4 Employee Handbook Policies to Watch in 2023

The Six Steps to Broker Success
December 15, 2022

There aren’t rules for how frequently you should update your handbook, but given laws do change, it’s smart to be proactive so you don’t get caught off guard.

An updated employee handbook helps employees understand what’s expected of them, and helps managers ensure company policies are followed.

We’ve identified four reasons to revisit your employee handbook in 2023.

New year, new employee handbook? There aren’t any hard and fast rules that require your handbook to be updated at specific intervals. But instead of assuming it’ll get you through 2023, there are good reasons to treat it like the living document it is.

First, the implementation of updated, clear policies that both employees can understand, and managers apply consistently will help employees feel like they’re being treated fairly.

Next, having a handbook that you know is up to date with current laws (and well understood by managers) can help reduce the likelihood of a claim against your business. Plus, if an employee or former employee does file a claim, a handbook can provide valuable documentation to demonstrate that your business has equitable and compliant workplace policies in place.

Here are 4 policies we think you should pay attention to in 2023:

  1. Personal Appearance/Grooming (CROWN Acts): Employers with dress codes or appearance policies need to keep an eye out for CROWN Acts, as these laws generally protect traits associated with race, including natural and protective hairstyles. If you have policies that prohibit afros, dreadlocks (a.k.a. locks), or hair past a certain length, they’ll need to be revisited. Even if you aren’t subject to a law that protects natural hairstyles, we recommend removing restrictions that are more likely to affect employees of a particular race, sex, or religion, in order to increase inclusivity.
  1. EEO (for CROWN acts and many others): Equal Employment Opportunity policies generally list the classes or characteristics that are protected by federal and state law. We see a handful of new state-level protections every year, so employers (especially those operating in multiple states) need to ensure that their EEO policies are up to date.

    It’s common for employee handbooks to say that they won’t discriminate based on the federally protected classes, and then say, “and any other class protected by state or federal law”. This catch-all is a nice idea, but many employers aren’t aware of all the classes that are protected by federal and state law. As a result, they can be caught off guard – and in a lawsuit – because they simply didn’t know the actions they were taking were considered illegal discrimination.

    That’s why we recommend including the full list of protected classes in the employee handbook. More knowledge is better. Also, managers have a duty to ensure that employees aren’t harassing one another based on their inclusion in a protected class. And if your managers aren’t aware of the full extent of their responsibilities, they’re going to have a much harder time keeping your workplace in compliance.

  1. Sick leave policies: State sick leave laws were trending even before the pandemic and that hasn’t let up. Even when we’re not getting brand-new laws, we’re seeing expansions of the existing requirements to cover more situations. Given employees’ heightened awareness of how disease spreads and an increased desire to avoid illness, we recommend revisiting your sick leave policies — even if they aren’t required by law – to ensure that employees are encouraged to stay home when sick.
  1. State Family and Medical Leave: State family leaves, whether paid or unpaid, are being passed at a steady clip. These usually interact with FMLA as well as benefits offered by the company, so it’s appropriate for employers to have this laid out in their handbook so that both managers and employees know when these leaves apply.

Taking steps to ensure your employee handbook reflects today’s workplace just makes sense. Your company isn’t stagnant, and the regulatory environment in which it operates certainly isn’t standing still. So, whether you review it annually, every six months, or quarterly, be proactive about updating your employee handbook in 2023. You’ll be glad you did.

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