By: Alisha Sedor
I've spent the last couple of days attending a Continuing Legal Education program for my NYS Bar Association membership, and one of the most interesting sections covered updates to employment law. Particularly interesting were all of the updates on what’s coming down the pipe in response to the #MeToo movement. While we won't do a deep dive there, it got me thinking about all of the trouble companies can get into when they don't have the right employment policies and processes in place.
Lots of startups and small companies get tripped up days by not hiring an Human Resources team early on. When teams are small, it doesn’t feel like you need HR - everyone works closely together and has a “we’ll figure it out” attitude. Not having the right policies and processes in place from the start, however, can lead to big problems later on. Look at Uber and Thinx. Even if you’re not planning on growing a huge, venture funded company, having the right policies in place from the get-go can avoid trouble down the line. In addition to harassment policies, here are some of the essential policies any business should have in writing for their employees from day 1.
1. At-Will Employment Policy
Almost every state has at-will as their default for employer/employee relationships. Check your state's local laws to be sure. At-will employment means that either the employer or employee can end the working relationship at any time, with or without notice. It's important to be clear about how your business will handle ending the employee relationship, and clearly outline either your at-will policy or any modifications you'd like to make to that default.
The Balance goes into more depth and provides some example language for you.
It's imperative to be consistent and clear about any disciplinary processes you might implement, and to document everything. Courts are trending toward siding with the employee in all sorts of cases, so it's important to keep good records.
3. Clear working hours and expected reply times from employees
Americans work a lot, especially in the internet age when we're always connected, and the consensus seems to be that it's unhealthy. Hopefully we'll head the way of France and legally require a right to unplug. Until then, drawing clear work/life boundaries can help keep your employees engaged and preempt any disagreements over unclear expectations. Do you need your assistant on call 24/7? That's fine, but be clear about it upfront. Are you a night owl who emails late at night but you don't need your employees to get back to you in the morning? Great, set that expectation so they don't feel pressured to be "on" all the time.
4. EEOC Policies
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of "the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information." By setting up policies that cover discrimination at the outset, you may be able to prevent and correct discrimination that is prohibited. Issues to cover include harassment, reasonable accommodation, and leave, among others. The EEOC has some great guides to get you started in setting up policies for your team.
5. Use of technology in the workplace
Privacy and technology often butt heads in the workplace. To prevent conflicts, it's important to set policies and guidelines around technology. What privacy rights do your employees have when using their work laptop? When using their cell phone for work? Who owns the technology? How are you ensuring confidential information is protected? Can folks use their work computer for personal things? These are just some of the questions you'll want to address. The Society for Human Resource Management has an example policy to get you started.
6. Employee Classifications
To make sure you're in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, you'll want to ensure all of your employees are properly classified. This makes sure that if they're eligible for overtime they're getting paid for it, that benefits are provided where required, etc. This guide from Workable can help set you up.
7. Time-keeping processes
Time-keeping is legally required for non-exempt employees, and generally best practice to do for all employees. Make sure you outline how you want employees to track and submit their hours, which tools they'll use, how to fix discrepancies, etc.
8. Vacation and time-off
Taking some well-deserved vacation is one of the best ways to reset and come back refreshed and ready to work. Make sure your employees know how and when they can take the time they need with a clear vacation policy, processes for requesting time-off, and outlined processes for sick days. Whether you have a set number of days or unlimited time (or somewhere in between), there are several items to consider in your vacation policy, including eligibility, accrual, and how to make requests. Setting up and communicating these in advance can prevent many headaches later.
While certainly not comprehensive, getting set up with these 8 policies, getting them in writing, and communicating them clearly to your employees will help make your business run smoothly and hopefully avoid employment law issues over time.
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