Court Case Prevention Measure: The 2015 Changes to Model Employment Handbook « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles

Court Case Prevention Measure: The 2015 Changes to Model Employment Handbook

Well-Written Workplace Policy Is the Best Policy

We strongly suggest that all employers have a well-written, up-to-date employment handbook. A current, thorough employee policy manual (handbook) and complementary written internal procedures and forms covering all major aspects of the workplace relationship permit managers and rank-and-file workers alike to know where they stand. See “Why Written Policy is Good Policy” and “Promoting Workplace Productivity with a Sound Policy Handbook and Forms.”

The court dockets are full of employment-related lawsuits that defendant companies could have prevented with clearly written and uniformly applied policy in compliance with current law. For well-meaning businesses that lack written standards and which have “just always done it that way,” it’s a little like the drivers who routinely cruise the freeways 10-15 mph above posted limits. Eventually, it will be “your time” to be tapped.

Take a company that for years has granted paid vacation time to its workers on a case-by-case basis with no written policy setting the standards and rules. In California, vacation is an “accrued benefit,” meaning that it builds over a worker’s duration of employment, with any unused portion to be paid upon termination. That well-intentioned business lacking written policy on how it counts and pays for vacation time might well end up on court defending expensive claims for underpayment of wages at termination, plus substantial penalties and attorney fees.

An outdated handbook can cause its own set of problems. For example, in the 2012 watershed Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court case (see Brinker Decision and Rest Periods), the California Supreme Court allowed class action certification for over 80,000 employees in part because the employer corporation (running Chili’s, Macaroni Grill and a host of other restaurants) omitted a simple phrase from its policy manuals concerning required rest periods. Every California employer should now have its meal and rest periods policies up-to-date to ensure it is not making the same or similar mistakes as the Brinker corporation.

Our 2015 model employment handbook contains significant revisions to keep pace with new laws and recent case decisions. These include:

• Changes to anti-discrimination and harassment protections to include unpaid interns and volunteers (California) (see “California Labor Laws 2015: Interns and Trainees Now Protected from Harassment and Discrimination”)
• Expanding the definition of prohibited “bullying” in the workplace (California)
• Explaining employee rights and obligations when “moonlighting”
• Modifying reimbursement policy to include reimbursement for necessary work-related use of personal cell phones (California) (see “Ain’t No Such Thing as a ‘Free Call'”)
• Establishing and enhancing prohibitions against working “off-the-clock”
• New language on the timing of paid rest periods, emphasizing the complaint mechanism if prevented from taking meal or rest breaks
• Providing new mandatory paid sick leave benefits policy with specific rules governing accrual, carry over and use of sick leave to comport with California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act and (see “Mandatory Paid Sick Leave For California Employees”)
• Expanding the definition of employee “resignation”
• Revising smoking policy to address use of e-cigarettes or other “vaping” devices (see “To Vape or Not To Vape”)

We offer versions of our 2015 employee handbook for California and for other states as well as for companies of any size. For more information, please contact one of our attorneys, Timothy Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Cindy Bamforth, January 26, 2015