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The AR Group

2015 Top Topics in Employee Handbooks

The top policy issues in 2015 according to XpertHR survey involve: (1) Paid Sick Leave; (2) Data Privacy; and (3) Social Media Use.

Paid Sick Leave

At present, paid sick days campaigns or legislation exist in Alaska, Arizona, California, Chicago, East Orange (N.J.), Eugene (Ore.), Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Irvington (N.J.), Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montclair (N.J.), Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oakland (Calif.), Oregon, Passaic (N.J.), Paterson (N.J.), Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, San Diego, South Carolina, Tacoma, Trenton (N.J.), Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. While there was a movement afoot at the federal level, that effort was pushed back. With the increased interest in legislation on this issue at a local level, one has to question how long before federal action will take hold. As this issue continues to unfold, employers are starting to grapple with possible voluntary inclusion of a paid sick leave policy, recognizing the increased value and importance it holds with employees.

While many employers already have some type of paid-sick-leave plan, those policies typically only cover full-time employees. The trend is to cover all employees. Indeed, under a California law that took effect July 1, 2015, both full- and part-time employees who have must get paid sick leave. It is estimated that 6.5 million Californians became eligible for paid sick leave for the first time starting July 1st.

Data Privacy & Social Media

A vast majority of employers recognize data privacy as an important issue that requires addressing in their handbooks, with almost as many recognizing social media usage on the job as an issue of concern. The need for policy ?evolution? around both data privacy and social media is ongoing and this fact means that policy editing is critically important as the state of the law continues to run to catch up with the reality of the myriad of issues presented by the fast pace in which data use and employee communications continues to evolve. The fact is that improperly drafted policies and handbooks can create potential liability for employers, leaving them susceptible to legal claims.


Medical and legalized marijuana has created interesting issues for employers in nearly half the states, though its use remains a violation of federal law. Careful crafting of policies that comport with state or federal law as well as the ethos of a company is important and a cookie cutter approach is not recommended since this issue can readily change based on various factors including for example, whether the employer is a government contractor or health provider.

Bring Your Own Device

Meanwhile, a strong percentage of employers recognize, for good reason, that BYOD (?Bring-your-own-device?) policies are needed. Again, depending on the degree to which a particular employer requires, prefers, or suggests that employees use their own devices for business use, these policies require careful consideration as significant liabilities can ensue. For example, managers should use caution when texting or emailing non-exempt employees before or after hours, as minimum wage and hour laws come into play when such employees have the ability (and temptation) to work ?off the clock.?? Checking and replying to texts or emails after hours would be considered paid time for hourly workers.

LGBT Concerns

Approximately 20% of employers view LGBT protection as a concern that must be addressed or accommodated and given some recent Supreme Court decisions, policies likely need updating. Employers should make tolerance part of the workplace culture by having strong anti-discrimination provisions in personnel policies. Employers can also use the Employee Handbook to outline reasonable workplace appearance, grooming, and dress standards that allow employees to appear or dress consistently with their gender identity and gender expression.

SMART Tip: Even as recently as a few years ago, employers were reluctant to see much value in employee handbooks and/or written policies. As human capital management issues and recognition of the impact that an employer?s culture has on its marketability, we have seen a significant interest in drafting a regulatory compliant and culturally relevant employee handbook. Ultimately, the value of well crafted and drafted Employee Handbooks will help to serve as an employer?s best defense when issues arise, which they ultimately will.