complaint can create as much of a liability for your company as the complaint itself. Employers are wise to make sure that their handbook states that the process for evaluating a claim of harass­ment, discri­min­ation (or any other claim) will be fair for both the person making the claim and for the individual who is being accused, and that the company prohibits acts of retali­ation against employees for making a charge or claim.

4. Smoking and Marijuana

Given the increasing use of e-ciga­rettes (vapes) and other smokeless devices, employee handbooks should mention e-ciga­rettes specif­ically in their smoking policy and should clearly state that they and other tobacco and nicotine products are covered under the smoking policy. Their handbook should also regulate them like any other tobacc­o-r­elated product, including where and when they can be used. Many states have eased restri­ctions on the recrea­tional and/or medical use of marijuana. While those state policies vary widely, it is generally safe to state in your handbook that marijuana used for recrea­tional and medical purposes will be treated like other drugs and substances with regard to their use at the workplace, and that use of marijuana at work and/or being under the influence of it at work is prohib­ited.

5. State Updates

Increa­singly, states and munici­pal­ities have been leading the way in passing signif­icant labor law reforms. These include mandating paid and unpaid sick leave, minimum wages, pregnant and new mother accomm­oda­tions, equal pay standards, “ban the box” legisl­ation, LGBT non-di­scr­imi­nation, drug testing, and many other changes to laws and workplace regula­tions. Remember, you are respon­sible for staying abreast of changes to laws and regula­tions within each state and munici­pality where your employees are located, and your employee handbooks should be updated or amended each year to make sure they are fully compliant with all relevant laws and regula­tions.