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Five Legal Pointers to Keep Your Employees (and You) Happy

Hiring Employees, LegalIf you are hiring employees, it’s up to you to create a workplace where people want to be  — and staying legally compliant and reducing your liability as an employer should be a critical part of your plan.  For example, by providing explicit rules and getting the right insurance, you will have better protection in a worst case scenario, like an employment lawsuit. A little planning can help you keep legal costs down in the long term, and your workers will know what to expect from when you have clear employment policies in place.

1. Put All Employment-Related Policies and Agreements in Writing

Many companies do create Employment Agreements and Contractor Agreements but neglect to provide an Employee Handbook.  An Employee Handbook is a valuable tool because it states what is expected and what isn’t allowed for workers in the company. Most employee handbooks contain a mission statement and guidelines for procedures.

For example, items that can be included in an Employeee Handbook include:

  • Confidentiality and non-disclosure policies
  • Employment termination conditions
  • Policies on employment reviews and promotions
  • Timekeeping and policies on working overtime
  • How and when employees will be paid
  • Office hours and break periods
  • Attendance policies
  • Health and other benefits
  • Time off policies
  • Alcohol and smoking policies
  • Emergency plans
  • Training opportunities

Putting your policies in writing allows everyone to access and understand the company’s policies and can prevent confusion in the workplace for both employees and management.

2. Create Policies to Discourage Employment Discrimination

Employment discrimination is the discrimination in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, and compensation based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.  Whether it is intentional or unintentional, employment discrimination is illegal in many places.  Discrimination also includes harassment, decisions based on stereotypes or traits of certain people, or denying opportunities to certain people.  Any individual can file a Charge of Discrimination if they feel that they have been treated unfairly in the workplace.

In your work environment, you should make sure to establish policies that define discrimination and prohibit it.  Also, you should make sure to educate and train employees about anti-discrimination policies and ensure that you and your management are ready to handle complaints.  Finally, make sure you outline disciplinary procedures in the event that someone is found guilty of discrimination.

3. Communicate a Clear Sexual Harassment Policy

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual conduct or advance that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive. This can include asking someone to perform sexual favors, making rude comments, referring to a person in an inappropriate manner, touching inappropriately, or any demeaning or sexist comments.  Though sexual harassment is gender-neutral, most reported cases are by women who were sexually harassed by men.

Sexual harassment should be prevented because it impedes workers from performing to their potential and creates an unhealthy work environment. Either your Employee Handbook or a separate Harassment Policy should explicitly state what sexual harassment is, that it will not be tolerated, how to report violations and the consequences for violating the policy.  You can also conduct training sessions that emphasize the importance of a workplace without sexual harassment.  Make sure your supervisors and managers also know how to identify sexual harassment and how to accept complaints.


4. Know the Legal Requirements for Employee Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act makes sure eligible employees can request a Leave of Absence for certain situations.  An employee can get up to 12 weeks in a 12 month period for the birth of a child, to care for a newly placed adopted child, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or a health condition that makes an employee unable to perform his or her job.

As an employer, the FMLA applies to your company if you employ over 50 employees within 75 miles of the work site, and at least 50 of your employees work 20 or more work-weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.  If your company is a public agency, you must comply with FMLA no matter how many workers you have.  Employees who have worked over 1,250 hours during a 12 month period are considered eligible for leave under the FMLA.

Any eligible employee is allowed to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave on an intermittent basis. You are allowed to check in on an employee who is on leave and request that he or she report their status and intentions to return to work.  Employees must provide 30 days notice for foreseeable events that will require a leave of absence, such as adoption, childbirth, or surgery.  When the employee returns to work, they must be restored to their original job or a comparable one with equal pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions.

5. Have a Comprehensive Workers’ Compensation Program in Place

Many jobs can be dangerous, such as those on construction sites or that require the use of heavy equipment, but even seemingly safe office work can cause injuries like trips and falls.

Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to workers who are injured during employment.  When an injury occurs, the insurance provides for the injured employee’s medical costs and wage replacement, and keeps the worker from suing the employer for these costs.

Most of the time, companies arrange their workers’ compensation through an insurance company. Requirements vary by state, but most states require employers to subscribe to workers’ compensation insurance. Check with your state’s Department of Labor to find out how to stay compliant.  If you do not comply with workers’ compensation laws, you could face steep fines.

Also, it is important to understand that employees injured on the job have an absolute right to receive medical care for any injury.  You cannot terminate an employee for submitting a Work Injury Report form or filing a workers’ compensation claim.  Remember, different states have different laws regarding workers’ compensation, so it is important to research the requirements for your state before you hire employees.

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