As the holiday season rounds the corner of this eventful year, our thoughts turn to gifts and gift-giving. From a business perspective, I happen to believe that a solid employee handbook is the best gift for any business. A carefully crafted employee handbook is an investment that can yield significant returns year after year so long as it is kept up to date and properly implemented. Now that the Workplace Fairness Act (WFA) has gone into effect in Oregon as of October 1, 2020, it is a great time to revisit, update and otherwise improve your employee handbook as we head into a new—and hopefully better—year. I discuss below some of the provisions of the WFA and tips in drafting or revising your employee handbook.
Workplace Fairness Act
The Workplace Fairness Act was enacted by the Oregon legislature in May of 2019. A product of the “me-too” movement, the WFA seeks to address real or perceived issues involved in discrimination claims. The statute went into effect on October 1, 2020.
In addition to extending the statute of limitations from one year to five years, the WFA now makes anti-harassment policies mandatory for Oregon employers. If you do not currently have an anti-harassment policy, now is the time to draft one. The statute spells out several provisions that must be included in your policy. Some of the salient provisions that the policy must have are as follows:
provide a process for employees to report discrimination and harassment
identify the person or persons responsible for receiving complaints, including an alternate
notify employees of the five-year statute of limitation for bringing a claim of discrimination or sexual assault
have a statement that the employer may not require or coerce an employee to sign a non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreement, including a description of the meaning of those terms
have an explanation that an aggrieved employee may voluntarily request a non-disclosure or no-rehire agreement and will have seven day to revoke the agreement
Your policy must be provided to each employee when the employee is hired and when an employee files a complaint. As with any new law, there are still open questions regarding how to interpret and implement provisions in the statute. For this reason, I highly recommend that you contact counsel to ensure your policy is in compliance with the WFA.
The number one mistake I see when reviewing an employee handbook is verbosity. It is impossible, even if you try, to cover every possible scenario in your handbook. Instead, clearly setting out your policies will go a long way in setting expectations with your employees. Therefore, when drafting or revising your employee handbook, do so with conciseness in mind. I believe an employee handbook of 20-30 pages is right for most companies. More than that and you risk losing your audience’s attention. To avoid this, get to your point quickly and clearly set out your expectations.
In order to maximize the potential of your employee handbook, you must be consistent in enforcing each one of your policies. Keep in mind that when a complaint or lawsuit is filed against you, each of your actions, as well as any inaction, will be viewed under a microscope and could become relevant. To best protect yourself, you must apply each one of your policies in a consistent manner. Failing to do so will expose you to allegations of discrimination.
Have regular communication with your employees regarding your employee handbook. This year reminds us that change is constant. What was clear yesterday may not be today or worse, it may be outdated or obsolete. Having regular communication with your employees regarding your policies keeps expectations fresh in their minds. For harassment policies in particular, regular reminders can stop violating behavior in its tracks and remind aggrieved employees of your internal complaint procedures. Additionally, regular reminders give you an opportunity to evaluate your policies to ensure they are serving your business needs.
If you need assistance in bringing your anti-harassment policy in compliance with the WFA or revising your employee handbook please contact me at or 503-412-3105.