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Clear communication between management and employees enables successful workplace operations and effective risk management.  For the new year, employers often find it helpful to revisit their employee handbooks with the help of legal counsel to ensure that their handbooks are consistent with recent changes in labor and employment law.  In this post, we provide a high-level overview of the importance of handbooks for employers in the District of Columbia, and some of the necessary components of an employee handbook.  This information helps employers manage workplace relations and expectations while mitigating litigation risk.

Legal Updates

A complete handbook informs employees about relevant labor and employment laws, including but not limited to, those addressing discrimination and harassment, “legal” marijuana use, reasonable accommodations, paid and unpaid leave, joint-employer status, and wages (e.g. minimum and wage theft).  The following describes some aspects of the important District of Columbia laws that employers address in updated handbooks.

  • The Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2008 (amended in 2013) requires an employer who rehires an employee within one year to reinstate unused, accrued paid leave; allows an employee to accrue sick leave in the 90-day introductory period and access it after the end of the period; and requires certain employers with employees who receive tips or commissions to supplement a base wage below the minimum wage to provide a minimum of one hour of paid leave per forty-three hours of work, up to a maximum of five days per year.  These calculations can be changed by regulation, and employers are expected to stay current on all changes.
  • The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2017 will soon require all covered employers in the District of Columbia to pay into a government fund offering paid leave to all covered employees. Non-government employers will be required to provide notice to their employees of any benefits to which they are entitled.
  • District of Columbia Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in employment because of certain protected traits. The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights maintains a current list of protected traits on its website.  As recently as October 2017, the number of protected traits was increased to 20 to include an applicant’s credit information, subject to specific exceptions.
  • The Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of 2014 requires employers to provide reasonable workplace accommodations to employees whose ability to perform job duties is limited because of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or a related medical condition.
  • The Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014, amended in 2016, subjects employers to enhanced remedies, fines, and requirements aimed at increasing accountability to bolster enforcement of wage payment laws. It steepens penalties for employers, establishes liability for failure to pay wages in particular circumstances, and strengthens worker protection through anti-retaliation provisions.
  • The Wage Transparency Act of 2014, with some exceptions, prohibits employers from barring employees from disclosing their wages to other employees. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees for such disclosures, and from preventing employees from filing complaints against their employer for violations of the act.

Other laws may apply depending on each employer’s situation, including but not limited to the nature of the work and the number of employees employed.

Managerial Guidance

Employee handbooks also give management the proper tools to respond to matters that commonly affect employers such as attendance, paid or unpaid leave, codes of conduct, confidentiality, and complaint intake and investigation procedures.  A well-written handbook will guide management through the complaint intake and investigation process, and appropriate disciplinary procedures in response to potential violations of company policies.  The handbook is also a resource for management when setting employee expectations for conduct and performance in the workplace.  Examples of policies that manage employee expectations are social media and technology use, as well as “dating” policies, which are becoming far more common in the wake of the #me-too movement.  By ensuring that managers and employees are all aware of current employment laws, and by establishing clear policies and procedures to manage the employer-employee relationship and expectations, employers can successfully mitigate legal risk.

This post provides a high-level overview of the laws, policies and procedures that should be considered in any employee handbook.  This post does not constitute legal advice.  Determining whether employer policies and procedures contained in a handbook sufficiently preserve employee rights and protect employers requires careful review by an experienced human resources or legal representative.  If you are an employer with questions about the matter contained in this post, or if you are seeking legal advice or representation, please go to the “Contact Us” page of our website, or call us at (202) 795-9999.