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With the Wall Street Journal predicting new “legal pitfalls” for many companies in 2014 (Wall Street Journal Article), what’s an employer to do? 

Well,  it’s a new year, so do what comes naturally at this time of year and resolve to protect your business from employment law risk in 2014.  Need a little push to get started?  Here are a few resolutions to start your year off right:

1.         Update your employee handbook.  Ok, it’s not the most exciting resolution, but like sticking to your diet, it’ll be worth it.  A well-written employee handbook is one of the most important documents that an employer can have to communicate with employees and protect its business.    Workplaces and laws change over time and your employment policies need to keep pace with those changes.  Your updated handbook should cover social media and electronic communications, FMLA and leave of absence practices, and timekeeping policies.    If you haven’t read and updated your handbook recently, resolve to do it in 2014. 

2.         Review your wage/hour practices.  Year after year, even the savviest of employers are being hit with wage/ hour audits and class action litigation that end up costing them really big bucks. Reports indicate that both federal wage/hour lawsuits and DOL settlement amounts increased in 2013. With the U.S. Department of Labor’s increased manpower and focus on specific industries, including retail, hospitality, financial services, insurance, and staffing, this trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2014.  Why worry about whether you’re the next target? Take steps to protect your business from risk by auditing your wage/hour practices:  Evaluate whether your employees are properly classified as exempt/non-exempt.  Next dig into your payroll practices to discover whether violations may be hidden in rounding, on-call, meal/break, regular rate calculation, and travel time practices.  Like going to the gym, a wage/hour audit can be a little painful at first, but well worth it in the end.

3.         Protect your business assets and data.  You don’t leave your front door unlocked (do you?), so why leave your business assets and customer data unprotected?  Well drafted confidentiality, non-solicitation, and non-compete agreements and an effective data security program protect your business assets and private data from disclosure and
unfair competition.  Even if you have agreements in place, consider whether they have kept pace with changes in
technology and the law. Changes in technology in just the last few years may mean that your existing documents aren’t protecting your business the way that they should.  Is it time to update your agreements to protect your business assets and ensure the security of your data?

4.         Train your managers.  Let’s face it, employment laws are complicated, they often overlap, and they certainly aren’t intuitive.  Most of your managers are trained in other substantive areas, but they’re on the “front lines” in administering your employment policies—often without sufficient training.  So, if you want to ensure employment law compliance in 2014, your managers need to understand the basics of these laws. What are protected categories, when does the FMLA apply, what’s an “exempt” employee…I could go on, but you get the point.  Commit to providing your managers with the training they need to protect the business from employment law risk. 

So, there you go, four resolutions that will protect your business from employment law risk in 2014 and will make you feel better too.  With resolutions like that, who needs the gym?