During the COVID-19 pandemic, more employees have been laid off or furloughed than ever before, with many more likely still to come. But for businesses still operating, whether at full or reduced capacity, human resources employees are still working and ready to handle the unique challenges facing employers during this time.
If you are an HR representative who is still working, but perhaps finding yourself with a little more free time, now may be a great time to catch up on big-value projects that are often overlooked, and may even get you ahead of the game.
Here are five ways your employment lawyer hopes you’ll spend your extra free time:
1. Review and update employee handbooks and policies: The law in California changes quickly, often requiring changes to employee handbooks and personnel policies. We frequently receive neglected, bulky handbooks that have been updated haphazardly for years, leaving room for errors and creating confusion.
This is a great time to read your entire employee handbook and make revisions. Some questions to consider:
- Is the handbook written in employee-friendly language and consistent throughout?
- Does it contain all legally required and recommended policies?
- Are there policies that are duplicative, contradictory, or can be removed?
The handful of hours spent reviewing the handbook now will almost certainly save you from a lot of headaches later.
2. Refresh job descriptions: Job descriptions are critical for employers and may play a key role in the defense of litigation. Not only are job descriptions vital for hiring the right person for the job, HR relies on job descriptions to make many important legal decisions, such as the employer’s ability to accommodate a disability and whether or not to classify an employee as exempt. Despite their importance, job descriptions are frequently neglected, sometimes for years.
While things are slow, re-evaluate job descriptions and consider the following:
- Is the job title appropriate?
- Do the job duties included in the description reflect the work actually performed by the employee?
- Is the employee properly classified as exempt or non-exempt?
- Has the rate of pay changed?
- Does the job description describe the physical requirements and essential functions of the position?
- Is the level of experience and education required for the position accurate?
Having reliable, up-to-date job descriptions will pay off for months to come, particularly if your business will be hiring once the pandemic subsides.
3. Audit pay practices: Another area of compliance that is often overlooked is pay practices, particularly equal pay between genders and members of protected classes. Undertaking a limited audit of internal pay practices in conjunction with the revised job descriptions – or a full audit with the advice of counsel – is a great way to confirm equal pay for comparable work, to check in that the business is handling overtime pay and meal and rest break compliance properly, and may help insulate the business in the event of future litigation.
4. Clear and preserve emails: If you’re anything like me, your inbox has well over a few thousand emails in it right now. If you’re inspired to get to “inbox zero,” be sure to preserve any emails that may be important for future litigation.
Remember that employee who threatened to sue after you terminated them last week? Their suit for employment discrimination or retaliation could still be four years away under the new FEHA statute of limitations.
So, where litigation is possible, take care to preserve potentially relevant emails in a special archive folder, on a hard drive, or on a cloud drive. If litigation proceeds, all those years later, these critical emails should be easily retrievable.
5. Organize files and records: Similarly, now is the time to get through those piles of papers on your desk, chair, bookcase, and the floor under your desk (yeah, I know about that!) and either dispose of, file, or electronically preserve them, as appropriate.
- Make sure documents that may be important for future litigation are preserved and properly filed so they can be easily located when needed, even if you are no longer with the company.
- You might also wish to review personnel files and remove documents that do not belong, such as medical information and I-9 verifications, and file those separately.
- Finally, review your document retention and destruction policy, confirm ongoing compliance, and update if needed.
Although things are uncertain now, one day, things will return to business as normal. Now is the time to take advantage of an unexpected slowdown to position yourself and your company for future success.
Stefanie Renaud is an associate in the Los Angeles office of Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 255-1818.
For additional employer-focused information about COVID-19, see Hirschfeld Kraemer’s “Employer’s Guide to Coronavirus”