New Year’s resolutions for employers and HR professionals
Most employers spent 2020 trying to navigate the issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic is continuing into 2021, now that employers have found a new normal, it is time to make a list of goals for the New Year. These are issues that all employers would do well to consider in 2021 to mitigate against the risk of an employment lawsuit or agency complaint in the coming year, as well as to look forward to compliance with new laws and regulations.
- Get moving on diversity and inclusion efforts. 2020 was a landmark year for companies large and small announcing new diversity and inclusion efforts, from General Motors’ recognition of Juneteenth to Albertsons Companies’ six-step plan to ensure a diverse management team. This is the year for companies to fully commit to educating and training workforces about antidiscrimination laws and policies and to enact plans to attract and retain a talented and diverse workforce.
- Formalize telecommuting arrangements. In 2020, many companies rolled out new flexible work schedules and work-from-home technology as a necessity to keep the business running and employees safe. Now, employers are discovering that remote work arrangements have significant benefits for the business, including lower overhead costs as less office space is needed, higher employee morale and increased productivity, and fewer instances of interpersonal conflict. While there are many advantages, there are legal risks as well. Employers must consider workers’ compensation laws, information security and confidentiality, and wage and hour issues under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employers who are considering long-term remote work should take the time in 2021 to work with an attorney to draft formal telecommuting agreements and policies to help mitigate the risks.
- Litigation-proof your handbook. Employment litigation that was delayed due to COVID-19-related court closures or adjustments to the legal practice will begin flowing again in 2021. Employers who want to avoid getting sued by their employees would do well to start by updating their employee handbook. Employee handbooks can be a litigation trap for employers, especially handbooks that include incorrect statements of the law, out-of-date policies that differ from the employer’s actual practice, promises of continued employment, or unintentional ambiguities.
- Brace for the impact of a new administration. The new year brings with it a new presidential administration, a shift of power in Congress, and new heads of employment-law agencies like the DOL, OSHA and the EEOC. Employment-related legislation and more aggressive enforcement proceedings are a virtual certainty.
- Get up to date on state laws. The beginning of the year often means that new state laws go into effect. Multistate employers must ensure they are following the employment laws of each jurisdiction where they have employees.
- Consider voluntary paid leave. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act mandated paid leave in certain situations. While the mandate expired at the end of 2020, the tax credits will be extended to employers that voluntarily provide qualifying paid leave to employees until March 31, 2021. Additionally, as the pandemic continues and many employees are still stretched thin dealing with illness, caring for family members, and navigating continued school and childcare closures, many employers may take a second look at their sick and vacation leave policies to accommodate employee needs.
- Learn the rules about COVID-19 vaccines. The good news for 2021 is the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Employers should familiarize themselves with the legal issues related to vaccines. For example, employer health plans must pay the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine. Employers who are deciding whether to adopt a mandatory vaccination policy should anticipate some workers seeking an exception – a situation that may bring into play the ADA or Title VII.
- Check website and remote work accessibility. For the last few years, employers have repeatedly heard about a flood of litigation against businesses for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not having a website accessible to individuals with disabilities. The litigation continues into 2021, and the rollout of new technology for remote employees means that there are more opportunities than ever for business to face challenges from employees or online customers related to inaccessible technology.
- Plan for attracting talent and customers despite pandemic challenges. Industries that have found ways to take advantages of bored-at-home customers’ desire to spend money on online shopping and streaming have done well during the pandemic. Similarly, many companies have found creative ways to attract and retain talented employees despite economic uncertainty. However, employers must still ensure that fast-moving efforts to move transactions and hiring online does not result in cutting legal corners or violations of data privacy laws.
- Find a go-to employment lawyer to assist your company. The ability to pick up the phone or send an email to ensure your company is complying with the law is invaluable. McAfee & Taft’s Labor and Employment Group can assist your company on meeting your goals in 2021.