Small Business Solutions

How COVID-19 Impacts Employee Handbooks

From telecommuting policies to workplace health issues, the world has changed.

Within the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses have revised their work procedures, eliminated or consolidated positions, or have asked employees to perform their jobs in entirely different ways. At the very least, employers should consider updating their employee handbooks to account for the following: 

Telecommuting Policies: In light of recent stay-at-home orders, many employers have permitted their workforces to work remotely from home. But telecommuting raises unique legal issues that employers need to address with established policies and procedures before they become a liability. Appropriate telecommuting policies must address issues concerning business etiquette, employee safety, and wage and hour compliance. 

Workplace Health and Safety Policies: The pandemic has necessitated the company’s commitment to complying with recommendations of federal, state and local officials to maintain a safe workplace during a public health emergency. Employees are expected to adhere to adopted health and safety policies. 

New Federal and State Laws: New laws, promulgated as a result of the pandemic, affect employers’ benefit policies. For instance, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), which is applicable through December 31, 2020. The FFCRA requires employers with less than 500 employees to provide them with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for certain delineated reasons related to coronavirus. Employers should revise their handbooks to reflect the new benefits under the FFCRA. Due to the FFCRA’s temporary nature, these FFCRA policies may take the form of standalone policies or addenda to employee handbooks. 

New state laws have also caused certain handbook provisions to become outdated. The New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”), New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Law, and New Jersey Family Leave Insurance Law (“NJFLI”) were permanently amended due to the pandemic. Some changes include new reasons for permitted leave, employers’ ability to require certifications for certain leave, expanded definitions of certain defined terms, and waiver of certain waiting periods. These changes should be reflected in the handbook. 

Posters and FormsIn addition to updating their employee handbooks, employers should also update relevant workplace posters, notices, forms and waivers. For example, new FFCRA and NJFLA posters are currently available from the appropriate government website. Such posters must be conspicuously posted in the workplace and/or distributed to employees. Employers will also want to update their leave request forms and relevant waivers. 

About the Author: Alvaro Hasani and Alyssa Musmanno are New Jersey attorneys at the national labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips, where they represent management. 

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