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4 Policies to Consider When Updating Your Employee Handbook for 2019

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reviewing employee handbook2019 is right around the corner. Reviewing and revising your employee handbook should top your list of New Year’s resolutions. In light of recent laws and regulations, this year’s updates are particularly vital to your organization’s compliance.

We compiled a list of four policies to consider while updating your employee handbook this year.

1. Sexual Harassment

The #MeToo movement helped transform workplace culture and prompted many states to review their workplace sexual harassment laws. Both New York State and New York City passed such laws, some of the most aggressive in the country. The city and state regulations are similar, requiring employers to conduct annual training aimed at preventing sexual harassment and post their policies in conspicuous places for their employees to view.

All businesses, not just NY-based ones, should re-examine their sexual harassment policies and outline them clearly in their employee handbook. Policies need to define harassment, explain what behavior is unacceptable, let employees know exactly how to report an incident, and the process to investigate claims and take corrective action.

2. PTO and Paid Sick Leave

Starting October 29, 2018, New Jersey employers of all sizes are required to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year to covered employees. Just about every employer and employee in New Jersey is affected. This new legislature is forcing many businesses to review their current policies to ensure compliance.

One of the most common questions Lisa Salcido, Director of Balance Point’s HR consulting service BPHR, is being asked is “We have an all-encompassing PTO policy, not specifically sick leave, are we compliant?” Upon further examination, Lisa is finding that the majority of these organizations are not and do need to revise their policies. As a result, she recommends that all employers seek expert guidance when reviewing their sick or bundled paid time off policies, and procedures for requesting time off, then revise their employee handbook accordingly.

3. Drug Use

Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 30 states and recreational marijuana in nine. The number of states added to the list keeps growing and may soon include New York and New Jersey. If New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has his way, full legalization will be completed in the Garden State by the end of the year.

For legalization to be effective, employers must be able to maintain a drug-free workplace. The NJBIA is requesting that any legislation clearly state that legalization does not repeal or restrict the rights and obligations of employers, or require an employer to permit or accommodate the use of marijuana, even if it is legal. Drug-free workplace laws have been around for years and have proven to be successful. The first step is to have a formal written policy in your handbook addressing the unauthorized use of illegal and legal drugs in the workplace. It should spell out exactly what actions will be taken if someone is suspected of being under the influence.

4. Classifying Independent Contractors

The issue of classifying independent contractors remains a hot topic amid the rise of the gig economy and high-profile court cases, like Uber. In 2015 drivers were found to be eligible for unemployment benefits, something usually reserved for employees. After a long legal battle that decision was reversed, but the debate continues.

The DOL continues to crack down on employee misclassification. In New Jersey, a task force was commissioned to ensure that workers are protected and that businesses are playing by the rules. To stay in the clear, companies should review their independent contractor policies to ensure they are specific on what denotes an employee versus a contractor. In order for your employee handbook to be an effective reference tool, employee classifications (such as full-time, part-time, exempt and non-exempt) should be defined and be consistent with the terms of your benefit plans. Some conflicts in eligibility definitions can lead to legal liability.

Your Employee Handbook is More Important Than Ever

Much, much more than a show piece to hand new hires, your employee handbook is a necessary tool to communicate workplace policies and to help your organization avoid potential litigation. Don’t tackle it on your own. BPHR’s handbook building tool allows for real-time updates of federal, state and local laws so you can rest assured knowing yours is always up-to-date.

Our experts can help you draft and maintain a handbook that is as engaging as it is compliant. To learn more about Balance Point’s HR consulting service (BPHR) and how we can help with your employee handbook, schedule a phone consultation today.

Watch our Webinar: Employee Handbook Obligations for NJ Businesses – BPHR’s Director Lisa Salcido, SPHR, SHRM-SCP presents the policies all NJ businesses must consider to ensure a current and compliant handbook in light of recent labor laws. View the recording.

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