New York City Employment Policy Attorney
Both employers and employees benefit from properly drafted employment policies: employees better understand the terms, conditions, and policies governing their employment; employers’ greatly increase the likelihood that their managers’ decisions will comply with applicable law. Lipsky Lowe has significant experience working with employers to draft comprehensive employment policies that reflect the ever-evolving federal, state and local employment laws, regulations and ordinances affecting our clients’ businesses and industries.
At-Will Employment v. Guaranteed Employment
The conditions under which an employer may fire an employee and when an employee may quit are some of the most important employment terms that should be detailed in any employment policy or agreement. New York and New Jersey are at-will employment states. This means that an employer may lawfully fire an employee for no reason, for any lawful reason, and without any advance notice. Similarly, an employee may quit at any time, for any reason or no reason and without any advance notice.
Employment policies or contracts may, however, modify the at-will employment status. An employer, for example, may guarantee an employee will be employed for a defined time period and that they will be fired only for cause. A policy may also require that an employee provide a certain number of weeks of advance notice before quitting.
Discrimination and Harassment Are Forbidden in the Workplace
The following federal, state, and local laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace, whether that is by co-workers or supervisors:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The New York State Human Rights Law
- The New York City Human Rights Law
- New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
One or more of these laws protect employees from harassment and discrimination based on:
- Race or color
- Ethnicity or national origin
- Disability (mental or physical)
- Age (for those over 40 years old)
- Military service
- Genetic information
- Citizenship status (for those in the U.S. legally)
Some state and local laws are more liberal than others. In New York and New Jersey, for example, it is also illegal to harass or discriminate against someone who is gay, lesbian, or transgender.
Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws are meant to address all issues regarding hiring, wages, promotions, demotions, compensation, segregation, training, discipline, and termination of employees. In other words, if an employee is not trained for advancement because he is gay or she is African-American, that discriminatory practice can be challenged with a lawsuit. Preferential treatment to another employee who is more talented than you are, or is simply liked better by the manager, however, is not discriminatory because the decision is not being made on the basis of a legally protected category.
It is important for employees to understand not only how much they will be paid, but whether that pay will be hourly, weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, or per finished project. Matters concerning withholding tax, overtime pay, bonuses, reimbursement for travel, petty cash expenses, and commissions should all be discussed or clearly spelled out in the employee manual or agreements as needed. Senior managers and executives may require employment contracts that limit the right of termination, define current and deferred compensation and equity, and otherwise restrict the ability to compete in the marketplace, hold certain company information confidential, and assign ownership of inventions made on the job. Whatever your needs, Lipsky Lowe can help.
Employees should be informed about whether the company offers benefits such as employer-sponsored health insurance, retirement plans (401(k), profit-sharing plans, stock options or any other monies beyond their salaries. The employment policy should also spell out the eligibility requirements that must be met to qualify for such perks.
Work Schedules, Vacation Days, Sick Days
Another important aspect of employment policies is work schedules, including the company’s hours of operation, attendance, hours of work required per day, and lunch and rest breaks. Employees also should be informed about how many days they get for vacation, personal, and sick days, and how this time accrues. Well-drafted policies covering New York City’s and New Jersey’s various, paid and unpaid sick leave laws are essential
Family Leave, Maternity Leave, Paternity Leave
Similarly, well-drafted employment policies should comply with federal, state and local law on when employees can take days off or leaves of absence and whether such time is paid. The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides that companies with 50 or more employees must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave of each year for any of these reasons:
- caring for a newborn child;
- caring for a recently adopted child;
- caring for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition;
- to take medical leave when they are unable to work because of a serious health condition;
- assist loved ones when a family member is deployed abroad on active military service.
Employees are eligible under the FMLA for leave if they have worked for at least 1,250 hours over 12 months for that employer.
Starting January 1, 2018, New York’s Paid Family Leave Act became effective. This law permits employees to take leave for the same reasons as the federal FMLA. Unlike federal law, the leave is paid: from 2018 to 2021, the law gradually increases an employer’s requirement to pay for 8 and ultimately 12 weeks; and increases the employer’s requirement to pay for 50% and ultimately 67% of the employee’s average weekly rate, which is capped at New York’s average weekly wage.
New York City and New Jersey also has a fairly comprehensive paid sick time and paid leave requirements. If you need help navigating these complex laws, or protecting your rights, contact Lipsky Lowe
Conduct Expectations and Employee Discipline
To maintain high morale and an efficient workplace, standards of acceptable behavior must be made clear. This includes issues that may result in discipline or even termination. Guidelines should clarify boundaries regarding: lateness, absenteeism, misuse of the internet, company equipment, email and social media. It should also spell out what constitutes discrimination and harassment, sexual or otherwise.
Employees should be made aware of what disciplinary action will be taken for misconduct. In some cases, employee behavior is so egregious, involving, for example, breach of confidentiality or embezzlement, that it may result in immediate termination as well as legal prosecution. Lesser offenses may result in warnings for first offenses and progressively harsher punishments for repeat offenses.
All workers are evaluated on their performance, whether formally or informally. In some companies, there are interviews and written reports at regular intervals; in others, supervisors just remain aware of whether work is being done properly and in a timely fashion. Having written performance reviews is helpful to both employers and employees since they create a paper trail to backup requests for raises or promotions, or, on the other hand, provides evidence to defend against a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
What the NYC Employment Policy Lawyer at Lipsky Lowe Can Do for You
Whether you are an employer establishing policies for a new business or trying to keep policies for your existing company current, our skilled attorneys can help you craft practical, efficient policies, employee manuals and provide training on those policies. Our services will not only clarify your positions for incoming employees and those already on your payroll, but will minimize your risk of legal liability down the road.
If you are an employee with concerns about your treatment at a new job or at a company for which you have worked for years, we are available to consult with you about any work-related issues. Our attorneys are both experienced negotiators and aggressive litigators. No matter what your position in the company — executive, clerical worker, salesperson or project manager — if you are being treated unfairly, we will help set things right. No matter where you are in the employment spectrum, if you are seeking first-rate legal assistance, please call our office or fill out the contact form on our website.