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Spring cleaning: Give employee handbook a thorough going-over

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in Career Management,Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources,Workplace Communication

Because employment laws and your business are in a constant state of flux, it’s critical to keep your personnel policies up-to-date. As spring approaches (yes, it will be here someday), one item on every HR professional’s spring cleaning list should be a review of the organization’s employee handbook.

In light of recent legal changes, be sure your policies include these updates:

Genetic information

Include genetic information on your list of protected classes.

As we reported last month, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) recently went into effect. GINA prohibits discrimination based on employees’ and applicants’ genetic information, and that of their family members as well.

Genetic information includes the results of genetic tests, along with information about family medical histories.

As a result of this new law, you should add genetic information to the list of protected characteristics in your nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.

FMLA and the military

Update the military sections of your FMLA policy.

Employers with 50 or more employees are subject to the FMLA. Among other things, the FMLA requires employers to have a written policy that details employees’ rights under the law.

In 2009, several changes to the FMLA and its regulations required employers to significantly revamp their FMLA policies.

Just when we thought we had things all squared away, late last year the Obama administration modified the law to expand military-leave benefits. Previously, military leave for a “qualifying exigency” was limited to members of the National Guard and Reserve. That right now extends to members of any branch of the armed forces.

While previously, leave available for a caregiver of a service member who became ill or injured in the line of duty was limited to active members of the military. This leave is now also available to caregivers of veterans for up to five years after the service member leaves the military. Revise your FMLA policies to accurately reflect these changes.

Especially for nonprofits

Consider adopting whistle-blower, conflict-of-interest and document-retention policies.

All employers benefit from policies that help employees adhere to ethical business practices and encourage them to report suspected ethical or legal misconduct.

In light of changes to the IRS Form 990, charities and other tax-exempt organizations may have further reason to adopt such practices. Form 990 now surveys whether an organization has written policies addressing whistle-blowing, conflicts of interest and document retention and destruction.

If you don’t have such policies, consider adopting them. If you do, make sure your written policies reflect the actual practices in your organization. Having all the required and recommended policies in place will minimize the risk of an audit or negative publicity for tax-exempt businesses.

Facebook, other social media

Determine whether social media is interfering with your business needs.

As the popularity of social media and social networking grows, employers should consider adopting policies that educate employees on your expectations and their legal obligations.

While social networking provides companies with marketing, recruiting and other business opportunities, many employers also experience problems when employees go online. Problems range from decreased productivity and workplace distractions to disclosure of confidential information, invasion of privacy and harassment.

Employers can and should provide employees with guidelines on their use of social media. What those policies cover will differ from workplace to workplace, and may depend on whether the employer itself relies upon social networking for business purposes. Social networking is here to stay, so it seems prudent to adopt policies stating your expectations.

Prevention, not problem solving

In addition to staying current with new legal developments, it is a good idea to review current policies with an eye toward lessons learned from prior employment issues.

Policies that are incomplete or ambiguous open the door to workplace disagreements, HR headaches and employment-related lawsuits. Thoroughly reviewing your employee handbook this spring is a great way to ensure those problems don’t affect you.

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