6 Employee Handbook Updates in 2019

There have been significant changes at the local, state and federal level on labor and employment laws and regulations that impact our organizations.  Some of these changes can and will impact our current policies, procedures and handbooks.  We need to be aware of these legal changes, make the necessary updates and communicate/train on these changes.  Training and sign-offs are crucial during this process.

Below are six employee handbook language updates for 2019:

  1. Sexual Harassment & Retaliation Policy: These language changes should have occurred in October of 2018 (new changes in NYC). New York State is requiring all employers to have a clear policy on sexual harassment, retaliation, investigations, etc. in place.  We also need to communicate this policy throughout the workforce.  Ensure you have this policy in place.  Employers outside of New York, should also review their policies and update accordingly.
  2. Reasonable Accommodation: “In 2018, new or amended reasonable-accommodation compliance requirements took effect in seven states and two key municipalities. They address issues such as:
  • Expanding reasonable accommodations for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • Allowing people who have certain conditions public access to employee restrooms.
  • Providing safety accommodations to people who have been sexually assaulted or experienced domestic violence or stalking.”[i]

This includes 2019 legislation changes in New York City.

  1. Equal Pay and Wage Discrimination: Four states and two municipalities adopted or modified pay-equity laws. These laws address; wage discrimination based on gender, salary history questions to job applicants and employers banning wage discussions among co-workers (which is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act-Protected Concerted Activity).  In New York State we will continue to see evolution of wage discrimination and salary history laws.  Watch for statewide legislation in 2019 or 2020.  The handbook language change is important, but supervisory level training is just as important with these changes, especially for anyone interviewing applicants.
  2. Smoke-Free Workplace: “More states are including e-cigarettes and other tobacco substitutesin their laws prohibiting smoking in the workplace. Employers may be required to post notices, provide designated smoking areas and make other adjustments under such laws.”[ii]This is a great opportunity to review our own policies on smoke-free workplaces to include e-cigarettes, tobacco substitutes and other tobacco products.
  3. Weapons in the Workplace: “In 2018, three states adopted or amended laws related to weapons in the workplace, addressing such issues as:
  • Keeping guns in vehicles in company parking lots.
  • Restricting the carrying of a concealed handgun to those authorized to carry a handgun.”[iii]

The law is clear in New York State regarding weapons in the workplace.  Ensure you have a policy in place and review other local and state laws if you operate in area’s outside of New York State.  Communicate the policy and hold folks accountable, especially during hunting season in this area.

  1. Non-Discrimination Language: With the recent passing of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA”) by the New York State Legislature and the expected signature of the bill by Governor Cuomo, we need to review current discrimination language to ensure it covers all protected categories.

These are just a few examples of employee handbook and policy language changes and updates; any organizations should consider in 2019.  Watch for changes to medicinal and recreational marijuana laws, reasonable accommodation with marijuana use, marijuana as a disability at the local and state level.  Another area to monitor is, paid FMLA leave at the federal level.

Annual reviews of handbook and policy language is necessary to ensure legal compliance with many of the laws and regulations that are changing at the local, state and federal levels.  Updating the language is necessary, communicating, training and receiving signatures from the workforce should be a priority as part of the annual review.  It’s one thing to update language and put the handbook back on the shelf, its another to update, communicate and train the workforce.  If you are unclear on what and how to update, seek guidance, these changes are complex, and we will continue to see evolution of laws and regulations.  Yes, I repeat these lines in every article.

New York Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) Effective 2/24/2019

“Effective February 24, 2019, New York state’s Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) will make it unlawful for employers to discriminate against workers based on their actual or perceived gender identity or expression or transgender status. New York law already bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.”[iv]

IRS 2018 Taxes on Parking Benefits

“The IRS has clarified how all employers can calculate the tax on qualified parking benefits that took effect this year. The guidance also provides some relief for nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations, which now must pay a 21 percent unrelated business income tax (UBIT) on subsidized parking they provide to employees.”[v]

IRS issues guidance for determining nondeductible amount of parking fringe expenses and unrelated business taxable income; provides penalty relief to tax-exempt organizations

IRS Notice 2018-99

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

IRS Notice 2018-100

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/7-policies-to-update-in-your-2019-employee-handbook.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/7-policies-to-update-in-your-2019-employee-handbook.aspx

[iii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/7-policies-to-update-in-your-2019-employee-handbook.aspx

[iv] SHRM Email

[v] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/irs-offers-parking-benefit-tax-relief.aspx

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