Sharpen Your Pencil To Make These Policy Updates For 2021

Article contributed by Mark Adams

While many of you may be glad to put 2020 in the rearview mirror (I mean – who enjoyed 2020 right?  Didn’t think so!), let’s start the new year right! If you haven’t done it yet, this the time to iron out our policies!

So, where does your handbook stand?  What policies require attention?  Here are some areas that you may want to check out.

For Massachusetts employers, Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) is online now.  If you are a Massachusetts employer, you should critically review your attendance, leave of absence, sick time and other paid time off policies.  For instance, in your attendance policy, what is considered an occurrence?  Could there be language in your policy that could count a PFML-covered reason as an occurrence?  Even with PFML, you can hold an employee accountable for failing to follow a pre-existing policy.  Thus, when it pertains to your Call-Out policy, is it specific enough? 

For example, do you define not only when an employee needs to call out, but also who they need to communicate with (is it to their supervisor or HR?), by what means. Is leaving a voicemail permissible? Can they text?  Or, do they need to personally need to speak with the designated point of contact? 

On the subject of your leave of absence policies, have they been amended to allow for leaves of absence for PFML covered reasons?  If the company is also covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), how does your FMLA policy track time?  Is it on a “rolling forward” basis?  If not, you may want to consider changing that policy so it better aligns with the MA PFML law that tracks in that fashion.  IIt should be pointed out that under FMLA, changing your policy in that fashion does require 60-day advance notice before that change can take effect.

For employers in other states, reviewing these policies may still be warranted to ensure that they reflect your current practices regardless as well. 

With the rise of COVID-19, employers may also want to look at their handbooks to see if their policies should be augmented to more formally cover such topics as Communicable Diseases and Remote Work.  While employers may have adapted to these subjects on the fly, it is probably time to put some structure into your practices so you can account for these inevitable needs in the future.

If you have not had your handbook reviewed in a few years, chances are that other policies may not be as complete as they should be.  For instance, your EEO policy may not account for all the current “protected classes” that are out there. 

State pregnancy accommodation laws now give rise to pregnancy accommodation policies – does your handbook contain one? 

With the rise of Gender Identity protections, does your handbook contain gender-specific pronouns or is it written in a manner that avoids them?

Finally, notwithstanding the compliance changes and developments over time, there remains the reality that our businesses are not static, but rather are ever-changing.  Do our policies simply need to be updated to reflect our current practices and culture?

Whatever the reason, if you haven’t looked at your policies in a while, now is the time.  Time to sharpen the pencil and update your employee handbooks