Rollout of updated policies with the new year

January 2010

After the frenzy of the holiday season, January is the perfect time to reassess employment policies.  This includes making modifications to comply with changes in the laws and implementing any updates appropriate for the ever-changing needs of the workplace.  If December's holiday party ended with "true love" being found between two employees in the IT department, this brings legal challenges that should be handled at an early stage by the proper application of policies on workplace dating.  Employers with an H1N1 pandemic preparedness plan in place are positioned to address flu outbreak issues and minimize disruption in the workplace.  If the economy is impacting the ability of the business to continue to offer generous paid time off or other benefits, changes should be communicated to all employees before the new plans take effect. 


Recent changes in federal laws affecting the majority of employers in 2010 include:


• The National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 signed by President Obama on October 30, 2009, includes expanded rights to military families under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and requires employers to update their policies.

• The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 is in effect and provides for additional pay discrimination protection.

• Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act became effective November 21, 2009, creating new employee rights and employer obligations in the workplace regarding genetic information.

• The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) premium reductions for laid off employees under certain circumstances.

• New regulations are in the process of being finalized by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) implementing the expanded definitions of "disability" and providing additional protections to workers under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act.

• The minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) increased in July of 2009 to $7.25 per hour.

• The EEOC has issued a new "Equal Opportunity is the Law" poster required for display at the workplace. 

In addition to the constant changes in federal laws that require vigilance by employers in today's workplace, state and local governments often impose additional requirements on employersIt is important to recognize the changes in laws at all levels of government.


Further, the changes in social norms such as the increase in "social networking" are impacting workplace interactions.  Employers who already have workplace policies in place for confidential company information and use of company electronic systems may benefit from expanding those policies to specifically address social networking.  Having supervisors request "friend" access to subordinates' social networking sites can implicate harassment and privacy issues.  If there are ongoing concerns in the workplace with the appropriate content of screen savers, texting, and blogging, a policy can provide uniformity in addressing the issues.  Similarly, dress codes may need to be updated to address fashion hurdles such as flip flops, tattoos and body piercings. 


Employers today must constantly protect themselves from claims of unfairness and discrimination.  Well written and comprehensive policies should set out exactly what employees can expect from the employer and, perhaps more importantly, what conduct to which employees are not entitled. 


Employment policies are an important tool for use in preventing lawsuits and, in the event a dispute arises, supporting a defense.  Employers should have policies on how employment-related situations will be handled at every stage of the relationship.  Once policies have been formulated, they should be reviewed regularly to ensure continued compliance with the constantly changing legal standards and business needs of the workplace.  Wilson Elser and its National Employment Group are available to help navigate the dynamic workplace laws and the application of those laws to the everyday needs of businesses. 


For further information, please contact via e-mail Linda P. Wills at or Ricki E. Roer at  Linda can also be reached by phone in our Houston office at 713.353.2022 and Ricki can be reached in our New York office at 212.915.5375.

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