Updating company policies and reviewing employee handbooks should be an annual event for employers. The start of the new year is a good time for these housekeeping tasks because each new year brings new laws and changes to existing laws.
Three things Massachusetts employers need to pay attention to this year are the new Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law, which provides paid leave for family and medical issues for eligible employees who work in Massachusetts; changes to the state minimum wage and premium pay; and ongoing workplace changes resulting from COVID-19, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Some PFML benefits took effect Jan. 1, including paid family or medical leave for:
- Up to 20 weeks per year for a serious personal illness.
- Up to 12 weeks to bond with a newborn, adopted child or newly placed foster child.
- Up to 12 weeks to handle family affairs while a family member is on active duty overseas.
On July 1, employees may apply for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a family member who has a serious illness.
As I mentioned in my December blog on the PFML law, employers must be certain they have the resources to administer the new law and make sure the staff member overseeing compliance with the law either fully understands it or finds out how to manage it.
Minimum wage, premium pay
Under the 2018 “Grand Bargain” law, the state minimum wage will increase every year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2023. Beginning Jan. 1, the state minimum wage rate increased from $12.75 per hour to $13.50 per hour, and from $4.95 per hour for tipped employees to $5.55 per hour.
Premium pay for Sundays and holidays also was changed under the 2018 law. As of Jan. 1, the rate of pay for working Sundays and holidays was reduced to 1.2 times the employees’ regular rate of pay. This year, the holiday pay will include Juneteenth (June 19), which was designated a state holiday in 2020. Note that three holidays not affected by the reduction in premium pay are New Year’s Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day. Employers must still pay their nonexempt employees one-and-a-half times their regular pay for working on those holidays.
COVID-19 continues to present employers with challenges, including taking steps to ensure they have a safe work environment for employees and considering whether to mandate that employees be vaccinated for the virus. Be prepared to make workplace accommodations as businesses reopen and restrictions concerning gatherings and travel are updated.
SHRM also recommends employers peruse their noncompete agreements and reconsider enforcing them while their companies are still making decisions about workforce reductions based on the economic effects of COVID-19.
Noncompete agreements prohibit employees from working for competitors or revealing proprietary information during or after working for the company. Some argue that noncompete agreements are more important with employees working from home, while others say employers should not limit the ability of employees who lose their jobs to find new jobs when the unemployment rate is so high.
The degree to which noncompete agreements can be enforced depends on the state. In Massachusetts, noncompete agreements are not enforceable against nonexempt workers and employees who were fired without cause.
Handbooks affirm company culture
An updated handbook is important because it sets the tone and outlines the mission and vision of the company. The information is valuable to employees who have questions about policies, while it can help new employees establish themselves in the company.
As a company grows, there are more state and federal laws with which it must comply. Many employment laws are based on the size of the company. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for example, applies to businesses with more than 50 employees.
While reviewing the handbook, employers should see how leave policies work or align with each other: what may have changed or been added over the past year. Businesses may want to update the handbook to avoid gender-specific pronouns, and to make sure the terminology is clear and non-technical, and there are disclaimers.
Updated handbooks help with compliance and risk because employees are asked to sign a document acknowledging they’ve read and understand the handbook. Documentation benefits both the employer and employee, especially if an issue ends up in court.
Other laws and policies to review include:
- Attendance/Call Out Procedures
- Leave of Absence
- Vacations/Sick Time/Paid Time Off
- Standards of Conduct/Discipline
- Communicable Disease
- Remote Work
- Performance Management
- Employment Classifications
- EEO/Sexual Harassment
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Wage and Hour Safe Harbor
Employers in the manufacturing, mechanical and retail industries also should remember they must give two hours of unpaid time off after the polls open to employees who request a leave of absence to vote.
In addition to legal considerations, employers also should review the company’s history, mission, vision and employee welcome messages for updates.
I always advise employers to have a Human Resources professional or employment lawyer examine their employee handbooks.
Talk the talk
Listen to some interesting conversations on my talk show, “Connections Count,” at 1 p.m. Mondays on Unity Radio 97.9 FM. The show also is on Unity Radio’s website at https://www.wuty979fm.org/monday. I’m seeking guests for my show. If you’re interested, email me at email@example.com.
50+ Job Seekers’ February meetings
The 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group workshops have resumed on Zoom with more options for additional networking and guest speaker events. Upcoming February workshops are:
The Interactive Workshop Series: Learn New Job Search Skills and Strategies
- Session 3: Use Your STARS: Friday, Feb. 12, 1 to 3 p.m.
- Session 3: Use Your STARS: Monday, Feb. 15, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
- Session 4: Creating Your Resume, Part I: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 10 a.m. to noon.
G2G Networking Sessions: Session Recap-Homework-Networking-Open Forum Q&A
- Networking Session 3: Tuesday, Feb. 16, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Special events series featuring guest speakers and panels
- Finding Resiliency and Resources: Thursday, Feb. 11 from 10 a.m. to noon in collaboration with Encore Boston Network (EBN)
- Age-Friendly Employer Forum – Panel Event: Wednesday, Feb. 24, 10 to 11:30 a.m. (in collaboration with EBN)
- Guest speaker Nancy Collamer: Hot Small Business and Gig Ideas: Thursday Feb. 25, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
The virtual doors open 15 minutes before the program starts. Pre-registration for first-time participants is at https://50plusjobseekers.org/outreach/registration/.
Those who are already registered with the 50+ Job Seekers program will receive an email about the sessions.
Need to contact me?
To reach me, download my digital business card by texting HRPRO to 21000 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.