As employers make plans to return to work, reducing legal risk should be a primary goal. MP’s HR compliance experts share four ways to improve legal compliance in HR and reduce the risk of fines, complaints, and lawsuits.
4 Ways to Reduce Legal Risk as You Return to Work
1. Stay updated on all relevant guidance and legislation regarding COVID and HR compliance.
Employers must continue to stay alert for new updates to:
- Local laws
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance
- State laws
- Department of Labor (DOL) guidance
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance
If an employer has multiple worksites, they should ensure that they’re aware of the relevant laws and guidance for each location. Laws and safety guidance may change from state to state. Applying one blanket policy for an employer with multi-state locations could increase legal risk. If this task is too complicated, employers can consult with a labor lawyer to assist.
2. Develop and share COVID safety policies for HR compliance.
The reason organizations frequently must call an employment attorney is because they didn’t have an existing, standardized policy to follow in their employee handbook. To reduce legal risk, employers should develop a strong COVID safety policy (MP’s HR services team can assist with this process). They should then share this policy with all employees via a method that allows the employee to refer to it easily whenever needed. Employers should have their staff sign an acknowledgment that they have read and understood the policy. These acknowledgments should be kept on file and can be utilized should a company receive any threat of legal action or a lawsuit.
3. Train managers, especially in COVID HR compliance.
Managers must be trained in COVID employee policies to be able to uphold them in a consistent manner. Decisions that are COVID-specific shouldn’t be left up to individual managers. They may either take a discriminatory action or appear to (which is enough to trigger a lawsuit or compliant). Managers should be trained in:
- COVID policies
- Gender discrimination
- Federal and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (MA PFML) (if applicable, especially the discrimination portion)
Managers should always consult with HR before making any responses to FMLA, MA PFML, or requests from pregnant employees.
4. Prevent issues with remote work.
Whether employers are keeping some employees remote, allowing remote work occasionally (such as when employees are sick or were potentially exposed to COVID), or keeping the whole team permanently remote, it’s a best practice to reduce legal exposure from remote work conditions. The first step should be to develop a comprehensive telework policy. (Again, MP’s HR services team can assist with this task.) This policy should be distributed in a way that allows employees to refer to it whenever needed and obtains a signature of acknowledgment from employees that is kept on file. Managers need to be trained in the policy and the business should also assess information security risks.
Another step employers should take is to reevaluate and update job descriptions as needed. Employees should see and give input on their job descriptions. They should sign acknowledgements if the job description changes. Expectations must clearly be shared with the employee and, ideally, employers and employees will set specific benchmarks of success for the job. This will make it simpler to objectively assess performance and address performance issues. When issues do arise, managers should meet with employees quickly and discuss the problems and potential courses of action to correct (and other tools if necessary).
Lastly, employers should be especially aware of how non-exempt employees are working when remote. They should use systems to track time (MP’s software can assist with this). To stay compliant with Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requirements, employers must know how much their non-exempt employees are working and pay them accordingly. Backpay and legal fines for FLSA non-compliance are often steep.
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