Question: Every year there seem to be changes in California law that require me to update my employee handbook.  What new items do I need to include in my employee handbook?
Answer: In recent years state and federal laws have changed, and it is critically important for the policies in your employee handbook to be accurate and up to date to avoid poor communication and legal liability.
For 2016, make sure your handbook is updated to include current and legally compliant policies in the following areas:

  • Mandatory paid sick leave. The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (HWHFA) was effective July 1, 2015, and was amended on July 13, 2015 to allow alternative sick leave accrual methods and to clarify employee eligibility standards, pay rates, and recordkeeping requirements.
  • Kin care. If you offer “regular” sick leave in addition to HWHFA sick leave, your policy needs updating to reflect that employees can now take up to ½ of “regular” sick leave hours they accrue per year for the same types of absences covered by the HWHFA.
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA). New CFRA regulations effective July 1, 2015 include revised definitions of “spouse,” “covered employers” and “eligible employees,” new restrictions on employer contact with the employee’s health care provider, a new medical certification form and poster, and new requirements for providing notifications to employees. The CFRA certification form is available on line at http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/res/docs/Publications/CFRACertificationForm.pdf
  • Minimum wage increase. If your handbook contains details regarding overtime rates, it should be updated to reflect the $10 per hour minimum wage effective January 1, 2016.
  • Reasonable accommodation. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) now prohibits employers from retaliating or discriminating against an employee who requests accommodation of a disability or religious belief, regardless of whether the accommodation request was granted.
  • School visit leave. Employers with 25 or more employees are required to allow employees to take up to 40 hours of unpaid leave per year (maximum 8 hours per month) to participate in their child’s school or day care activities.  SB 579 expands leave rights to employees who are stepparents, foster parents, or who stand in loco parentis to a child, and allows leave for employees to find a school or a licensed child care provider, to enroll or re-enroll a child, and to address child care provider or school emergencies.
  • Pregnancy disability leave. Beginning April 1, 2016 employers with 5 or more employees are required to replace the current Pregnancy Disability Leave Notice (Notice “A”) with a revised notice which the Department of Fair Employment and Housing will publish on its website, http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Publications_Publications.htm

Additional changes will be required starting April 1, 2016 when amendments to the FEHA take effect. These amendments require employers to provide specific information in their harassment, discrimination, and retaliation policies. For employers with 50 or more employees, the sexual harassment training requirements have been clarified and expanded. The new FEHA amendments also prohibit discrimination against an applicant or employee who holds or presents a driver’s license issued under Vehicle Code section 12801.9, issued to persons meeting all other qualifications for licensure except lawful presence in the United States.  The FEHA amendments contain other changes that will require review and revision of your employee handbook.