Question: My company’s Employee Handbook has not been updated since 2010. We only have 30 employees. Have there been changes in California law requiring updates to the employee handbook?


Answer: Yes, each year there are changes in employment laws that impact the workplace, and usually handbook updates are required. If you have not updated your handbook in four years, policy revisions may be needed, including the following:

  • Expansion of protected characteristics. California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against employees because of an employee’s protected characteristics, including age, race, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, pregnancy, disability, medical condition, military/veteran status, and national origin.   Gender identity, gender expression, and genetic characteristics have been added as protected characteristics over the past 3 years. Employers should update their Equal Employment Opportunity and Unlawful Harassment and Discrimination policies to include all protected characteristics.
  • Pregnancy Disability Accommodation and Leave. In 2013, new regulations were issued defining the length of pregnancy disability leave, explaining the method of calculating leave for part time employees, prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on perceived pregnancy, and expanding employers’ obligations to accommodate employees who are disabled or have work limitations due to broadly defined pregnancy related medical conditions. Your pregnancy disability leave policy should be revised to comply with these regulations.
  • Leave for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking. The Labor Code requires employers to provide unpaid time off for employees who need to seek medical attention, counseling, or obtain legal assistance as a result of sexual assault or domestic violence. This leave was expanded in 2014 to allow time off for victims of stalking, and if your handbook contains this policy, it should be revised to include time off for victims of stalking.
  • Health insurance waiting period. As of January 1, 2014, employers and health plans cannot impose waiting periods of more than 60 days for covered employees and their dependents. This provision is narrower than the federal requirement prohibiting waiting periods in excess of 90 days. Check your handbook to make sure employees are eligible for participation in your company’s health insurance plan before their 60th day of employment.
  • Paid Family Leave. Effective July 1, 2014 the paid family leave law was expanded to allow an employee to collect benefits through the state Employment Development Department if an employee is granted time off to care for his or her grandparent, grandchild, parent-in-law, or sibling. Note that the paid family leave law does not require employers to grant time off; rather, it provides income replacement if an employee is granted time off to care for a covered family member. If your handbook has a paid family leave policy, it should be revised to include these additional family members.
  • Family Medical Leave. Public entity employers, schools, and private employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide unpaid leave to eligible employees under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).   The FMLA was substantially revised in 2010 and 2013, and new mandatory forms and notice requirements were adopted. Employers covered by the FMLA and CFRA should update their policies accordingly.

Your technology, social media, at-will employment policies, and employee acknowledgement forms may also need changes. It is good practice to update your employee handbook every year or two to keep up with California’s dynamic workplace law developments.