Serving the Pacific Northwest with Offices in Vancouver & Portland
At Human Alchemy, PLLC, we believe that employers can maximize customer satisfaction by empowering employees with project ownership, understandable compliance training, and removing barriers to authenticity in order to cultivate the mutual trust needed for creating a breeding ground for innovation and achievement. We help our clients reach for those goals through consultation, policy review/drafting, training, internal investigations, and compliance audits.
Employment Law In Today’s Workplace
The contemporary workplace has become increasingly complicated as businesses must contend with a variety of laws regarding discrimination, harassment, employee compensation, and workplace safety, among others. At the same time, conflicts between employers and employees are not uncommon, often resulting in time-consuming and costly litigation.
At Human Alchemy, PLLC, we provide advice and counsel to businesses in Washington and Oregon on establishing and implementing company policies. In this regard, we work with our clients to design employee handbooks that will ensure compliance with a wide range of employment laws and mitigate the risk of disputes. Additionally, we assist clients with establishing training programs to ensure that all employees understand their obligations under company policies and applicable employment laws. Lastly, we provide internal investigation and audit services to help our clients monitor their organizations’ compliance while ensuring litigation minimization.
Key Elements of an Employee Handbook
Generally, a handbook should start with an introduction, welcoming new employees and explaining the company’s mission statement. It is also important to clarify that the employee handbook does not establish a contractual relationship and that employment at the company is “at-will.” This means that employment can be terminated at any time by either party, with or without reason. From there, the employee handbook should cover the following topics.
Businesses are governed by a variety of local, state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace. In short, these laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of legally protected characteristics when making decisions regarding hiring, terminating, promoting, demoting, compensating, and any other terms and conditions of employment. Your employee handbook should clearly state that the company is an equal opportunity employer and does not tolerate harassment or discrimination based on any protected characteristic under applicable laws.
It is crucial to clearly define how employees are compensated, whether based on an annual salary, hourly wage, or commissions. The compensation policy should also specify a payment cycle: weekly, biweekly, or in the case of salespeople, monthly. It is also important to note how hours are recorded, how taxes are computed and deducted, and whether employees are eligible for overtime pay. Finally, compensation policies must comply with local, state and federal wage and hour laws.
Employees should be notified whether the company offers benefits such as employer-sponsored health insurance, and other perks such as retirement plans (401(k)) and profit-sharing plans (ESOP), bonuses, stock options and the like. The policy should also explain how employees become eligible for such benefits.
The company’s hours of operation, attendance, hours required each day, rest and lunch breaks, and other pertinent information must also be specified. Additionally, employees should be informed when they are eligible for paid time off, such as vacation, personal and sick days, and how this time accrues. Finally, the handbook should state whether the business offers flexible work schedules and telecommuting opportunities.
Employee Conduct/Disciplinary Matters
It is essential to establish guidelines for how employees are expected to conduct themselves in the workplace. In particular, policies regarding tardiness, absenteeism, misuse of email, internet, and company equipment should be spelled out, as well as key issues such as employment discrimination and sexual harassment. It is also important to notify employees that the workplace is an alcohol/drug-free environment.
Depending on the nature of the business, it may also be necessary to clarify whether any legal requirements applicable to the company. In some cases, the handbook should establish policies on confidentiality, trade secrets, and non-compete guidelines. The handbook should specify the disciplinary actions that will be taken in the event of workplace violations, up to and including termination.
The company’s review policy should discuss how employee performance is evaluated, what constitutes satisfactory performance, and a timeline of when employees will be reviewed. Although the entire policy does not need to be included in the handbook, a general performance review section can mitigate the risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit.
It is also important to address safety concerns that arise from work conditions, and the steps that should be taken if an employee, or visitor, is injured in the workplace.In addition, matters such as employee disputes, workplace violence, and even inclement weather should also be covered. Depending on the industry, your policies must also comply with rules established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Other Areas of Employment Law
The United States Congress enacted the first federal employment law in 1888. Now, more than 180 federal laws mandate how employers may and may not treat their employees. In addition, every state in the union has its own employment laws that employers must comply with.
Federal employment laws cover every phase of the employee-employer relationship: applying, hiring, training, working, paying, promoting, disciplining, and terminating the employer-employee relationship. How do employers, especially small to medium-sized companies, keep up with the ever-changing landscape of employment law? How do employers ensure that their employment decisions will not get them into hot water with the federal or state government?
Any qualified employment and labor law attorney will tell you that preventative advice and counseling is the best way for employers to keep from accidentally violating federal or state employment laws. Our attorneys work closely with employers and human resource professionals to help them understand the basics of employment law and keep their businesses in compliance with both federal and state regulations.
Our law firm advises businesses of all types and sizes on the following matters:
- Employment agreements, including confidentiality agreements and non-compete clauses
- Employee handbooks to disseminate company rules, policies and regulations
- Employment discrimination, including disability discrimination
- Family medical leave
- Wage and hour laws
- Sexual harassment
Washington and Oregon are home to many widely respected and successful tech, manufacturing, and service companies; however, employment-related disputes are not uncommon. The best way to protect your business from potential litigation is to consult an experienced employment law attorney who can help to ensure you are in compliance with applicable state and federal employment laws.
At Human Alchemy, PLLC, we understand the challenges facing businesses in the contemporary employment landscape. Founding attorney Leah Eccles Watson, in her capacity as a management consultant, provides comprehensive legal services on a wide range of employment law matters. As a former court-appointed mediator, Leah provides advice and guidance to employers who prefer to mediate disputes.
Our practice is dedicated to helping our clients understand their legal obligations and advising them on how to take proactive measures that can help to avoid litigation and administrative action. Although employment-related disputes cannot always be avoided, our employment law attorneys can assist by:
- Clarifying legal requirements applicable to your business
- Preparing various employment agreements (e.g. employment, confidentiality, non-compete, and severance agreements)
- Ensuring that anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies are up-to-date
- Assisting with designing employee handbooks to establish company policies and regulations
- Creating employee training programs
Our legal team can help to protect your interests by making certain that contracts, agreements, and employee handbooks are accurate and current, and representing you in any employment negotiations, as well as in administrative proceedings before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Washington State Human Rights Commission (HRC).
We have extensive experience handling a wide variety of employment-related disputes, including discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination.
In Washington, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees and job applicants on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age (40 and over), disability, and pregnancy. At Human Alchemy, we can help to advise you of your obligations under a number of applicable federal laws, including:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
Additionally, we are well-versed in the provisions of the Washington State Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), which prohibits discrimination based on a more comprehensive set of protected characteristics that includes marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
In sum, state and federal laws prohibit discrimination with respect to any employment decision (e.g. hiring, firing, promoting, demoting, compensating) or any other terms and conditions of employment. If your business is facing an employment discrimination claim, we will provide you with powerful representation and work to protect your reputation in the marketplace. At the same time, we can help design effective policies to prevent future employment discrimination lawsuits.
As an employer, you have an obligation to ensure that your work environment is free from sexual harassment, which is a form of unlawful sex discrimination under local, state and federal law. Generally, there are two forms of harassment — quid pro quo or “this for that” and hostile work environment.
Quid pro quo discrimination involves a person in a position of authority over the victim (1) demanding sexual favors in return for an employment benefit or (2) retaliating against an employee who refuses a sexual advance by taking an adverse employment action (e.g. termination, demotion, reassignment, pay cut).
By contrast, a hostile work environment arises when an employee is subjected to a pattern of unwanted sexual conduct, comments or visual displays by anyone in the workplace. This includes supervisors and coworkers as well as vendors, clients or customers. It is important to note that a hostile work environment may also be related to nonsexual harassment. This form of harassment involves offensive conduct or comments that are intended to intimidate an employee based on any legally protected characteristics such as race, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation.
Given the greater awareness of workplace harassment due in part to the efforts of the #MeToo movement, it is imperative for employers to establish policies that prohibit such conduct as well as to implement procedures for handling sexual harassment complaints. By failing to do so, you place your business a risk for a civil lawsuit which can have lasting financial repercussions and also result in reputational harm.
The best decision you can make to protect your business is to consult Human Alchemy, PLLC. We have extensive experience helping businesses establish training programs to ensure that employees across all levels of the organization understand their responsibilities under applicable anti-harassment laws.
Because Washington is an “at-will” state for employment purposes, an employment relationship can be terminated at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. On the other hand, it is unlawful to terminate an employee for a discriminatory reason or for complaining about illegal, fraudulent or unethical conduct (whistleblowing). In this situation, your business can be held liable in a wrongful termination lawsuit based on retaliation. Our employment law attorneys routinely work with employers in preparing severance agreements that can help to mitigate the risk of litigation.
How Employment Law Helps With Human Capital Solutions
Human Alchemy, PLLC helps organizations identify the root causes of their workplace discord. We identify patterns and clusters in disputes, and hand tailor solutions to address the true issue. A cluster can expose a poor manager. Patterns can reveal training deficiencies. After helping an organization understand the root causes, Human Alchemy provides strategic solutions to remove roadblocks and reduce friction points that lead to disputes.
Internal investigations into executive misconduct need to be conducted discreetly while being thorough. Human Alchemy conducts independent audits and investigations as an outside consultant to the organization’s General Counsel so that the completed report can be protected from litigation discovery. As an attorney-work product, the finished report of investigation is delivered to the in-house counsel who, along with Human Alchemy, can provide attorney-client protected recommendations on appropriate actions based on the finds. Use of an outside legal counsel provides an independent lens with substantial litigation risk protections, but this option is infrequently used because of the open-ended nature of attorney billing structures. Most often an internal management inquiry by Human Resources or Loss Prevention is done to keep control of costs. Unfortunately, such reports are fully discoverable if the organization is faced with litigation by the complaining party or subject of the inquiry. Human Alchemy provides flat fee investigation package rates to fit the complexity of the issues to be looked into. By providing cost certainty and iron-clad discovery protections, Human Alchemy, PLLC, is the trusted investigator in-house attorneys look to for their client’s most sensitive matters.
Contact Our Experienced Employment Law Attorney
At Human Alchemy, PLLC, we routinely advise clients on developing employment guidelines and make recommendations so that handbooks are in compliance with state and federal law. By understanding your business objectives, we can also advise you on developing training programs that address many workplace issues.
We believe our clients should be proactive in establishing good relations with employees and adhering to state and federal laws. To achieve this objective, we offer advice and counsel to management on new developments in employment law and conduct human resource audits. By advising you on how to plan, formalize and implement employment policies, we can help your business create a positive work environment and minimize the risk of disruptive litigation. Please contact our office today to set up a consultation.
Human Alchemy, PLLC helps employers with employment law legal services throughout the states of Oregon and Washington including the Portland Metro-area, Vancouver, and Clark County.