Have You Checked Your Handbook Lately?

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Ginger Galloway, SPHR, MBA | February 8, 2019

The beginning of the year is a great time to update employee handbooks.  Even if you have a few employees, having a handbook helps make the work place easier to understand and some critical policies are required for all employers. Here are a few handbook areas you want to check to make sure you are still in compliance.  Last month SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) recommended five areas that employers should check in their handbooks.  We are looking at those same areas but adding a different look.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)

Besides Federal protections, many state and local agencies are establishing their own EEO guidelines.  You need to know if your state and local agencies have implemented additional protections, definitions, education requirements or posting requirements.  EEO protections filter into many handbook policies such as anti-harassment, staffing and hiring and termination policies.  Make sure these are all in compliance.

Reasonable Accommodations

Some states, such as California, clarified current laws such as California’s Lactation Requirement.  Providing a space in the employee restroom, separate from a stall, is not enough.  The space should be private such as an office or room that can be locked.  Also, many companies have wellness programs.  Employers need to ensure they are providing accommodations to people with disabilities to allow them to participate as well.

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Leaves of Absence

States and local agencies continue to expand leave of absence policies.  The most common expansion is mandatory paid sick leave.  Employers also need to know about domestic violence leave, paid family leave, and leave for military members and their families.  These leaves are extending into small employers.

Equal Pay and Pay Discrimination

Again, states and local agencies continue to expand fair pay laws.  It isn’t necessarily fair pay for the same work.  It can also be fair pay for comparable work.  In California, employers cannot ask a potential applicant what their pay was in prior positions.  Please review applications to ensure this is not a required field and make sure anyone involved in the hiring process knows they cannot ask this question.

Driving for Work

According to the National Safety Council, more than 90 percent of car crashes are due to human error and distracted driving is a main culprit.  If you have employees who regularly drive in the course of their job, you need to make it very clear that they must not text while drive and not be distracted.  Distractions can be anything that takes their eyes off of the road such as viewing GPS, reading devices or physical material, eating and talking to other people virtually or physically in the car.

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Smoke and Vape-Free Workplaces

California already has a bunch of ordinances and laws on the books prohibiting smoking in public places.  Ensure you have designated smoking areas outside of the workplace and away from entrances.  Also, questions have arisen regarding vaping and marijuana use.  Employers can prohibit workplace use of vaping devices.  Finally, employers in states where marijuana is legal should include a statement in their Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace policy that marijuana use is prohibited, just like alcohol use is prohibited, in the workplace.

Violence in the Workplace

Employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe, violence-free and harassment-free workplace.  Many state and local agencies have regulations around violence at work and the employer is expected to know these regulations.  Mental health professionals indicate that individuals may exhibit certain behaviors and signs

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before engaging in violent acts.  Some of these behaviors and signs, especially if combined, are anger, hostility, extreme agitation and resentment, ominous threats, discussing weapons and their use, overreactions and personality conflicts with co-workers.  Policies should indicate that the business expects its employees to use reasonable judgement and if they hear or observe of potentially dangerous situations, they must report it immediately to management.