Personnel policies support a productive work environment and serve as the first line of defense against employee litigation. Personnel policies are not static but must adapt to changing circumstances and regular legal updates. Well-drafted policies can provide clear guidelines to outline worker conduct within a broad framework that reflects the intentions and goals of top management. But even well-intentioned personnel policies may be ill conceived, resulting in employee litigation or claims before the National Labor Relations Board. We work with our clients to develop appropriate policies, prepare and revise employee handbooks, and prepare and update the forms necessary to document critical events, including terminations and disability accommodations.
Handbooks and Policy Manuals
Each workplace presents unique employee communication challenges. One size does not fit all when it comes to handbooks or policy manuals. When tailored to the specific business, they provide a roadmap for managers who are engaged in disciplining and evaluating employees, and communicate to employees what to expect and what is expected of them. They are essential to a productive workplace and prevention of – or defense against – employee claims.
We regularly draft, revise, and update employment policies and manuals in a wide range of industries, from small family-owned businesses to nationwide manufacturers. But because any policy is only as good as its implementation and enforcement by management and its understanding by employees, we provide on-site management and employee training to ensure that policies are appropriately implemented, enforced, and understood.
Cook Brown also offers bilingual, on-site employee and management training.
Leave of Absence
Employee rights to leaves of absence can be confusing and challenging to administer. For example, employees returning from a protected leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) who can no longer perform the essential functions of the job may then be entitled to additional leave pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition to the ADA and FMLA, leaves are mandated pursuant to numerous other state and federal statutes including the:
- California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
- Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL)
- Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
- California Civil Codes and Labor Code
Cook Brown counsels employers daily on complying with leave obligations, helping them understand the overlaps and differences among the various laws to ensure that employer policies are appropriate and practicable.
Trade Secret Protection
Protecting trade secrets is critical to many employers’ growth and success. Keeping trade secrets secret, however, requires strategic planning, and step-by-step implementation of appropriate policies and employee agreements. Cook Brown works with its clients to draft appropriate policies that provide maximum trade secret protection without overstepping the laws that promote lawful competition. Cook Brown is equally experienced with the litigation of trade secret issues, representing its clients in both state and federal court on claims of misappropriation, unfair business practices, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract.
Disability and Accommodation
As the definition of “disability” has evolved, employers have been confronted with the challenging task of determining who is and is not entitled to an accommodation and for how long. Cook Brown attorneys understand this dilemma and counsel employers almost daily on practical steps to ensure employers meet their obligations under state and federal disability rights laws.
Harassment and Discrimination Prevention
It is essential that supervisors and non-supervisors alike understand the employer’s obligations under state and federal laws relating to harassment and discrimination:
- California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act & California Pregnancy Disability Leave law
- The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
Violations or perceived violations can result in a non-functioning workplace or worse, protracted and costly litigation. Cook Brown has years of experience providing comprehensive, plain language training on harassment and equal opportunity obligations. Our AB 1825 Harassment training ensures that a foundation is established to minimize the risk of harassment-based claims and that companies stay on track with compliance. We also tackle legislatively-mandated abusive conduct and workplace civility into our supervisor and employee training seminars.
Hiring, Firing, and Layoffs
Cook Brown helps employers minimize these risks associated with hiring, firing, and layoffs. In light of enumerable statutory and regulatory mandates, the employment relationship has become exceedingly complex. The complexities begin at the very outset with laws governing advertising for employees, employment applications, interviewing applicants, and hiring candidates. Terminating the relationship can be risky even where the employee’s work is inadequate or there is no work to perform. Our attorneys work with employers to develop appropriate policies and guidelines, management training, and oversight of hiring and firing decisions.
Employment and Severance Agreements
Cook Brown drafts employment agreements for employers in every industry. We draft severance agreements designed to protect employers at the termination of an employment relationship. We counsel employers on the requirements of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), as well as the effective release of potential claims. The risks are significant. An inaccurate term or vague provision could prove disastrous. We work closely with clients to ensure these agreements reflect their intentions and protect their interests.
Social Media Policies and Guidelines
We are uniquely positioned to provide counsel on the topic of social media based on our 30-year history litigating and advising employers on traditional labor law. The overlap between traditional labor law and employment law in the non-organized workplace has never been as broad as it is in connection with social media. The push by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to stay relevant as the unionized workplace becomes less and less common has created the need for all employers to start looking at NLRB opinions on how overly broad policies can lead to claims of unfair labor practices in attempts to thwart unionization.