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3 employee handbook changes to be aware of in 2018

Published on June 27th, 2018 by Triton Benefits & HR Solutions

The employee handbook is the authoritative manual on all things related to employee conduct and responsibilities, sometimes while they are both on and off the clock. In many cases, it is also meant to act as policy guide on how the company responds to employee-related situations like medical emergencies, improper conduct, vacation requests, dangerous workplace situations and many other issues.

Handbooks need to be dynamic and adaptable to any changes in society, general workplace norms and legal statures, which can shift as time moves forward. Companies should review their employee handbooks regularly to ensure they are fully compliant with any updates to worker-related policy.

There are three changes are expected to affect businesses in 2018 that could warrant companies to amend their employee handbooks.

a baby is being held by his father as he tries to feed the childEqual parental leave for mothers and fathers following childbirth is an issue some companies may have to address this year.

Parental leave for childbirth

"Handbooks need to be dynamic and adaptable to any changes in society."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate sat as low as 4 percent in December 2017. This means employees have far more choice in where they wish to work based on things like benefits and perks. One of those benefits being sought after in today's work environments is paid parental leave following childbirth.

The modern world has evolved past the traditional work model that saw only one person in a household care for the child or children. It is also common within households of all income levels for both men and women to be working simultaneously. However, this shift in who acts as provider has not been matched by accompanying policies within the workplace, especially when it comes to raising children.

Many companies still struggle to offer adequate parental-leave benefits for their employees, and the idea that businesses should be more generous in these offerings is growing rapidly. A Pew Research study found that 94 percent of Americans thought paid leave for parents with newborns would help families and around 66 percent said it would also help the economy. Of employees surveyed who have been working for the previous two years, 27 percent said they took time off work for the birth or adoption of a child.

Some companies which do provide paid parental leave offer it disproportionately in favor of women over men. This has been a contested issue within the workforce, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently filed a lawsuit against cosmetic company Estée Lauder for failing to give fathers as much bonding time as mothers, according to HR Dive. Similarly, JPMorgan Chase & Co. was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union in June 2017 for stating mothers were a child's primary caregivers which made them eligible for more time off. Anna Steffeney, founder and CEO of employee-leave advisory organization LeaveLogic, told HR Dive that other companies should pay close attention to the requests made in these lawsuits.

"The best in class advice that employers are receiving today is that you do not have a different policy [for men and women] for bonding," Steffeney said.

Disaster preparation

Wildfires, multiple hurricanes, flooding and other severe weather conditions greatly affected employees and employers nationwide in 2017. Companies should update their employee handbooks to prepare for any potential environmental disasters or extreme weather that may be placed on their staff's ability to safely work. John Meyers, partner at national law firm Barnes & Thornburg, told HR Dive that employers should have a plan on how to handle staffing issues in the event of a natural disaster.

"It's like with strike planning," Meyers said. "You have to be proactive and not reactive. It's the same thing for disaster policies."

Meyers suggested businesses devise a hierarchical structure of who manages the businesses, or certain aspects of it, during a dangerous environmental event. Companies should keep the contact information of all staff and any suppliers or related associates on hand to provide support and coordinate logistics as best as possible.

Drug Testing

The U.S. opioid epidemic combined with an increase in state acceptance of medicinal and recreational marijuana can make the company drug testing a daunting task. According to the law firm Jux, the laws surrounding drug testing applicants and employees in some states are so stringent, it may be more beneficial to forgo the process completely rather than attempt it.

Companies should ask themselves a few questions before implementing drug testing in their employee handbooks:

  • What are the state laws surrounding drug testing and will it be economically viable to comply with them?
  • How prevalent is drug use in the community? How likely is it that drug users will apply for positions in the company based on the jobs offered?

Testing for drugs and alcohol and enforcing their non-use can open employers up to unwanted legal action from an employee if they are not handled correctly. Jux recommended companies get expert advice from an attorney with familiarity on the subject before adopting a policy on drugs to avoid any missteps.

For companies that must require testing, enforcement or both, it's recommended they outline their terms and policies in as much detail as possible. This means clearly spelling out the definitions of terms like drugs, illegal drugs, substance abuse, under the influence and others.