Question: We haven’t updated our Employee Handbook for a few years.  Do we need to update it for 2021?

Answer:  Yes, there are several new laws that require employers of all sizes to update their employee handbook.  The new laws and required updates include:

  • Expanded Leave Rights. Employers with 5-49 employees must adopt and implement a new California Family Rights Act (CFRA) policy.  Effective January 1, 2021, Senate Bill (SB) 1383 will require employers with 5-49 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to qualifying employees.  Leave may be taken due to the birth, adoption or foster care of a child; the need to care for an eligible family member with a serious health condition; the employee’s own serious health condition; or a qualifying exigency  related to the covered active duty or call to covered active duty of an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the United States Armed Forces.  SB 1383 repeals California’s New Parent Leave Act because it is no longer needed. It expands the definition of a “family member” and a “child,” so employers with 50 or more employees must revise existing CFRA policies to comply with this new law.  Also, the Department of Labor issued new Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms in June 2020, and employers must modify their forms to comply with both the FMLA and the new CFRA.

The statutes relating to Crime Victims leave and Organ and Bone Marrow Donation leave have also changed, requiring updating of those policies.

  • Harassment Prevention. Employers must ensure that their harassment prevention policy complies with new laws passed in 2019. Furthermore, all employers of 5 or more employees must provide 1 hour of sexual harassment and abusive conduct prevention training to nonsupervisory employees and 2 hours of this training to supervisors and managers once every two years.  The deadline to complete training is January 1, 2021.

In addition to updating employee handbooks, employers should prepare now to comply with the following new requirements:

  • Revise Illness & Injury Prevention Program. In May 2020, Cal/OSHA issued Interim General Guidelines for Protecting Workers from COVID-19. The new guidance identifies specific infection control measures that are mandatory for California employers to implement and include in their IIPP. See https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/general-industry.html.
  • Adopt a COVID-19 Specific Workplace Safety Plan. Cal/OSHA and the California Department of Public Health require all employers to adopt and implement a COVID-19 specific workplace safety plan and provide employee training.   The plan must be specific to your workplace, identify all areas and job tasks with potential exposures to COVID-19, include control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures, maintain healthy business operations and a healthy work environment, and encourage employees to provide input into the plan.  See guidance for the plan here: https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/employer-playbook-for-safe-reopening–en.pdf
  • Prepare COVID-19 Exposure Notices.  Effective January 1, 2021, Assembly Bill 685 requires employers to provide notification to employees and local and state public health officials of potential exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.  Notice of potential exposure must be provided to employees within one business day of the employer’s receipt of notice of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or isolation order.  Employers should prepare the notices in advance so they can meet this strict deadline.

COVID-19 has presented new and confusing challenges for the workplace.  Having clear policies that ensure employees are well informed is more important than ever.