HR Management & Compliance

New Year, Updated Handbook

Welcome to the new year! Now is a good time to review, revise, and update your employee handbooks to ensure legal compliance. Why? Handbooks that are out of date, have inaccurate information about current laws, or are poorly written will do more harm than good. If you don’t have an employee handbook, it’s time to put one in place for 2023. If you have an employee handbook and haven’t reviewed or updated it in the last year, it’s also the time to do so.

Welcome to the Company

Employee handbooks are often distributed to new employees within a few days of starting their job. As a result, it’s often their first introduction to the business’ culture and history, and it will set the tone for how they view their new employer.

This is a valuable opportunity to employers. Employee handbooks provide important information about your business, including a history of the business and its mission. Additionally, they provide rules for the workplace, so employees will know what’s expected of them and what the consequences will be for failing to meet the expectations.

Finally, an up-to-date handbook will help employees keep up with changes to state and federal laws, including how and where to bring complaints, how to request time off, and what leave benefits they may be entitled to.

Handbooks Are an Important Piece of Evidence

Handbooks are more than an introduction, however. At the outset of almost every employment-related lawsuit, the employee handbook is going to be requested by an attorney representing the employee.

Because most terminations are related to employee handbook policies, such as a performance policy or employee conduct policy, employers have to rely on following the handbook to justify an employee’s termination. The policies will be under siege by the employee’s attorney in an employment-related lawsuit. If they are poorly written or otherwise legally inaccurate, the employee’s attorney can lean on them to prove the employer’s liability for the termination.

The Laws Are Constantly Changing

It isn’t any secret that state and federal employment laws change frequently. If your handbook hasn’t been updated recently, it may not be compliant with current state and federal laws.

For example, over the past year, several laws have been enacted that require employers in Massachusetts to update their handbooks. One of these laws is the Massachusetts Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, which prohibits discrimination based on employees’ natural or protective hairstyles, effective October 24, 2022. As a result of this change, you should make clear in your policies that discrimination and harassment based on natural and protective hairstyles is strictly prohibited. You can do so by adding natural and protective hairstyles to the list of protected characteristics in your policies.

In addition, if you don’t have a paid family and medical leave (PFML) policy in your handbook, or if it doesn’t address specific provisions of the statute, you may be waiving some important rights as an employer due to your failure to provide notice to employees.

Finally, your handbook may also need some provisions or policies removed. For example, several COVID-19-related policies in Massachusetts are no longer in effect, such as masking and isolation rules.

Bottom Line

As 2023 begins, it’s a good time to review your employee handbook and make sure it’s compliant with all new and existing state and federal laws. Handbooks require more than a one-size-fits-all approach, and as a result, we recommend you have yours reviewed by your labor and employment counsel.

Trevor Brice is an associate at the firm of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., and can be reached at tbrice@skoler-abbott.com