BY CHRISTINA FIORENZA
Happy New Year! Here’s to new beginnings, great client relationships, and continued growth!
The start of a new year inevitably brings about thoughts of change, improvement, revisions, and new challenges. One crucial piece of information to review each year is your employee handbook. The employment laws surrounding various policies included in your handbook are fluid and change on a regular basis. As reviewing your handbook should be an annual goal, there are a few areas you should pay special attention to.
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1. Overtime rules: Does your handbook say, “Overtime must be approved in order to be paid?” That is in strict violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). All hours in excess of 40 hours worked in a given week must be paid to employees.
2. Performance improvement plans: Does your handbook allow you the right to choose a certain level of discipline for employees, or does it require you to follow certain steps? Having a strict step-by-step policy ties an employer’s hands when handling performance-related issues.
3. Probationary periods: Do you still use the term “probationary period” when describing your new hires’ first few months with the company? Recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings have determined that “probationary” implies employees are no longer on probation if they move past this timeframe. This may contradict the at-will employment statement by making employees feel they are no longer at risk of losing their job for any reason, or no reason at all.
4. Social media policy: Does yours currently prohibit employees from communicating with the media about company-related information without prior approval? If so, your policy could be in violation of employees’ rights to concerted protected activity, which is a “legal term used to define employee protection against employer retaliation in the U.S.”
5. Final paychecks: Do you know when you are required to have employees’ final paychecks to them? Did you know that in most states the answer depends on the circumstances surrounding the employees’ departure from the company? Be sure to check your handbook against the local laws to ensure you are in compliance.
6. Equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement: Did you know that genetic information (in addition to any part of employees’ confidential medial records) is a protected class according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)? Well, it is! Be sure your EEO policy includes this protected class.
7. Paid-time-off (PTO) payouts: Have you checked your state’s employment laws regarding the payout of accrued PTO, vacation, or sick time? Be sure to review your state’s rulings so you are in compliance. Some states, like New Jersey, are currently considering legislation for small businesses to offer PTO.
8. Break time for nursing mothers: Does your handbook include a policy regarding break time for nursing mothers? Here again, state laws differ, albeit slightly. There are 29 states that do not have a law regarding this benefit.
9. Attendance: Does your handbook state that excessive absences may result in termination without making the distinction between excused and unexcused absences? If so, you could be in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
10. Finally, do you actually practice the policies and procedures written in your handbook? Former employees win many unemployment hearings because too often employers do not follow what they have written in their handbooks. Be sure you “practice what you preach.”
As your company makes its way through your new year’s goals, use this checklist to ensure compliance. And remember, these laws are ever-changing: There will most probably be a whole new set of issues to review in another 12 months, so make it a priority to update your handbook when you change your calendar. [CD0116]
Christina Fiorenza is the HR Director for The LMC Group. She can be reached at christina@LMCpeople.com.