All Employee Handbooks Need Review and Possible Updating in 2024Dec 19, 2023
With ever-changing labor laws and regulations — and the multiple, ongoing dynamics shaping the workforce today — a regular update of the employee handbook can be an invaluable shared reference point for employers and employees to use whenever new workplace policies are implemented.
There are several important updates to the employee handbook that all employers should consider in 2024.
Has your work model changed?
Along with new labor laws and regulations, many organizations today operate in a new “post-pandemic” reality concerning where we work. It’s more important than ever for every employer to have policies and procedures clearly articulated in the employee handbook about the nature of hybrid, remote, and in-person work.
Has your work model changed over the past several years to allow hybrid and remote work? If so, it is essential to provide employees with well-defined guidelines about what those terms mean. What is your work model? What are your expectations for different employee classifications? What are the new, necessary communication protocols? What kind of reporting will be obligatory in a new model? Does the company need a new level of IT support to make this model work? What about the security guidelines for off-site work?
If you haven’t reviewed, refined, and clarified these policies in a few years, 2024 is an excellent year to do so.
Workforce development and DEI programs
There is some confusion in the world about the reach of the Supreme Court’s recent decision that declared affirmative action — using race as a factor in college and university admissions — unconstitutional. While hugely consequential in the educational sector, this decision applies only to educational institutions receiving federal money. The ruling has no direct bearing, at least to date, on the DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs currently in use by thousands of employers nationwide.
DEI programs help employers build their workforce and maintain a respectful and inclusive workplace. Numerous studies have shown that DEI programs make a difference in recruitment and improve employee job satisfaction and retention.
Employers are encouraged to develop strong and clear anti-discrimination policies in 2024, to the extent they do not have such policies already, and include these policies in a revised employee handbook. Make sure to include information about how employees can safely report experiences of harassment or discrimination.
Last year, the EEOC filed 143 discrimination lawsuits (as distinguished from charges or lawsuits filed by private parties), a 50 percent increase over 2022. In 2024, we can anticipate this trend will continue to grow.
Accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees
Legislation at the federal and state levels now requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” for an employee’s “known limitations” due to pregnancy, childbirth, or “related medical conditions.“
In New Hampshire, where Orr & Reno is located, such provisions are articulated in Senate Bill 175 and House Bill 385 — comprehensive “MOMnibus” legislation designed to help improve maternal and infant health outcomes.
Examples of reasonable accommodations — which could be included as illustrative examples in any employee handbook update planned for 2024 — might be establishing a room where nursing mothers can go to pump and save their breast milk, the ability for a pregnant employee to sit rather than stand while performing their job, permission to take more frequent breaks, park closer to the entrance, as well as take unpaid leave. Employers should review their existing policies and ensure they are in compliance with – or anticipate – the enactment of these new and proposed laws.
Compliance with the NLRB and OSHA regulations
In 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) formed an aggressively pro-labor alliance that is consistently union-friendly in its activities and rulings. One recent decision by the NLRB has sweeping implications for all employers.
In Stericycle, Inc., 372 NLRB No. 113 (Aug. 2, 2023), the Board held that employers violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), Section 8(a)(1) when issuing rules that appear neutral on the surface — such as a no-camera policy in the workplace — that a “reasonable employee” could believe infringes on their Section 7 right to organize.
Again, employers should review their existing policies — particularly those addressing standards of conduct, confidentiality, and social media usage — to determine whether the NLRB could possibly interpret any policy as discouraging employees from engaging in protected activity.
The employee handbook is a tool
Besides avoiding legal risks and communicating new policies, the employee handbook can be an extremely effective tool for communicating the terms, conditions, and parameters of the employer’s relationship with employees. It’s a significant opportunity to let employees know what your company is about and what you expect from them.
If you have any questions or concerns about any employee handbook revision you are planning in the coming months — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.