Strictly Business - Compliance

I received some interesting questions after our last column discussing the Paid Family Leave legislation, or “PFL,” that Governor Cuomo signed into law in 2016. The two most popular questions: “How does a company make sure they put all the proper laws, rules, and regulations in place?” “How do we define and explain them all to our employees and make sure they know and understand which are and are not available?” Enter the newest and strongest business “buzz word” of the last 10 years – compliance. ​ More to the point, companies are now focused on “getting in compliance” and “staying in compliance.” ​ The easiest and most efficient way to do this is by creating an employee handbook. And if your first thought is “my business is too small; we don’t need a handbook,” consider the following. ​ If an employer does not have a handbook, every time New York State enacts something like PFL and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), he or she must provide other “written notice” of such to its employees. New York prefers that you use the written notices produced by them, so the employer is tasked with finding them and distributing them to all employees. Employers may also be asked to prove that each one of these laws has been explained to each employee. ​ An employer with an employee handbook needs only to have his employees sign a Handbook Acknowledgement Form upon hire and each time there are new laws implemented. And that’s only one instance where a handbook provides a service well worth the investment. ​ An up-to-date, compliant handbook: • Ensures compliance with federal and state claims. • Communicates to employees what is expected of them. • Helps defend against employee claims. • Helps ensure key company policies are clearly and consistently communicated. • Showcases the benefits the organization offers. • Educates employees about what they can expect from management. ​ The implementation of clear, concise policies that employees understand and managers apply consistently can help employees feel like they are being treated fairly and can reduce the number of claims filed against the employer. If an employee or former employee does file a claim, a handbook can provide the valuable documentation to demonstrate that the employer had equitable and compliant workplace policies in place. ​ A single “unfair practices” lawsuit can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars in defense expenses and settlement or jury awards. In addition to the monetary cost, there can be significant effects to business operations such as a distracted workforce, internal upheaval, a loss of employee morale, and damage to the employer’s reputation in the community. ​ Like it or not there are two realities every business owner must acknowledge. The first is (pardon the informality), every business today exists in a cover your butt (aka CYA) world. The second, New York State has created a very active task force dedicated to finding businesses that are not in compliance with its rules and regulations and penalizing and/or fining them significantly. ROBERT SHERLACH is the Hudson Valley Manager for GTM Payroll Services, a national payroll, human resource, and time and attendance management company. He can be reached at