Companies of all sizes should implement and maintain employee policies. Some of these employee policies are required by federal, state, or local law, while others are typically adopted as a matter of good corporate governance.
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These policies cover topics such as at-will employment, equal employment opportunity, disability and religious accommodations, workplace health and safety, code of ethics, family and medical leave, and conflicts of interest.
As a company’s in-house counsel, you should be aware of the core components of these policies and make sure your organization’s policies are sufficiently robust. Your company should also have legal compliance protocols in place to make sure all employee policies can be enforced throughout the organization. Policies should be clearly communicated so that all directors, officers, and employees are aware of the policies and related expectations.
At-Will Employment Policy
In the U.S., the default understanding is that employees are hired at-will. This means that the employer has the right to terminate their employees at any time or that employees are free to voluntarily leave at any time without cause. At-will employee status is typically confirmed via an employee handbook, an offer letter, or an employment agreement.
Equal Employment Opportunity Policy
An equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy is a best practice for most companies and one of the most important policies for demonstrating a commitment to compliance with anti-discrimination laws.
A well-drafted EEO policy provides assurance to employees that unlawful discrimination is not tolerated in the company’s workplace. It also helps the company internally resolve issues before they become legal claims. A company’s EEO policy should encourage employees to report discriminatory behavior that they have experienced or witnessed and should describe specific procedures for reporting discrimination complaints.
Disability and Religious Accommodations Policies
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended by the ADA Amendments Act, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability. Furthermore, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, covered employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with sincere religious beliefs or practices. Both of these laws provide that such employee accommodations cannot cause undue hardship on the employer’s business.
Workplace Health and Safety
Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), employers have an obligation to maintain a safe working environment. Many employers adopt a health and safety policy to comply with the OSH Act. A robust health and safety policy will help an employer comply with recording-keeping requirements under the OSH Act and navigate an inspection by the Occupational Safety Health Administration.
Code of Ethics
Although not required by federal law, most companies choose to implement a code of ethics and/or conflict of interest policy for employees. A code of ethics provides transparency about employer expectations regarding appropriate workplace conduct. It also gives employers and employees a written set of standards to reference in that event that someone has engaged in prohibited behavior.
Paid Time Off (PTO) Policy
While a written paid time off (PTO) policy is not required by federal law, most private employers maintain a PTO policy that covers absences for illness and vacation. A well-drafted PTO will address topics such as how much paid time off employees accrue, the rate and manner of accrual, whether unused paid time off can be carried over from year to year, and the procedures for requesting and scheduling paid time off.
Family and Medical Leave Policy
All companies with 50 or more employees are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides covered employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for qualified family and medical reasons. The circumstances covered include an employee’s own serious health condition; a serious health condition of the employee’s spouse, child, or parent; and birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child.
Business Expense Reimbursement Policy
A properly drafted business expense reimbursement policy is important for establishing cost controls, providing standardized procedures that employees must follow to be reimbursed, and managing employee expectations about the types of business-related expenses that are reimbursable. A business expense reimbursement policy can be tailored to fit the particular needs and culture of a company.
IT and Social Media Policies
Given the prevalent usage of technology in the workplace today and the substantial legal risks such technology carries, many companies adopt an employee communication systems policy. Such a policy typically covers how communications are managed within and outside the organization and sets expectations for employees. Sometimes companies opt to adopt a social media policy that is separate from its IT resources & communications systems policy.