Five New Years Resolutions for Your Workplace in 2014

By: Ralph R. Smith, 3rd, Esq.

With 2014 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 2014.

  1. 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, 2014 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.  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.
  2. 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 their jobs 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.
  3. 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.  In addition, did you know that the New Jersey Legislature recently passed a new form of leave, the New Jersey SAFE Act, that now permits 20 days of leave for persons who were sexually or domestically abused or have family members who are victims of such violence.  Like other leave statutes, the New Jersey SAFE Act has various notice requirements, so it is important that your policies and procedures (wherever they may be maintained in your company) are updated to reflect these new leave requirements.
  4. 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.  In addition, please remember that, as of January 1, 2014, New Jersey’s minimum wage rate is now increasing to $8.25 an hour; thereafter, it will be adjusted upward automatically based upon any increases in the consumer price index on September 30 of each subsequent year. Thus, it is important that you properly compensate your employees at the higher rate as of January 1 if any are currently being paid minimum wage.
  5. 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.  Just a few 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, so it is important that all background check policies meet these requirements.  Similarly, if in the past, you as an employer have conducted your own background checks, and requested that employees and prospective employees provide private password protected information for their social media sites as part of that examination, such a practice is now illegal under New Jersey Law.  Therefore, it is critical that background check policies be modified to eliminate any potential violation of this new limitation under New Jersey Law.

In sum, the upcoming new year provides a wonderful opportunity for employers to proactively evaluate internal policies and procedures to make 2014 a legally problem free year in your workplace.  Feel free to contact us with any questions.

A Happy and Healthy New Year to All!