Employee Handbook Updates: A Top Priority At The Bottom of Your To-Do List

Employee Handbook Updates To Watch For Including Medical Marijuana, Sexual Harassment, Parental Leave Laws, Class Action Waivers, Accommodations For Employees and Disability Laws


They’re most likely at the bottom of your “to-do list”, but they shouldn’t be.  In the wake of ever-changing tides in Washington, your employee handbook has most likely become outdated, meaning your handbook is no longer properly providing legal protection to your organization and employees.

Should you be concerned? The answer is simple – yes!

In fact, in many employment-related lawsuits the language in the employee handbook dictated the outcome of the case. Are you paying attention now?

To remain compliant, employers not only need to watch national news headlines, but also stay up to date on their state’s changing legislation to supplement federal laws. A few hot-button issues which may spark a need for employee handbook updates are already in the spotlight for 2018 and are gaining legislative attention.

Class Action Waivers and Arbitration Agreements
A decision from the Supreme Court is expected to be released in the coming months, putting the final say on the battle between employers and employees over class action waivers.

Employers should look out for the decision on the legality of class action waivers and be prepared to take steps to remove such forms from practice.  However, the adjustment of handbook polices should wait until the decision is released.

Parental Leave Laws
A pertinent example of states expanding their policies to bridge the gap where federal legislation leaves off is the expansion of parental leave in many states.

Examples of expansion include the introduction of Paid Family Leave and job-protected baby bonding leave in some states.  Employers should also remove separate maternal and paternal bonding language or standards from their handbook and merge the standards using guardian neutral language.  This push for equal parenting standard does not apply to standards set for mothers during pregnancy.

Accommodations for Employees
In certain cases the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may protect workers’ leave requests whose case may not be obviously identified as disability.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believes that beyond the Family Medical Leave Act, an additional extended leave may be granted under the ADA. However, not all courts agree.

Some states and jurisdictions are also implementing further accommodation requirements for expecting mothers.  Examples of these requirements include but are not limited to more breaks for the bathroom, water intake, or rest, access to a chair or stool, time off for prenatal appointments, a private, clean space for breast feeding, assistance with duties such as manual labor or heavy lifting, time off to recover from medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Medical Marijuana Legislation
In addition to monitoring the development of leave and pregnancy accommodations, employers should also be aware of laws crafted around medical marijuana and their tie to disability laws. Employees who were fired because of their medicinal use or job candidates who were passed over for the same reason may have substantial backing to take their claims to court thanks to disability laws.

Sexual Harassment
As outlined in a previous release, sexual harassment laws are expected to expand in the workplace.  It is important to review and revise your employee handbook policies to increase clarity.

If your business operates in California or Maine, be sure to compare your handbook policies with the states’ sexual harassment training polices which changed in 2017.

The Bottom Line
Employee handbooks should be appraised on an annual basis with increasing attention to state and local legislation.  If your business operates in more than one state, explore the option of creating spate handbooks to reflect each areas’ differing policies.

For more information on how this subject impacts your organization, or to learn how Baker Tilly Vantagen experts can help, contact our team.