If you haven’t updated your employee handbook recently, it is more than overdue. With the legislative changes that took effect on January 1st, your employee handbook is likely out-of-date and therefore out of compliance in regards to current local, state and federal laws, as well as other regulations.

When done properly, an employee handbook serves as a compass by which an employee can easily navigate an organization’s policies and procedures. It is the building block on which a strong HR presence is built, and can answer nearly any question an employee has regarding company policies and procedures. If further help is needed, the handbook can advise employees on whom to go to for specific needs. Clearly defined employee policies are the key to successful employee relations, as well as avoiding potential liability issues. An outdated employee handbook can put an organization at a major financial risk, and can also put a business and its staff at a literal risk regarding their safety if policies or procedures are incomplete or haven’t been properly updated.

Your employee handbook probably already covers many of the basics, such as time-keeping procedures, benefits, dress codes, standards of conduct and computer usage policies. In addition to these essential elements, your employee handbook should reflect the most current employment laws, regulations and trends. Below are seven crucial areas to update or add to your 2019 employee handbook.

1. Sexual Harassment Policies. 2019 has brought new laws that put even more responsibility on employers to properly train employees and to address harassment claims thoroughly and consistently. When reading through your employee handbook, there should be no doubt about the types of behaviors that are considered inappropriate within your organization and there should be clear guidelines on how to and with whom to address such behaviors.

2. Gender-Inclusive Policies. Recent laws have been passed to prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification. However, many employee policies still contain language that is inherently gendered. Now is a great time to review your employee handbook and revise the language to be more gender-inclusive or gender-neutral.

3. Medical and Recreational Marijuana Policies. Medicinal use of marijuana has been legalized in many states for a while, and more recently it has become recreational in California and many other western states. Several courts have already ruled that medical marijuana users are permitted to sue employers for discrimination after they were fired or not hired based on medicinal marijuana use. This may expand to off-the-clock recreational use as well, so employers may want to be careful in how they craft their policies surrounding marijuana usage.

4. Remote Work Policies. More businesses have begun to offer the option of working remotely, but this change should not be made without very clear policies in place to protect both parties. The remote work section of the employee handbook should contain information regarding eligibility, availability, responsiveness requirements, productivity measurements, equipment, tech support, physical environment, security, client confidentiality and even rightful termination policies.

5. Family, Medical and Parental Leaves. Pregnancy leave, leave to care for a sick or injured family member or leave due to an employee’s own illness are among the most common HR administration challenges faced by employers. State and federal leave laws, such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) contain overlapping – and in some cases, conflicting – employee rights and employer obligations regarding family leave.​ In addition, California employers of 20 or more are also subject to the New Parent Leave Act (NPLA), which provides time off for bonding with a new child. Even further, if FMLA leave is used up or doesn’t apply to the employer, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may require the employer to accommodate leave of absences for disabilities such as mental health issues. Employers should review their current leave policies to ensure they are going against the many regulations in place to protect employees.

6. Independent Contractor vs. Employee Designations. Utilization and classification of independent contractors has become more complicated in recent months. If your organization utilizes any independent contractors at all, the employee handbook should contain very clear policies as to how independent contractors are differentiated from employees.

7. Arbitration and At-Will Acknowledgement. Arbitration and at-will acknowledgment are often address in the hiring process, but the employee handbook should include separate arbitration and at-will acknowledgement language as well. More new laws have been passed that dictate how employers can approach arbitration agreements, so employers should be careful to update their arbitration policies to reflect current law.

Labor law is always changing and updating, and keeping up with employment regulations on both a federal and state/local level can be overwhelming. Working with a professional employer organization (PEO) can help employers quickly and efficiently address all of their employment and HR needs and can help ensure their handbook stays current and compliant.

Emplicity understands that HR Outsourcing should be simple and meaningful. As a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), we strive to be a great partner in supporting your business. If you would like to request more information on how we can assist your needs, please reach out to us at 877-476-2339. We are located in California – Orange County, Los Angeles, and the greater Sacramento and San Francisco area.

NOTICE: Emplicity provides HR advice and recommendations. Information provided by Emplicity is not intended as a substitute for employment law counsel. At no time will Emplicity have the authority or right to make decisions on behalf of their clients.

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