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Massachusetts: Don’t Wait a Decade – Five Things All Employers Should Do Annually

By Marylou Fabbo - Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C.

January 8, 2020

In a recent article in BusinessWest, Skoler Abbott (Springfield, MA) Attorney Maureen James summarized significant 2019 employment law developments and set forth what employers should be on the lookout for in 2020. You can read the article here. Here are some things employers should be doing the first quarter of every calendar year:

1. Distribute Annually-Required Employee Notices

Massachusetts employers are required to distribute their sexual harassment policy to employees upon hire and annually thereafter.  The beginning of the year is a great time to hand out or email the policy.  We recommend that when you do so, you obtain some evidence that you complied with the annual requirement.  An employee’s signed acknowledgement of the documented policy works.  If your company is paperless and chooses to send the policy via email, we recommend that you retain your distribution list, send the email with “delivered” or “read” receipts, and/or require your employees to “reply” that they received the policy.  A copy of the acknowledgement should be kept in the employee’s paper (or electronic) personnel file.  On a side note, we recommend that before handing out your “sexual harassment” policy, you should expand it to prohibit all forms of harassment and discrimination based on membership in a protected classification.

2. Review and Update Handbooks and Policies

All organizations should take a hard look at their handbooks at least annually.  If you review and update your handbook or employee manual around the same time every year, the following year’s review and edits should be minimal.  If you wait several years and/or until you have a problem, you are likely to have a much bigger project on your hands as well as a significant lack of compliance with the ever-evolving employment laws.  If your handbook has several “addendums” or the company has issued employee policies separate and apart from the handbook, it’s time to incorporate everything into one document.  Your handbook should reflect who you are as a company—not your culture or expectations from 5 years ago.  A disjointed, confusing and outdated handbook looks sloppy, may contain impermissible policies, and detracts from the professional image most employers strive to project.  If you didn’t issue an updated employee handbook effective January 1, it’s not too late to do it now.

3. Check Your Posters and Notices

Does your organization have a laminated, “all-in-one” poster that includes the Family and Medical Leave Act even though you don’t have 50 employees and are not a covered employer?  Tired of putting it back up, did Janet from Accounting ultimately trash the Workers’ Compensation poster that kept coming off the wall when people rushed by?  Is notice of the company’s holiday party covering the Earned Sick Time law poster?  Do you even know what notices you currently are required to post versus directly provide to employees?  The beginning of the year is the perfect time for employers to verify that their posters are up-to-date, actually apply to them, and haven’t vanished over the past year.

4. Confirm that Employees are Being Paid Correctly

Effective January 1, 2020, the Fair Labor Standards Act regulations were amended to increase the minimum annual salary for most exempt employees paid on a salary basis from of $455 per week (or $23,660 per year) to $684 per week (or $35,568 per year).  Make sure that you don’t have employees who are not earning at least $35,568 on a salary basis incorrectly classified as exempt.

Additionally, if you have non-exempt minimum wage workers, take a look to see that they are now making the minimum wage in effect as of January 1, 2020, which is now $12.75 in Massachusetts.  Even if you were on top of these two changes, make sure that those responsible for your payroll properly implemented them.   We’ve had to address more than one situation where the first few payrolls of a calendar year were “off.”  With triple damage exposure for violations of Massachusetts wage laws, a company-wide error can put a significant dent in your bottom line.  Speaking of pay, there’s a new IRS Form W-4 for employers that was designed to make it easier for employees to understand and complete.  No new form is required for your current employees, but new hires should be using the new IRS Form W-4.

5. Update Job Descriptions

No law requires that employers maintain job descriptions, but if you’re going to have them, they should be accurate.  We advise clients to take a look at their job descriptions once a year (in addition to anytime there’s a new hire in the position).  Employees’ job duties should be clearly-defined, and physical and mental requirements should be accurately set forth.  Job descriptions are also important in light of the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act and will be useful under the new Paid Family Medical Leave Act.  (If you haven’t completed a pay equity audit, which is one of the strongest tools an employer has in its defense arsenal when it comes to defeating gender discrimination claims, get that done, too!)

Bottom Line

Millions of people set New Year’s resolutions each year. Well, a business should be no different.  With the number of employment laws that change every year, employers must be diligent about remaining compliant.  Checking these tasks off one-by-one is a good start to doing so.

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