Keeping it Current – Is it Time to Update Your Employee Handbook?

New employees, in their first week on the job, typically page through their organization’s employee handbook or “employee manual.” What they see paints a picture of the nonprofit they’ll be working for, how that organization treats employees, and what it expects from them.

Setting the stage

In the short run, an employee handbook sets the stage for many scenarios, from vacation requests and maternity leaves to performance reviews and termination procedures. Knowing the rules can prevent surprise, confusion and resentment on both sides of the table as certain situations and outcomes materialize.

In the long run, an employee handbook can help protect your nonprofit against a range of liabilities. Regardless of size, all nonprofits should offer employees a handbook that’s clear, current and complete.

Complying with rules and regulations

To stay current, update your employee handbook once a year — more often, if needed. Look at changes to federal, state and municipal employment laws. Changes over the last few years are far too numerous to detail, and vary widely by state (and municipality). But policies in the following areas (and others not covered here) may need updating:

Health care and benefits. Revisions may be needed to keep your handbook in compliance with current requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For example, if “part-time” employees are excluded from the company health care plan, that should be noted. Also, if your nonprofit chooses to use the look-back periods allowed by the regulation, it also should be mentioned. And if the definition of “part-time” is different for health benefits than for other benefits, make that distinction.

Also examine your health care and benefits policies based on any changes in your state permitting same-sex marriage and partner relationships.

Wellness programs. Wellness plans are becoming an increasingly popular staple in nonprofits’ medical plans. If you have a plan, be sure to stay on top of ACA wellness program regulations. Also keep an eye on laws that may affect the design and administration of wellness programs, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Job protections for pregnant women. New legislation in some states, including New Jersey and Illinois, provides pregnant women with job protections. These can include, for example, limits on heavy lifting, assistance with manual labor and access to places to sit. As with other compliance areas, consult an attorney to see if you need to create any new policies or update ones you already have in place.

Keeping an eye on Congress

In addition to current laws and regulations, a prudent employer will keep an eye on legislative activities and trends. Here is a listing of key, currently proposed federal legislation that, if enacted, will affect employment law — and, hence, the policies in your employee handbook.

The Equal Employment for All Act of 2013. Senate Bill 1837 would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act and prohibit employers from using consumer credit reports to make hiring or job-related decisions. Employers wouldn’t be allowed to obtain consumer or investigative reports for job candidates.

The Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act. House Rule (HR) 1751, expected to be considered for a second time by Congress, would allow employees to take leave for care of a same-sex spouse or partner, parent in-law, adult child sibling, grandchild or grandparent, son-in-law or daughter-in-law if that person has a serious medical condition.

The Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act (FMLA) of 2014. HR 3999 would amend the FMLA to cover employers with 25 or more employees rather than the current threshold of 50 or more employees, allowing employees to take “parental involvement” (including attendance at activities sponsored by a school or community) and “family wellness” leaves.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act. HR 1755 would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes where employment discrimination is prohibited, making it unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate based upon an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

A symbol of good intentions

A good employee handbook is a testament that your organization treats employees fairly and consistently, and complies with all relevant laws, rules and regulations. Be sure to have an employment attorney review your handbook annually.

Your handbook may even show that your nonprofit is ahead of the curve when it comes to employee rights and benefits. And that may make your nonprofit a stronger competitor in the job marketplace.

Sidebar:  Minimum wage changes in your state?

In 2014, 17 states and some U.S. cities raised the minimum wage for employees. Many have phase-in schedules that begin to kick in this year. Raising the minimum wage remains on the front burner in some other states.

The proposed federal Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would have increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over three years, and similar bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress in the past two years. None of these bills have made it out of committee, and there are few expectations that the issue will resurface in the Republican-led Congress this year. Nonetheless, if your employee handbook has minimum wage references, don’t forget to review them.

© 2014