New Laws Should Prompt Review and Revision of Employee Handbooks in 2020

As 2020 unfolds, employers should consider revising and updating their Employee Handbooks in light of recent legislative actions and judicial decisions. Employers should generally review and update Employee Handbooks on a yearly basis, but changes will be necessary for many employers in 2020 in order to comply with applicable law and create as much protection as possible against employee claims.

Some of the policies that deserve specific attention as 2020 begins include the following:

  • Dress and Grooming - With the passage of the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (“CROWN”) Act, California became the first state in the nation to expressly include natural hairstyles in its anti-discrimination law. The CROWN Act defines “race” as including traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles. Protective hairstyles include braids, locks, twists and other unspecified hairstyles associated with race. The passage of the CROWN Act reflects increased scrutiny on more subtle forms of discrimination in the workplace, and a deeper understanding of the nuances of discrimination. As a result, California employers should review their policies regarding dress, grooming and appearance to assure that they do not contain language that would violate the CROWN Act or be perceived as reflecting bias on the basis of race or any other protected characteristic.   
  • Lactation Accommodations – As of January 1, 2020, the Legislature has expanded the duties of employers with respect to lactation accommodation.  Under the new law, employers must provide a space in which employees can express breast milk that is: i) shielded from view; ii) free from intrusion; and iii) safe, clean and free of hazardous/toxic materials, among other requirements. Significantly, the new law requires employers to adopt and maintain a lactation accommodation policy, which includes publication of the policy in the Employee Handbook or set of policies made available to employees. As a result, employers should revise their Employee Handbooks to include a thorough lactation accommodation policy.
  • Organ Donation Leave – Under California law, an employee who donates an organ is entitled to 30 business days of paid leave. Effective January 1, 2020, the Legislature expanded this protection, and employers with more than 15 employees are now required to provide an employee donating an organ with an additional unpaid leave of absence of up to 30 business days per year.  Employers should review their policies to ensure they are compliant with current law.
  • Paid Family Leave – Beginning on July 1, 2020, California’s Paid Family Leave program will increase the maximum wage replacement benefits from six weeks to eight weeks. Employers should review their Employee Handbooks and make any necessary updates with respect to this new law.
  • New Parent Leave – California’s New Parent Leave Act requires employers with 20 to 49 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave to eligible employees for the purpose of bonding with a new child. Criteria for determining employee eligibility for New Parent Leave are similar to those applicable under the Family and Medical Leave Act and California Family Rights Act- eligible employees include those who have worked for the employer for at least a year, have worked 1,250 or more hours for the employer in the past year, and work in a facility with at least 20 employees or in a facility where there are at least 20 employees within 75 surface miles. Although New Parent Leave is not new in 2020, many covered employers still have not updated their Employee Handbooks to include appropriate policies on the topic.  

Our attorneys regularly assist clients in creating, revising and updating Employee Handbooks and are familiar with the changes that should be made to bring employers into compliance with the law and ensure the strongest protection possible against employee claims. The policies referenced above are just some of the policies that should be reviewed carefully (and revised, if necessary), as 2020 begins.

If we can assist you in updating your Employee Handbook for 2020, or if you have any questions regarding any new or changed laws, please contact one of our attorneys:

Daniel F. Pyne III
Ernest M. Malaspina
Richard M. Noack
Jennifer Coleman
Eric Bellafronto
Shirley Jackson
Sean Bothamley

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