Chances are that in 2023, your workforce will be more diverse, more geographically dispersed, and more demanding than ever. For many workers, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a realization that their employers weren’t delivering on promises of work/life balance, pay, and other equity and basic fairness. For these workers, employers will have to prove they’ve changed. Revising your handbook provides an opportunity to do just that and incorporate recent legal requirements.
Don’t delay and put your business at risk, here are the areas that need updating.
You can be sure your workers are still thinking about the Thanksgiving Walmart workplace shooting in which a supervisor gunned down six subordinates as they gathered for a team meeting prior to their overnight shift. They may have read news accounts highlighting prior employee complaints against the supervisor – complaints that appear to have gone nowhere. Some may even be wondering what safety measures their employer has implemented to protect against a similar attack or other workplace violence.
Make sure you update or add safety policies to your handbook. Start with the basics like a strict no-fault violence and threats of violence disciplinary policy. Your policy should make it clear that any violation will result in immediate termination. Then address each type of workplace violence as outlined by OSHA in their guidance and at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). These are:
- Criminal intent. The perpetrator has no legitimate business relationship to the workplace and usually enters the affected workplace to commit a robbery or other criminal act. Your handbook policy should assure employees that you have plans for possible criminal acts and are committed to regularly updating prevention measures.
- Customer or client. The perpetrator is either the recipient or the object of a service provided by the affected workplace or the victim. The assailant may be a current or former client, patient, customer, passenger, criminal suspect, inmate, or prisoner. Your handbook policy should acknowledge potential violence and offer training for vulnerable employees. OSHA provides industry-specific guidance and training ideas.
- Co-worker or supervisor. The perpetrator has some employment-related involvement with the affected workplace. Usually, this involves an assault by a current or former employee, supervisor, or manager. Your handbook policy should reassure workers that you take every complaint seriously, have processes in place for security during and after contentious discharges or disciplinary meetings, and encourage workers to speak with HR about alarming behavior.
- Personal relationship. The perpetrator is someone who does not work there but has or is known to have had a personal relationship with an employee. Your handbook policy should encourage workers to use your employee assistance program to address relationship and mental health challenges and provide information on how to access treatment.
Finally, as part of your workplace violence policies, adopt the strictest no-weapons policy possible under your state’s laws. You can tell employees no weapons are allowed at work. If you are in a state that allows workers to store unloaded weapons in their automobiles in company-owned parking lots, you may want to use a weapons checkpoint at entries.
When updating your handbook, look for ways to show your commitment to the ideals exemplified in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) movement. That includes updating your non-discrimination policy to clearly state your commitment to DEI. Do the same with your discrimination and harassment policies, including your reporting policies.
Even if you operate in one of the few states that have passed rules limiting how you can train employees on DEI topics, you can demonstrate your commitment through handbook rules and policies.
For example, training programs focused on racial equality have hit roadblocks in Florida. There, the legislature passed a law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, that made it an unlawful employment practice to subject “any individual, as a condition of employment” to training that promotes a defined list of DEI concepts. That law is under challenge, but has chilled some organizations’ training efforts.
But laws like this don’t stop you from revising your anti-discrimination policy to include diversity, equity and inclusion as company values.
Other examples of highlighting your commitment includes policies covering the following:
CROWN Act and grooming updates
One of the biggest changes to grooming policies in the last few years is the loosening of rules on hairstyles. The reason? It started with an initiative sponsored by Dove called the Coalition to Advance Anti-Hair Discrimination Legislation. That model legislation, the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) is now the law in 18 states plus about 40 cities and towns. More legislatures are likely to add anti-hair discrimination laws in 2023. Plus, Congress may pass similar legislation sometime in 2023.
These laws generally make it illegal for employers (and others) to discriminate against individuals because they maintain a natural or cultural hairstyle. Some versions of the legislation specify protected hairstyles, including braids, dreadlocks, and afros.
California goes further, redefining the commonly used grooming policy phrase “professional” to include natural hair because “[p]professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances….in order to be deemed professional.”
Even if you are not in a CROWN Act jurisdiction, consider adopting your own version. Allowing natural hairstyles is one way to highlight your efforts to become more inclusive.
Harassment and discrimination training
More states are mandating employee and manager sexual harassment training. Most recently, some states are adding recognizing human trafficking to their harassment training.
Other jurisdictions require sexual harassment training for some job classifications like tipped staff. Even if it’s not required in your jurisdiction, you can add handbook policies that require employees, including managers, to undergo appropriate training.
The push for employers to publish pay information or at least allow applicants and workers to freely discuss compensation and benefits has picked up steam. In fact, pay transparency laws that prohibit using past pay as the starting point and openly stating what a position pays are seen as the way to stop past pay discrimination from being perpetuated.
A growing number of states and cities have passed laws that require posting pay ranges so applicants know upfront what pay to expect. For example, new laws take effect in 2023 or took effect in late 2022 in California, Rhode Island, New York state, and New York City. Twenty-nine states and territories plus the District of Columbia also either limit when an applicant must disclose past salary or prohibit setting starting salary based on past salary. If you haven’t already, check in every jurisdiction where you operate whether there are new pay disclosure or salary-setting rules.
Even if your state does not require pay transparency, eliminating handbook rules that discourage or forbid discussing compensation helps demonstrate your commitment to equal pay for equal work. Plus, dropping those rules makes it less likely your organization will face unfair labor practice charges under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), accusing you of stifling the ability of workers to better their working conditions by discussing those conditions including how much they are paid.
Remote work policies
Unless you do not have any employees working remotely, you need telework rules in your handbook. These rules should be clear and specific and include a list of positions eligible for remote work. Set minimum requirements for being approved for telework.
These can include:
- Minimum length of service.
- When telework success will be reviewed and renewed or withdrawn.
- Expected schedule and permitted working hours.
- Being located in an approved state or city for telework.
- Meeting minimum requirements for a workspace including broadband access and other equipment.
- Provisions for assuring privacy and data security.
- Details about expense reimbursement.
- Rules for remote meetings, including dress and grooming rules, appropriate backgrounds, and removal of potentially offensive or harassing objects and materials.
If you provide opportunities for telework on a select basis, make sure your policy also states that remote work may be an option as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
Be sure to review any outdated COVID-19 pandemic rules you may have added to your handbook over the last three years. Remove any that no longer apply.
For example, many employers have dropped testing and vaccine requirements in the face of falling cases and lawsuits over mandated shots. But before you do, check with your state for any COVID-19 health and safety measures still in effect.
You can also update your pandemic handbook provisions, labeling them as emergency contingency rules. That way, you can reactivate the rules should cases surge in your area.