With 2022 around the corner, employers are presented with a wonderful opportunity to review internal policies/procedures and hopefully help avoid future workplace legal problems. Here are five suggested New Year’s Workplace Resolutions for 2022.
- When was the last time your employee handbook was reviewed and updated? Policies and procedures need to be revised periodically to keep current with ongoing changes in the law, especially in a place like New Jersey, where it is frequently the case that new laws and decisions impose new legal requirements. Therefore, 2022 presents a great opportunity for employers to review handbook polices and bring them up to speed with any recent legal changes that impact your workplace, or to reflect changes in your workplace because of adjusting to doing business in a pandemic, i.e. work from home policies. Alternatively, if you do not have one yet, the upcoming new year provides a wonderful chance for your workplace to reap the benefit of having all relevant workplace policies stored in one collective document. Relatedly, when was the last time you conducted anti-harassment training for your workforce? While the pandemic has made this harder to do, virtual trainings are a great way to continue to meet all mandated employee training requirements.
- When was the last time your job descriptions were reviewed and updated? Job descriptions are very important, especially in gauging compliance with mandated accommodation requirements for persons with disabilities under both federal and state discrimination laws. Ask yourself: do your job descriptions accurately reflect what an employee actually does in his/her job today? Because courts often rely on how an employer defines the essential job functions of an employment position in assessing disability discrimination and failure to accommodate issues, it is important that employers maintain updated job descriptions so there will be a point of reference if any issues arise as to what the essential functions of a job position are for accommodation purposes. Moreover, just like employee handbooks, if you do not have job descriptions today, the beginning of the upcoming year is a good time to commence preparing them.
- Are your employee leave policies up to date? It is important under both federal and state leave laws that leave policies are accurate and current. One of the most effective ways of meeting this requirement is having updated leave policies in an employee handbook, so use the beginning of next year to check that such policies are accurate and up to date.
- When was the last time you conducted an audit of your payroll practices? One of the chief concerns to examine here is ensuring that all your employees are properly classified as exempt versus non-exempt employees for purposes of their proper compensation under federal and state wage and hour laws. It is always a good idea for an employer to do a quick review of employment classifications each year in case changes need to be made based upon any modifications in employee job responsibilities.
- Are you properly performing background checks on current and prospective employees? Remember, there are strict requirements concerning how such background checks are conducted under not only the Fair Credit Reporting Act but also under relevant federal employment discrimination laws such as Title VII. Several years ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a detailed compliance guidance on how the results of a background check can be utilized in assessing a person’s suitability for employment, and New Jersey also passed its own restrictions, i.e. Ban the Box rules, so it is important that all background check policies meet these requirements.
- And here is a bonus suggestion for you. Mandatory COVID vaccination requirements are still in flux. The OSHA rule for companies with 100 employees is no longer stayed, and the agency has advised that it will start investigating employers for compliance on January 10, 2022. (Public federal contractor and health care mandates are still subject to court orders barring enforcement of such standards to some degree.) This means that employers need to start taking steps to meet the requirements of the OSHA mandate-by either collecting proof of employee vaccinations or ensuring weekly testing for employees. Remember also that disability and possible religious exemptions are potentially available to vaccination requirements and employers need to understand how to address such issues.
In sum, the upcoming new year provides a wonderful opportunity for employers to proactively evaluate internal policies and procedures to make 2022 a legally problem free year in your workplace.
A Happy and Healthy New Year to All and please continue to stay safe!!
Ralph R. Smith, 3rd is Co-Chair of the Employment and Labor Practice Group. He practices in employment litigation and preventative employment practices, including counseling employers on the creation of employment policies, non-compete and trade secret agreements, and training employers to avoid employment-related litigation. He represents both companies and individuals in related complex commercial litigation before federal states courts and administrative agencies in labor and employment cases including race, gender, age, national origin, disability and workplace harassment and discrimination matters, wage-and-hour disputes, restrictive covenants, grievances, arbitration, drug testing, and employment related contract issues.