A regular review of your employee handbook ensures that it continually reflects the way you do business, and more importantly, that your company is operating in full compliance with applicable employment laws and regulations. Below is a summary of recent legal changes impacting employment policies in Massachusetts.
- Parental leave for female and male employees. Effective April 7, 2015, the newly enacted Parental Leave Act (PLA) requires employers to offer eight (8) weeks of unpaid leave to eligible female and male employees in the event of the birth of a child; placement of a child under 18 (or under 23 if the child is mentally or physically disabled) for adoption with the employee adopting or intending to adopt; or placement of a child with an employee pursuant to a court order. This leave will run concurrently with leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employers also subject to the federal law. Because eligibility requirements are different under the FMLA and PLA, employers are advised to provide separate policies in their handbooks, along with a clear explanation of how the laws interact with one another, as well as with any paid leave policies (such as short-term disability) maintained by the employer.
- Paid sick leave. Another new law in Massachusetts, effective July 1, 2015, requires all private sector employers to provide employees with up to 40 hours of sick leave per calendar year. Specifically, employers with 11 or more employees must provide paid sick leave; while employers with less than 11 employees only need to offer unpaid sick leave. All employees performing paid work on a full-time, part-time or temporary basis must be counted for purposes of determining whether an employer meets the “11 employee” threshold. The minimum accrual rate is one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. We recommend a thorough review of your existing sick time policies to ensure compliance with the law’s requirements, including acceptable uses of sick leave, documentation requirements and how the law impacts existing sick leave policies with different accrual terms.
- Domestic Violence Leave. Massachusetts enacted a new law in August, 2014 requiring employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 15 days of leave within a 12 month period if an employee or the employee’s family member is dealing with an abusive situation such as domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault. Leave can be paid or unpaid, and employers may require that an employee exhaust all vacation, personal and sick leave before requesting domestic violence leave. The statute provides guidance on advance notification requirements, permitted documentation and confidentiality protections, all of which should be set forth clearly in your handbook.
While these legal developments apply only to companies with Massachusetts-based employees, we strongly recommend that all clients review their handbooks annually to ensure compliance with evolving state and federal employment laws. Likewise, regular reviews of employment policies are important because simple changes within an organization - such as total number of employees - may trigger new compliance requirements. For example, employers with fifty or more employees are required to comply with the FMLA.
Beyond legal compliance, employee handbooks help employers introduce company culture and establish expectations for workplace conduct. Likewise, an employee handbook should reflect an employer’s current policies and procedures, which may have changed since the company initially created an employee handbook. Because they play such an essential role in the operation of your business, handbooks deserve a thorough and regular review. If you would like assistance updating your handbook, or if you would like to discuss recent changes in the law, please contact a member of Outside GC’s employment law team: Amy Katz, Jackie Piscitello and Christine Zebrowski.