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Updating Employee Policies and Procedures

Procedures-policies

It is critical for employers to update policies and procedures to comply with the latest local, state, and federal laws and regulations.  Clear and updated policies and procedures provide direction to employees and protection for employers. Below is a summary of several updates California employers should consider in 2019 and beyond.

Sexual Harassment Policy

The #MeToo movement has prompted updated requirements related to the prevention of harassment and discrimination.  Several states have passed laws requiring annual training of employees aimed at preventing sexual harassment. California has expanded requirements regarding anti-sexual harassment prevention training where employers are to provide at least two hours of training to all supervisory employees and at least one hour of training to all nonsupervisory employees by January 1, 2020.  Employers in California can now be held responsible for the acts of nonemployees with respect to any harassment (not just sexual harassment) prohibited by Fair Employment House Act (“FEHA”), including harassment based on race, religious creed, color, national original, and ancestry.

Employers’ procedures preventing sexual harassment should define harassment, outline clear instructions on how to report an incident, explain what the investigative process entails, define the potential consequences of harassing behavior, and provide protection against retaliation.  Given the intense media, especially social media, attention regarding harassment, employers should expect law makers to continue regulation in this area in years to come. Learn about other employment discrimination claims in our related blog article.

Lactation Accommodation Policy

Various states have updated their laws regarding reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding women.  As of January 1, 2019, employers in California are required to provide locations other than bathrooms for breastfeeding mothers to express milk and are also required to provide reasonable amounts of break time.

It is advisable that employers review their current lactation accommodation policies to ensure compliance with current laws.

Leave Policies

Generally, new state and municipal laws outlining paid sick leave time or family leave are more stringent than federal laws and regulations.  Many states have amended laws to require paid family leave and expand existing laws to cover smaller employers.  Some states require employers to outline their leave policies in writing in the employment contract.  In California, paid family leave has been expanded to cover unpaid military-related leaves of absences, effective January 1, 2021.

New policies have forced many employers to review their current policies to ensure compliance.  The best resource to understand your state’s specific leave policies is your state’s website. It is recommended that employers seek the guidance of a lawyer to review their leave policies to ensure compliance with any new laws.

Drug Use Policy

Medical marijuana is legal in the majority of states.  The legalization of recreational use of marijuana has also recently expanded to various states.  Nonetheless, legalization does not restrict employers’ rights to maintain a drug-free workplace. Employers should review their drug use policies to address the unauthorized use of drugs in the workplace and the consequences of such use.

Pay Secrecy Policy

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), among other things, protects employees’ rights to organize, discuss wages, and negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment.  Some states expressly prohibit pay secrecy policies. California’s Fair Pay Act was recently amended to clarify that employees may ask applicants about salary expectations and make compensation decisions based on an employee’s current salary.  Any resulting wage differential must be based on a bona fide factor other than sex, race, or ethnicity.

Employers should consider reviewing their hiring processes and training hiring personnel on how to properly question applicants regarding salary expectations.  Applications and new hire packets should also be reviewed to ensure compliance with current law.

Final Thoughts

It is good practice for employers to review their HR policies and procedures at least once a year to ensure compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws. While it may be challenging to keep up with every new law, thoughtfully drafted and communicated policies ensure fair and consistent treatment of employees and establishes legal protections for employers. Employers may consider hiring a lawyer who can advise of changes in laws that affect the business.

For more information about employment litigation or employee and employer policies, procedures, laws and regulations, contact the attorneys at Bremer, Whyte, Brown & O’Meara LLP.