Workplace laws are changing rapidly, especially around COVID-19 safety rules and state-level paid leave requirements. Employers should review their manuals to ensure policies are updated as the pandemic continues and new laws come into effect at the federal, state and local levels.
“Annual employee handbook reviews, conducted by attorneys, are always a prudent way to stay one step ahead,” said Timothy McCarthy and Stephanie Peet, attorneys for Jackson Lewis in Philadelphia, in a joint statement. “Employers should try to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to workplace issues.”
Topics that should be a priority for HR professionals include COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies, accommodation requests, and remote work rules. “Employers should also review their sick leave and paid time off policies to ensure these policies are followed and appropriate, given workplace changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said. said McCarthy and Peet.
Many paid leave rules apply for more than pandemic-related reasons. “Employers should also keep an eye out for the potential for paid vacation at the federal level,” said Carrie Hoffman, an attorney at Foley & Lardner in Dallas. “Several paid vacation proposals have gained traction in Congress. If passed, the manuals will need to be updated.”
Here are some key factors employers should consider when revising their manuals in 2022.
COVID-19 vaccination policies
“Employers should be aware of the laws in their jurisdictions governing COVID-19 vaccination mandates,” McCarthy and Peet said. While some states and localities have passed laws mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for certain employee populations, other jurisdictions have taken the opposite route and instead prohibited employers from requiring vaccinations or expanded exemptions. .
The United States Supreme Court recently suspended the federal government’s rule on vaccines or testing for companies with at least 100 employees. Many covered employers have already developed policies to comply with the directive and will need to decide whether to rescind those policies, adjust them to suit business needs, or move forward as planned.
Employers should note that lawsuits regarding federal and state workplace vaccination mandates are still ongoing. Employers should continue to monitor developments in the litigation, Hoffman said, and should consider what COVID-19 safety policies they want to implement and how best to educate their staff about these issues.
In workplaces with vaccination guidelines, employees may be entitled to reasonable accommodation based on medical or religious objections. McCarthy and Peet suggested that employers develop written accommodation policies that address the steps managers and HR representatives should take when they receive a request for accommodation.
“To this end, employers should consider training their managers and human resources employees involved in assessing accommodation requests so that they are aware of the employer’s policies and legal requirements,” they said. they stated.
Remote work rules
“The pandemic has resulted in an increasing number of companies moving towards hybrid workforce models, and many employees have expressed a preference for remote and flexible work arrangements,” Jim Evans observed. , attorney at Alston & Bird in Los Angeles.
As companies bring employees back to the workplace, he said, HR professionals should be prepared to handle requests from employees who want to continue remote working arrangements.
Make sure you have clear, documented explanations of why certain positions may be remote and why others require physical presence, Evans said, noting that employers should carefully consider employee requests to work from home. as a reasonable accommodation.
Litigation associated with a return to work is on the rise, particularly claims relating to remote work, furloughs, disability discrimination and retaliation, Evans added. “Employers must be careful when responding to employee safety concerns and requests related to continuing remote work. There must be clear and documented reasons for staff actions based on objective criteria and non-discriminatory.”
McCarthy and Peet said employers should also review their policies governing workplace confidentiality, telecommuting and the use of their electronic systems.
Evolution of leave policies
The most important items for employers to monitor at the state level involve paid and unpaid vacation laws, McCarthy and Peet noted. Many states have expanded access to leave for COVID-19 and other medical reasons.
“California always has new laws that will require updates to their textbooks,” Hoffman observed. For example, effective January 1, California’s family rights law was expanded to allow covered workers to take leave to care for a step-parent.
Connecticut and Oregon have also expanded their family leave laws, and Illinois has a new law requiring employers to grant victims of violent crime (and family members of victims) unpaid leave or allow them to take available paid leave.
Wage and hour changes
“Employers need to be vigilant on the wage and hour front as many states update their overtime and minimum wage regulations, many of which overlap with federal law,” McCarthy and Peet said. For example, Pennsylvania is removing its separate white-collar exemptions from overtime pay rules and adopting the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) criteria.
To qualify for white-collar exemptions under the FLSA, employees must perform certain duties, be compensated on a salary basis, and meet a minimum wage threshold. Currently, the FLSA salary threshold is $35,568, but some states have a higher threshold for exempt workers.
Additionally, 25 states have scheduled minimum wage increases for some time in 2022, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, with the majority taking effect Jan. 1. Many state and local wage rates have increased in phases each year, eventually reaching $15 an hour, and some have already reached or exceeded that rate.
Stay ahead of the changes
Keeping abreast of legal changes affecting the workplace can be difficult for employers. Hoffman suggested that HR departments create a digital file for all legal updates received electronically and let the entire HR team add to the file. The information in the file can be used as a starting point for revising the manual.
[Need help creating a handbook? Check out SHRM’s employee handbook builder.]
“Of course, we also recommend a legal review and a review of updated laws in the jurisdictions in which the employer operates to ensure that all such legal updates have been captured,” she said.