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Time for a Mid-Year Handbook and Confidentiality Agreement Tune Up

As I have mentioned before, every California employer, large or small, needs three things: (1) an Employee Handbook that addresses California specific issues; (2) a comprehensive Confidentiality Agreement to protect the company’s proprietary information to the greatest extent possible; and (3) an Arbitration Agreement.

From time to time, I run across employers who never want to finish their handbook. Instead it is in a constant state of revision and refinement. This can be problematic. It is not necessary to rush to update a handbook or agreement every time some new law is announced. I generally recommend thoughtful updates of all three documents, on a regular, periodic basis (at least once a year, maybe twice). It is important that these documents are drafted and reviewed as a set, otherwise they could unintentionally contradict each other.

Another objection I often hear is “why should we bother updating the handbook – no one reads it anyway.” My answer is what matters is that employees acknowledge the handbook, so you can use it as a basis for discipline, and as a defense to litigation. With so many plaintiffs’ counsel requesting personnel files to evaluate possible claims, the absence of policies is never helpful.

Believe it or not, we are already approaching the half-way mark for 2016, so June 1st or July 1st is a good time for an update. The following are a few key items to consider:

First, there is an important new federal law involving confidentiality agreements. As my partner, James Singer, explained in this helpful Alert, in order to get protections of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, your employee handbook and/or confidentiality agreement should be updated to include certain language providing immunity for whistleblowers. Failing to add this language can preclude a new avenue of recovery under the DTSA, so it certainly makes sense to include it.

Second, as my partner Jeff Polsky explained, some updates to your harassment policy may be required to comply with California’s new regulations.

Third, check your local ordinances, keeping in mind that the LA Hotel Ordinance goes into effect for additional properties on July 1st (and requires some time off policy updates in addition to wage increases), that Santa Monica’s minimum wage ordinance has updated paid sick leave requirements, and that Los Angeles employers may have new requirements for paid sick leave if a proposal recently approved by the City Council is adopted.

If you don’t want to update all of your policies mid-year, another option is a mid-year notice to employees, and then a full scale revision at year-end including all of the updates. Either way, mid-year is a good time for a policy tune-up.

BY NANCY YAFFE ON MAY 26, 2016