Back to Basics – Revisiting the Employee Handbook

Pessin Katz Law, P.A.
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Pessin Katz Law, P.A.

Congratulations! Your business made it to the year 2022. Your business survived nearly 2 years of COVID-19. You adapted your business to navigate shut-downs, quarantines, school closures, masking requirements, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, COVID-19 variants, changing consumer sentiment, the great resignation, and a host of new laws, policies, regulations, and executive orders that were adopted, repealed, changed, and updated at lighting pace. Remember Families First Coronavirus Response Act? That law, which threw many businesses for a loop, expired over 1 year ago! I know, that makes me feel old too. However, you conquered all of that, and more, during 2020 and 2021 and you are ready for 2022!

. . . . . . . Not so fast, when was the last time you reviewed your employee handbook?

As we try to anticipate the next emergency and worry how to adapt, do not forget the basics – one of which is your employee handbook. The new year is always a great time to revisit your employee handbook, shore up record-keeping practices, and clearly communicate the expectations and responsibilities in the workplace to employees.

You may have new faces in the workplace, you may have learned some lessons from the past year that you want to incorporate in your employee relations, or you may simply want to update your handbook to account for changing laws. Whatever the reason, businesses should revisit their handbook on at least a yearly basis.

If you do not have a handbook, now is the perfect time to start putting one together for your company. If you do have a handbook, now is a great time to review it for areas in need of an update. Here are some provisions that deserve some extra attention this year:

  • Telecommuting policy: Has your business shifted towards a fully remote or hybrid working environment? If so, you should address potential liability risks associated with the move towards a remote workplace, whether it be on a full or partial basis, in the telecommuting policy in your employee handbook. Here, you can address such issues as timekeeping, confidentiality and security of company information, protection of company property, applicability of company policies in a remote working environment, flexible work arrangements, remote workplace safety, employee productivity, and more.
  • Leaves and Time Off: With employees desiring increased flexibility, a tightening labor market, and competition amongst employers offering generous benefit packages, now is a good time to revisit your company’s leave and paid time off policies. With any employer-provided paid leave, be sure to clearly communicate whether such leave may be rolled over from year-to-year and/or be payable upon termination and if so, under what conditions. You should also revisit your leave policies to ensure they account for any updates in the law. For instance, as my partner, David Burkhouse wrote in his October, 2021 HR Tip, “[e]ffective October 1, 2021, the Maryland Flexible Leave Act (“MFLA”) has been amended to authorize employees to use paid leave for bereavement leave upon the death of an immediate family member.” (accessible here). Leave policies should be updated accordingly.
  • New Operations in Multiple States: Do you suddenly find your company operating in multiple states? If so, you may need to adopt state-specific provisions in your handbook to account for laws that apply in the states in which your company operates.

Whether you make any of these changes, or other changes, always have employees acknowledge receipt of a new handbook in writing and place the acknowledgement in their personnel file. You may need to use the employee’s signed acknowledgement page as an exhibit in court one day.

Getting in the habit of regularly reviewing your company’s employee handbook is a great way to manage employee expectations, set clear standards for the workplace, and keep pace with changes in the law.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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