Articles Posted in Employee Handbooks

Employment law is constantly evolving. Every year, the state of California passes new labor laws that impact the employment relationship. The following are some of the most prominent changes that will take effect on January 1, 2020.

AB 5: Independent Contractors

AB 5 codifies California Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, making it more difficult to treat workers are independent contractors. The passage of this bill has been discussed in depth in a previous blog article.

In the 1940’s, a soap company in Chicago hired a small crew of firefighters to live on the premises and be available for emergencies. The crew officially worked a nine-hour shift but were also required to sleep in a designated location and respond alarms, if necessary. A legal dispute arose about whether the “on call” time should have been compensated as hours worked. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it did, with Justice Robert Jackson stating:

“Of course an employer, if he chooses, may hire a man to do nothing, or to do nothing but wait for something to happen. Refraining from other activity often is a factor of instant readiness to serve, and idleness plays a part in all employments in a stand-by capacity. Readiness to serve may be hired, quite as much as service itself, and time spent lying in wait for threats to the safety of the employer’s property may be treated by the parties as a benefit to the employer.” Armour & Co. v. Wantock (1944) 323 U.S. 126, 133.

The Supreme Court’s ruling opened the door for a litany of subsequent cases on the issue of “on call pay.” In the days of modern cellphone technology, the issue has become even more complex. After all, with a cellphone in every pocket, a beckoning call from an employer is just seconds away.

The importance of an employee handbook cannot be understated. As long as the handbook is drafted properly, and the policies are followed, an employee handbook can be used as both a sword and shield to protect the employer from liability.

shield-1412482-300x200As a shield, an employee handbook helps reduce potential liability. One of the greatest benefits of having an employee handbook is its potential to protect companies from employees’ legal claims. An employee handbook can be used to assist the employer in avoiding and defending against discrimination, harassment and wrongful discharge claims.

longsword-1422533-300x225As a sword, the employee handbook allows employers to be proactive. An employee handbook should articulate the employer’s expectations by clearly describing the employer’s policies and procedures. This includes the actions supervisors and employees should take in the event that an employee has a problem or grievance. Employers should not wait until a lawsuit is filed before learning about what occurs at the workplace. In addition, one of the goals of an employee handbook should be to promote fairness and evenhanded treatment of employees by establishing uniform standards that can be applied by all employees.