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Have you updated your employee handbook this year?

Several new laws went into effect on Jan. 1 that may affect you and your employees. You may already be aware of them, but did you incorporate them into your employee handbook or update existing policies that may be affected by the new laws?

Employee handbooks are about more than just letting employees know what you expect of them. They also represent a first line of defense to an action by a current or former employee who claims that the company violated his or her rights under California employment laws.

Modifications, changes and additions you may need to make

If you haven't done so already, consider adding, changing or modifying the following provisions in your employee handbook:

  • Your sexual harassment policy needs to specifically address sexual harassment training and prevention efforts regarding gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression if you have 50 employees or more.
  • Your handbook may point employees to a poster created by the Department of Fair Housing and Employment addressing "Transgender Rights in the Workplace," which you must display.
  • Your attendance policies must not intimate that an employee will suffer retaliation or punishment for taking lawfully earned sick leave or vacation time.
  • If your business employs between 20 and 49 people and is within 75 miles of other businesses, you must provide employees time off to bond with their babies. This is for baby bonding specifically, and you must allow up to 12 weeks of leave.
  • Your policies regarding rest and meal breaks must meet with the requirements of California and federal law. A new law allows the California Labor Commissioner to come in and investigate whether your company complies with these laws.

In addition, you may no longer ask a prospective employee about prior salaries and benefits, and you must provide a pay scale for the position for which the person is applying. If you have five or more employees, you may also not ask a prospective employee about his or her criminal history, and if you intend to deny employment based on a criminal record, you must follow certain steps. Make sure that your applications do not ask about salaries and criminal histories either.

Making sure that your employee handbook remains compliant with current law is an important task. Everyone needs to know the rules, including hiring managers, supervisors and employees. Disseminating the information so that everyone is aware of it and understands the ramifications of not complying with it could help protect your company in the event that an employee violates the law or becomes a victim of someone who does.

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