Keeping Current

 

With 2014 soon coming to a close and a new year around the corner, this is the time of to-do lists, of updating, of revising, of renewing. Business owners and human resources professionals typically spend this time of year inundated with invitations to seminars, webinars and all manner of programs promising to share the latest and greatest in the form of new laws that impact the industry and the workforce. All of this “newness” can feel overwhelming, particularly in the highly regulated EMS industry. To add to the list, this is a prime time to review and update your employee handbook. In fact, the handbook is the place where much of this new knowledge should be located, and so, this is a logical time to give the handbook a once-over.

 

Many companies go years without so much as a glance at the employee handbook despite the fact that this document is handed to every new employee and is the place where the company’s important policies are located. Add to this the fact that some companies now opt for online handbooks where policies might be scattered throughout a company intranet rather than kept in once place. In this case, policies can linger and become stale, inapplicable, or worse, contrary to the law. If that’s not reason enough to update the handbook, here is a list to help explain why it is so important to keep those handbooks updated:

 

1. The law changes”¦often

 

Particularly in the areas of equal employment opportunity and benefits, laws are constantly changing and new statutes are added to the books every year. For example, some cities (such as Seattle and San Francisco) now require employers to provide paid sick leave. California may soon follow suit statewide. Particularly, if companies operate in multiple cities and states, they must be sure that their handbooks reflect such nuances.

 

Likewise, most handbooks start out with a statement regarding the company’s equal opportunity policy. This policy generally lists legally protected classifications and explains the company’s practice of treating all applicants and employees equally without regard to such classifications. As new categories are added to the list of protected classifications under state or federal law, employers are wise to update their equal employment opportunity and harassment policies to include new classifications among the list of those protected by the company’s anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies.

 

2. Handbooks can offer legal protection

 

If a handbook contains up-to-date policies and those policies are followed, it is likely that the types of concerns that could eventually lead to litigation might be avoided at the outset. Moreover, the existence of up-to-date policies that are followed by management can be used to help defend a lawsuit. This is particularly true if care is taken to ensure that employees receive, review and understand the contents of an employee handbook.

 

3. Your workforce might change

 

Some laws, for example the Family Medical Leave Act, apply only to employers with a minimum number of employees. Often a small employer’s initial handbook is streamlined and thin. If that handbook is not re-visited and the workforce grows, the handbook might exclude policies regarding important and now-applicable laws.

 

4. The industry is heavily regulated

 

It is particularly important to maintain up-to-date policies and practices in the EMS industry. For instance, special wage and hour rules may apply to nurses, paramedics and others; drug testing may be mandated; background checks may be required; and physical tests may be necessary. While most EMS providers do an excellent job of keeping up with industry regulations, handbooks may not accurately reflect this fact. If a handbook exists, it should be current and compliant with all applicable regulations.

 

While updating a handbook may seem a daunting process, it is a worthwhile endeavor. If you get into the habit of annually reviewing the handbook, chances are the necessary changes will be somewhat minor. Be sure to consult with a human resources professional or counsel to ensure that all changes are accurate.

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