As an employer, you probably know that employment laws change from year to year. These changes in the law necessitate changes to your employee handbook. Many employment law attorneys can attest that 2016 was a very busy year in the employment arena. Your employee handbook needs to keep pace with these changes in the law in order to possibly prevent any employment related issues before they can even occur.

The following are some employment law changes that occurred in 2016, which may require some changes in your employee handbook:

  1. Minimum wage law changes: A number of communities in the Bay Area have increased their minimum wages. Employers in those areas must pay more than the federal minimum wage. Many of those increases in minimum wage took effect January 1, 2017. Others will take effect in the middle of 2017 or early in 2018. Also, there was a state-wide minimum wage increase that will be rolled out over the next several years ending in 2023. Employers must stay on top of changes in the minimum wage so that they are in compliance with the law.
  1. Drug testing laws: Late last year, California approved a measure which would legalize recreational marijuana use among adults. The law is still being implemented, and it’s unclear exactly when marijuana will be available in stores. In the meantime, you may need to consider your drug use and drug testing office policy. This is tricky because while recreational marijuana use is now legal in California, it is still illegal under federal law. In fact, the new U.S. Attorney General under the Trump administration has confirmed that marijuana use is illegal under federal law. Therefore, employers may need to consult with an employment law attorney to make sure their drug testing policies comply with both state and federal laws.
  1. Paid sick leave laws: California’s laws on paid sick leave are changing constantly. Depending on which city or county your business is in, your employees may be entitled to paid sick leave, which they may not have been entitled to in the past. Many of these laws apply to all employers, regardless of the employer’s size. There may also be specific rules about to which employees the rules apply. It’s important that employers sit down regularly to determine whether their sick leave policies comply with local, state, and federal laws and confirm their policies in writing
  2. Background checks: Employers also need to look at their policies regarding background checks. Many cities now have rules that prohibit employers from asking questions about an applicant’s criminal background in the initial application. Employers need to stay current with those background check rules, to ensure that their application process does not violate a potential employee’s legal rights or the rules about background checks.
  1. No retaliation for reporting: Employees should be encouraged to report legal violations. A number of decisions in 2016 made it clear that employers should encourage employees to report accidents and legal violations that occur in the workplace. A decision from OSHA makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for reporting a workplace injury. Employers should consider adding language to their handbooks that specifically gives employees the right to report any violations of the law to federal regulatory agencies, and should even include contact information of where to report.
  1. Language curbing communication among employees: In 2016, the policies of a few companies which seemed to violate employees’ right to communicate were found to be unlawful. Specifically, one company had a rule that required employees to “maintain a positive work environment”, which could be seen to limit employees’ communications about joining a union and collective bargaining. Some companies maintain social media policies that limit the information employees can post online about the company. Companies should consult with an employment law attorney about any company-wide policies that require or discourage certain communications among employees.

As you can see, there are a number of tricky issues involving employee rights, and therefore,  handbooks that need to be addressed. If you have any questions about how to best draft your employee handbook, you should consult with an employment law attorney. If you are in the San Francisco Bay area, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment law attorney at 510-645-1000. She can help. Call today to learn more or to schedule a free consultation.

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