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Reduce Your Risk of Employment Claims in 2023 – Tips #1 and #2 | Pullman & Comley – Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

The new year presents an opportunity to look at your organization with fresh eyes. It can also be the best time to identify potential problem areas and take action to mitigate risk. If you are looking for a place to start, we will be sharing 10 Tips to Reduce the Risk of Employment Claims in 2023 to help! Each tip will discuss an issue our Labor & Employment Practice saw last year, along with suggested action steps that employers can take to address the issue before it becomes a lawsuit. If you caught the first installment of our Working Together Webinar Series, “10 Tips to Reduce Risk of Employment Claims in 2023,” these will be familiar.

Let’s kick off our series with our first two tips – update those policies!

Tip #1: Refine or Implement a Clearly Defined Remote Work Policy.

There’s no question about it: remote work is here to stay.

Many organizations have accepted a hybrid (in person and virtual) model that combines remote work with time in the workplace, and have recognized the numerous benefits to employees: autonomy for employees and flexibility in adapting their own schedules; better work-life balance; less commute time (with lower transport costs and lower carbon footprint!); increased morale, loyalty, and productivity. Remote work and hybrid roles are attractive tools for recruitment and retention of employees, as many younger members of the workforce seek out the benefits of remote work when considering employment opportunities.

Hybrid work also brings its own challenges that are difficult to address, like differences in expectations and communication preferences, proximity bias, and having unclear boundaries between work and home. Employees have differing levels of confidence and comfort with the technology used for remote work. Technology itself can be an issue: slow internet speeds and outdated software can throttle productivity and create unnecessary security risks. One study showed that 49% of workers said they were likely to leave their job if they were frustrated with workplace technology. Employers should consider both whether their technology needs an update, and whether their technology empowers their workforce.

Consider whether the remote work offered has been done so haphazardly, without communicating norms. Employers that have communicated the expectations, incorporated remote workers into their organization, and have a well-planned strategy for support have had more success in employee engagement and productivity.

Action Steps:

  • Communication is key. Organize regular check-ins between managers and direct reports, and take into account communication preferences – email? Phone calls?
  • Set clear expectations for the role, and base performance metrics on the results achieved, not how often you see someone at their desk. Define the job duties and responsibilities, and specify, if necessary, what can be done remotely and what cannot. Define schedules and manage work time – core days and core hours where communication is expected. Give clear guidance for managers and employees.
  • Make sure your employees have access to “all the benefits and privileges of employment.” Ensure that all employees receive training to close the gaps between different comfort levels with remote technologies. Ensure remote employees are invited to and engaged in all meetings that are pertinent to their positions, and have access to the same resources, development opportunities, mentorship, and training.
  • Consider investing in necessary technology updates to support workers and to avoid potential security risks.

Tip #2: Update Your Drug-Free Workplace Policy.

See our previous blog post about this topic here.

Last year, Governor Lamont signed Senate Bill 1201 making Connecticut the 19th state to legalize recreational cannabis for adults 21 years or older. As of July 1, 2022, Connecticut’s law instituted new protections for certain cannabis users who use cannabis when off-the-clock – both prospective and current employees.

Employers may continue to maintain drug-free workplaces and may continue to prohibit employees from being under the influence of cannabis at work – but must have written drug-free workplace policies to do so. The policy must be made available to each employee prior to the employer taking adverse action against the employee. Adverse action includes, but is not limited to, written or verbal discipline, demotion, and termination of employment.

Employers who are classified as “non-exempt” under the cannabis statute are prohibited from taking adverse action against a current employee based solely on a positive drug test (for cannabis) or off-duty cannabis use, unless such action is taken pursuant to a written drug-free workplace policy.

Action Steps:

  • Determine your stance on off-duty cannabis use and be able to articulate the reasons for your position.
  • If you do not have a written policy, implement a clear Drug Free Workplace Policy. If you do have a written Drug Free Workplace Policy, revise it now to include references to recreational cannabis use and ensure compliance with statutory requirements, including the notice requirements to employees.
  • Consider circulating a memo regarding recreational cannabis use and how it continues to be prohibited at work and refer to the specific cannabis policy in your handbook.
  • Review your pre-employment procedures and adjust them if necessary to ensure compliance with the restrictions under this law.
  • Train your managers so that they can recognize signs of impairment at work, and so they understand what your policies require.
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