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HR

6 essential updates for your 2022 employee manual

Posted by Kanika Sinha

March 30, 2022    |     6-minute read (1075 words)

The past 24 months have brought sweeping changes to the work landscape. Remote and hybrid work options have been normalized, and the demand for diversity, equity and inclusion has become more urgent. Labor laws are in flux too, as states continue to weigh in on issues such as paid family leave and COVID-19 related sick leave.

In light of these factors, and given that the U.N. advises that the pandemic is still far from over, it’s vital to update your employee manual to reflect new and evolving regulations. Aside from documenting your company’s policies, working conditions, behavior expectations and more, the employee manual ensures compliance with applicable laws and protects the firm from conflicts and litigation.

Below are six timely updates your employee manual should address in 2022.

1. Remote/hybrid work arrangements; workplace safety

Many employees now work remotely for all or part of the workweek. For in-person work, a bevy of federal, state and local vaccine and mask requirements may apply. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued guidance for employers on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 at work. 

It is important to update the employee manual to reflect revamped work setups; the business’s vaccination requirements, if applicable; and in-person safety requirements for the office.

What you should do now: Clearly outline remote or hybrid work policies in the employee manual, including any parameters around eligibility, office hours, acceptable behaviors, expectations and company-provided equipment usage. Incorporate addendums as needed for applicable safety and health regulations such as wearing masks, vaccination status, COVID-19 testing and quarantine policies. If necessary, consult an employment attorney to ensure you do not skip over any COVID-related mandates and to avoid potential employee discrimination or litigation claims.

2. Sick leave 

The pandemic has engendered an ever-changing patchwork of federal and state rules relating to paid sick leave provisions, including those linked to federal or state government declarations of public health emergencies. 

For instance, some U.S. states have set up a mandatory COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave policy in addition to pre-existing health emergency paid sick leave requirements. The state of California provides eligible employees up to 80 hours of COVID-19 related paid sick leave from January 1, 2022, through September 30, 2022, upon oral or written request to the employer. Additionally, in Colorado, employers are required to supplement paid sick leave until four weeks after the official termination or suspension of the public health emergency.

Meanwhile, at the time of publication, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has extended the nationwide COVID-19 public health emergency through April 16, 2022.

What you should do now: Determine the specific COVID-19 sick leave requirements that apply to your business’s jurisdiction, and make the appropriate employee manual updates.

3. Vacation pay policies

Some states restrict how employers fulfill payment of accrued vacation time. For instance, under California law, any accrued, unpaid vacation time is considered earned wages and is required to be paid out at the end of the employment relationship, regardless of the reason for separation. Montana and Nebraska also prohibit so-called “use-it-or-lose-it” policies.

In this era of remote work, employers need to be aware of such laws as they could apply based on the employee’s location rather than where the business is headquartered.

What you should do now: Assess applicable state laws regarding paid vacation that may apply to your business, and determine which you need to comply with. Revise your employee manual promptly.

4. Paid family leave

Although there is no federal paid family leave act, some states are striking out on their own in regard to paid family leave. For instance, beginning January 1, 2024, Colorado’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance program will require employers to provide 12 weeks of leave, with an option of an additional four weeks for birth mothers with complications.

Notably, Colorado’s law isn’t limited to parents with new children — employees can use the benefits for other qualifying reasons, such as recovering from or receiving treatment for a serious health condition, caring for a family member and more.

What you should do now: Consider modeling a policy like Colorado’s sooner rather than later, and articulate it clearly in your employee manual. Make your policy equitable by offering paternity leave as well as maternity leave to employees in same-sex partnerships, and put adoptive parents on par with biological ones.

5. LGBTQ rights

Workplace standards related to sexual orientation and gender identity have changed remarkably in the last few years, emphasized by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees.

What you should do now: Make sure your manual puts policies and practices in place that are inclusive of LGBTQ workers. Identify and prohibit workplace gaffes that could be offensive to LGBTQ employees and that could expose the business to discrimination, harassment or hostile work environment claims. Add gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation to the list of protected categories in your employee manual.

6. Dress codes

While a work-from-home dress code policy would be deemed a strange concept before the pandemic, it has become a matter of concern for certain employers. Some are rethinking dress code policies and grooming standards so as to ensure productivity and avoid perceived favorable treatment of remote employees.

In such policies, home-based employees who participate in videoconferences with customers, colleagues and partners are typically asked to don business casual attire. Many employees returning to in-office work follow the relaxed dress code too. 

It is important to note that dress codes and grooming policies have the potential for legal claims regarding discrimination and stereotyping. When considering a dress code policy for the new-age workforce, be sure to offer necessary accommodations including remote employees — for their religious beliefs or observances, medical conditions and practices associated with racial characteristics or ethnicity.

What you should do now: Review the dress code section in your employee manual to include employees who work remotely. Ensure the dress code is not discriminatory regarding gender, race or national origin. 

Lastly, employee manual updates should be ongoing

An employee manual should be a living, breathing document that keeps employees abreast of the latest policies and expectations. You should be making proactive, not just reactive, updates. When in doubt, seek the counsel of an experienced employment attorney to ensure your policies are compliant. 

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