New Year Resolution: Update Your Handbook

January 13, 2021
Inside HR
Read time: 4 mins

It’s hard to imagine making policy updates unrelated to COVID-19; however, there were legislative actions in many Midwest states, along with a shifting work environment that warrants another look at your handbook. Ensuring your policies, procedures and practices stay compliant and competitive in this evolving climate has become more crucial than ever before.

Below is a brief review of some of the major updates you may want to consider in the new year.

Expanded Employee Rights
  • Remote Working and Multi-State Implications: As remote working arrangements remain in place, states are expecting out-of-state employers to comply with their state-specific regulations on behalf of those working within their borders. Employers may now need to update their handbooks from a multi-state perspective.
  • Discrimination: Additional protections for LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace were clarified in the June 2020 Supreme Court decision regarding the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Be sure to review your existing antidiscrimination language to ensure it includes the appropriate protections.
  • Sexual Harassment: Illinois expanded the obligations of employers for sexual harassment prevention, incorporating mandatory training, reporting, and notice requirements in 2020. This trend is expected to continue in 2021 and beyond.
  • Leaves of Absence: Additional family, domestic violence, and sick leave rights were implemented in several states, mandating both paid and unpaid time off.
  • Covered Employers: Several states began increasing compliance requirements for smaller employers. Illinois, for example, lowered the number of employees for a company to become a "covered employer" under the state’s EEO laws from 15 to one. Keep an eye out for more of these types of changes throughout the year.
Paid Sick Leaves

A Minnesota Supreme Court decision this last summer confirmed the application of municipal sick leave ordinances. Now, even employers located outside of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth need to ensure their time-off benefits meet the city’s minimum requirements for those employees performing work within the municipality’s borders. If not, the issue becomes whether to tweak the policy for everyone or to provide separate policies for only those affected employees. 

Several significant revisions to Chicago’s paid sick leave ordinance expanded coverage to include outside sales and other types of previously excluded positions. Managing time-off benefits will continue to be a complex and complicated undertaking for both employers and employees.

Legalized Marijuana Use

Employers in Minnesota, Illinois, and other states face the challenge of how to address an employee’s legal use of marijuana. While Minnesota recognizes only medical marijuana, Illinois recognizes both recreational use and medical marijuana. Does that mean an employer can no longer prohibit or drug test for marijuana? No, however employers should be specifically addressing marijuana in their drug and alcohol policy/program.

Employee Appearance

This area of employment law continues to evolve and remains subject to legal scrutiny. Appearance standards must be neutral, nondiscriminatory, and consistently applied to avoid claims of discrimination and National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) violations.

Review your process for employees who may need an accommodation and proceed with caution when trying to ban or limit an employee’s ability to express their political, social justice, or union opinions through their workplace attire. State equal employment opportunity laws may also restrict an employer’s ability to address political or social justice activities, so it’s important to continually check state-specific regulations.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

2020 continued to teach us that language matters. Is your employee handbook written in a manner that acknowledges and embraces diversity, respect, and equal opportunity for all? This is a good time to ensure your handbook content aligns with your organization’s journey towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.

A Call to Action

In response to member needs, MRA continues to produce and share best practice policies and guides to address current key topics, including contagious diseases and pandemics, remote work, DEI, workplace safety, IT, security and business continuity. Members can access these policies and guides to update their employee handbooks on their own or take advantage of our handbook services. If you find that you need an extra set of hands to tackle these updates, we are here to help!

Source: Selena Castle, HR Business Partner, and Robyn Spiering, Manager, HR Services, MRA – The Management Association