By: Melanie Berkowitz, Esq.
The start of the new year is the perfect time for employers big and small to review and update their employment policies. New legislation often goes into effect on January 1st. When you confirm your company's compliance with new legal requirements, it makes sense to audit other employment policies and procedures at the same time.
Make it your company's "New Year's Resolutions" to take a look at the following three issues:
Resolution # 1: Review Your Employee Handbook
An employee handbook should be filled with useful information that all employees need to know about their workplace such as compensation, benefits, rights, rules and procedures. But even if an experienced employment lawyer drafted your handbook, don't assume all is well...
When was the last time someone reviewed it?
A compliance trap that catches many employers is the failure to regularly update their employee handbook to reflect changes in the law or new policies that result from a merger or reorganization. For example, does your handbook reflect these recent legal developments?
If your handbook does not include these new laws or if you haven't taken a comprehensive look at your employment policies in over a year, now is the time to sit down with your human resources department and an employment attorney for a review. Don't get caught with a handbook that lacks critical policies or holds employees to standards that no longer apply to the workplace.
And don't make your handbook an employment contract!
An attorney can also help draft proper disclaimer language to ensure that nothing in your handbook or policies contains a promise of employment or benefits and that major policy changes are communicated to the workforce legally and effectively. For example, if you make significant changes to an employment benefit, do you need to give your employees something in return for accepting the change? A lawyer can let you know.
Resolution # 2: Protect Your Employees' Personal Information
Where does your company keep its personnel files?
What information is in them?
Who has access to the files?
Is personnel data kept in electronic form encrypted and password-protected?
How does your company maintain employees' medical or health information, if it has it at all?
How do you insure that your employees' sensitive information is not viewed, used or even stolen by unauthorized users?
If you answered these questions by consulting your company's carefully drafted, attorney-reviewed file security policy, good for you.
If you are currently envisioning your office's high-traffic, open-to-all human resources office with file cabinets and files in plain sight and accessible to anyone who walks through the door, or if you don't know how your company keeps its files secure, keep reading.
Now is the time to sit down and draft a file security policy. With identity theft constantly on the rise and many companies moving their records to electronic form, it's essential to have a plan in place to keep personal information safe.
Not only does it make good business sense, but in some cases, it's the law: the recently passed Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) requires employers to maintain employees' health information (if they have it) in a secure area separate from other personal information. Many states have laws that further protect employee information, including what may be maintained in a personnel file, who may review it, and when and how an employee may access the information in his or her file. Violation of such a law can carry strict penalties.
Don't wait until your company suffers a security breach to prioritize the security of your employees' personal information. It just makes good business sense.
Resolution # 3: Update Your Workplace Employment Postings
We've all seen them in the break room or locker room -- those big posters announcing various employment rights such as minimum wage, equal employment opportunity or job safety. Most employers know they are required by law, but simply posting them is not enough. Like employee handbooks, workplace postings need to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Small businesses have different posting requirements than larger companies and it's important to make sure that your workplace postings are accurate and compliant.
If you are a small business without a large human resources department, it can be easy for a regular "poster review" to get overlooked. Dozens of companies sell employment posters as a package for a flat fee. But that is not necessary.
Copies of all required Federal employment posters are available for free from the Department of Labor. The DOL's website explains which posters are required depending on the size and nature of the employer. Posters are offered in several different languages as well. The topics covered include:
- Fair Labor Standards Act/Minimum Wage
- Workplace Safety (OSHA)
- Equal Employment Opportunity
- Family and Medical Leave Act (which is not applicable to some small employers)
- Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act
- Employee Rights for Workers With Disabilities Paid at a Special Minimum Wage
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- Military Leave (USERRA) Rights
In addition, Federal contractors may have additional posting requirements. These are also included on the DOL's website. Also, individual states may have their own posting requirements for state laws; check with your state's department of labor or equal employment opportunity office to determine any state requirements.
None of the information provided herein constitutes legal advice on behalf of Monster.