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  • Writer's pictureRyan T. Biesenbach

Reminder to Management: It’s (Past) Time to Update Your Employee Handbook (Again)

There are a myriad of benefits for an employer in establishing and disseminating key job-related information such as personnel policies, working conditions, and behavioral expectations (simply put, an employee handbook). Often, however, the main reason for an employer to maintain a compilation of policies is to maintain compliance with the law. Heading into February, we write to remind those charged with keeping employee handbooks and other workplace policies current that it’s not too late (and never is) to amend those guidelines and procedures required by New York State and federal authorities. Indeed, a number of laws were enacted late last year that either have or will soon go into effect. This article is meant to give a brief and inexhaustive overview of several areas where your employee handbook may need some revisions.

For example, language in policies concerning or related to leave procedures will need to be revised in cases where employers assess any form of discipline to employees (such as making deductions from separate timebanks, making them ineligible for promotion or a loss of pay) because an employee used a legally protected form of absence (such as Family and Medical Leave Act, New York State Paid Family Leave (“PFL”), New York Sick/Safe Leave, COVID-19 Sick Leave, etc.). Signed into legislation by Governor Hochul on November 21, 2022 (see NY State Senate Bill S1958A), and effective February 19, 2023, this new provision amends Section 215 of the New York Labor Law and, practically, adds an additional layer of job-protection to employees taking one of many forms of federal, state, or local leave entitlement by making employer adverse action to such an employee unlawful.

Already in effect (beginning January 1, 2023) are the amendments to PFL (see NY State Senate Bill S2928A) that, inter alia, expand current legislation to allow employees paid time away from work to care for a sibling with a serious health condition. Prior to this addition, the “family members” covered under the statute extended only to spouses, domestic partners, children and step-children, parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, and grandchildren with a serious health condition. For avoidance of doubt, included within “siblings” are biological siblings, adopted siblings, step-siblings, and half-siblings (who can live outside of New York State or even outside of the country). All language in PFL policies should be revised wherever found to advise employees of this updated definition.

As we’ve already covered in an earlier article, clarifications and expansions to the scope of current regulations for employees expressing breastmilk (see NY State Senate Bill S4844B) will require employers to make all reasonable efforts to provide a private area – that is not a restroom – and in close proximity to the employee’s work area for up to three (3) years following an employee returning from the birth of a child “each time such employee has a reasonable need” to express breast milk. Although not effective until June 7, 2023, certain of these requirements could mean preparations beyond revisions to policies.

These are, of course, only a sliver of the policies required of employers in most New York workplaces which should be included in employee handbooks. If you have any questions regarding this article, or how to inquire if your workplace is legally compliant, please contact the Underberg & Kessler attorney who regularly handles your legal matters or Ryan T. Biesenbach, the author of this piece, here, or at (585) 258-2865.

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