Staying on top of changes in state and federal employment law can be something of a challenge. It is a good idea to designate someone in your human resources department to comb through your employee materials and make sure they’re up to date, and the beginning of the year can be a good time to do that.
Of course, if you need to make certain your employee handbook and other materials reflect current law, you may want to have an employment law attorney review them. This can be especially important if you have offices in multiple states or the District of Columbia
We cannot go over every potential change in a blog post, but here are a few areas you may want to update:
Sexual harassment policies. After the #MeToo movement took off, there was pressure on employers to increase anti-sexual harassment efforts. Multiple jurisdictions updated the requirements for training and policies, including Illinois, California and New York. You should ensure you have a clear, actionable policy against sexual harassment. This should include a legally compliant definition of harassment and perhaps some examples of prohibited conduct.
Marijuana policies. With more jurisdictions making it legal to use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, your policy about off-duty use of marijuana could need an update. Some courts around the country have already said that employees may not be punished for legally using medical marijuana during their off hours. Medical marijuana use may also have disability and HIPAA implications. Consider focusing your policy on prohibiting impairment in the workplace. And, two states have already started prohibiting pre-employment marijuana tests in non-safety sensitive positions. This could become a trend.
Data privacy rules. Increasingly, there is a risk that sensitive employee data could be exposed or stolen. For employers, the risk can also include violating HIPAA privacy requirements. Sit down and come up with policies and procedures for protecting employees’ medical and disability information as well as your own proprietary data.
Professional appearance rules. New York, New Jersey and California have added natural and ethnic hairstyles to the list of characteristics that are protected by anti-discrimination laws, and other jurisdictions are sure to follow. If your employee policies include rules on what hairstyles are considered professional for the workplace, be aware that legal standards are in flux. Even vague language about hair needing to be “neat” or “well groomed” can be read as implicitly discriminating against people with ethnic hairstyles.
For more information about changes in the law, follow our blog or set up a consultation with an experienced attorney.