What Handbook Updates Should Employers Consider for 2021?

The year 2020 undoubtedly presented many challenges to employers in keeping on top of the wide array of changing laws and regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Notably, the pandemic may have prompted changes to employers' remote-work, paid-leave and other policies. As we start a new year, it is important to be mindful of the myriad of significant labor and employment law changes in 2021 — in addition to those specifically related to COVID-19.

What tips and best practices can employers use, and what updates should be included for 2021? Consider implementing the following updates to your employee handbook for 2021:

COVID-19 Related Policies/Health and Safety

COVID-19, unfortunately, is likely to continue to dominate employer agendas. Employers should be prepared with response plans for employee infections and continue enforcing their existing safety protocols to minimize the spread of the virus in their workplaces.

Employers in New York must create and implement a COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan to protect employees and consumers, make their facilities or other physical worksites safer, and implement processes designed to lower the risk of potential infections occurring at their business. These processes will vary from business to business and employers should implement or update policies to reflect their needs.

Company policies should address the procedures in place to deal with an employee who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms in the workplace and those who test positive for COVID-19. In addition, employees must be advised of their options available should they need to take a COVID-19 related leave. In addition, if the company has implemented employee health monitoring systems and procedures, this must be covered in a policy.

Employers should review guidelines from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that are meant to keep workers healthy and safe during the pandemic. OSHA’s existing standards cover pandemic-related safety risks. Specifically, all employers must provide a work environment that is "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." OSHA has also released COVID-19-specific guidelines for limiting workers' exposure to the coronavirus which employers should be sure to review and implement in their health and safety policies.

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