Your HR New Year's Resolutions
With a new year comes a host of new business resolutions – make sure that employment practices with legal implications make the list.
Revamp Your Employee Handbook
Many organizations are still using handbooks that no longer reflect the company's current policies, or worse, do not contain comprehensive policies addressing family and medical leave, social media, conflicts of interest, religious harassment, etc. Handbooks need to be reviewed, updated and distributed on a regular basis to keep up with the latest workplace challenges.
Know Your Wage and Hour Law Compliance Rules
In recent years, the U.S. Labor Department has become increasingly active in investigating wage and hour law compliance. That, combined with a growing number of plaintiff's attorneys who specialize in wage-hour lawsuits, puts your company at risk for serious legal action – which is generally not covered by insurance. Take time to conduct a wage-hour audit to make sure you are in compliance with both federal and state laws. This will ensure you are paying everyone properly and not running up a large back wage liability for your organization.
Fine Tune Your Harassment Policy
While the number of sexual harassment lawsuits has declined during the past couple of years, charges alleging religious and racial discrimination have been increasing. Work with your HR team to create a policy that covers all forms of harassment prohibited by federal and state laws, and includes a specific reporting procedure, as well as a back-up reporting procedure for any allegations that are made. Once you've updated all of your policies, reissue them to all employees and make sure the employees sign documentation stating that they have read the updates.
Freshen up on Management Training
Many discrimination charges and lawsuits are usually the direct result of someone in a management position breaking the law or failing to act when he or she should have. Either way, your company will be held legally liable for the actions (or inaction) of any individual it places in a manager position. As a result, in order to help avoid employment-related claims, all managers should have a firm understanding of how to hire and terminate properly, how to deal with harassment complaints, how to deal with religious accommodation and how to properly counsel an employee about poor performance.
Brush up on the FMLA
Many HR team members and managers still do not understand the requirements of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As a result, they often fail to properly document the leave in writing when an employee must be gone for an extended period of time. Unfortunately for the employer, improper documentation may make otherwise lawful termination of an employee exceedingly difficult. In order to prevent surprises, work with your management team to develop a firm understanding of proper compliance with this law and what types of documentation needs to be collected in order to keep lawsuits at bay.
Beware of Workplace Bullying
- Targeting the weak: Just like playground bullies, workplace bullies target the weakest employees, or those the bully perceives as weak. Disabled, pregnant and older workers are easy bullying targets because the bully knows they can't lose their job.
- Targeting the different: Bullies hate people who are different from them – when they target protected classes, they are engaging in illegal discrimination.
- Stalking: Your state may have anti-stalking laws that prohibit the bully's behavior. For instance, Florida's anti-stalking statute provides, "A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, a misdemeanor of the first degree." There are also specific cyberstalking laws in some states.
Assault/battery: If a bully makes a co-worker fear that they are about to be hit, that's assault. If they actually engage in offensive or harmful touching or hitting, they've engaged in battery. Both assault and battery are against the law in every state.
Be sure to work with an employment attorney – this article does not constitute legal advice. Always seek counsel from local HR professionals – your diligence in navigating situations and keeping policies and practices current will pay off.
This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. (www.tpo-inc.com). Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of December 2014. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.
The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at http://www.phccfoundation.org.