Every business is different and has different workplace issues and concerns that need to be addressed by the employee handbook. Because each workplace is so different, employee handbooks should be specifically tailored to address specific workplace concerns and issues, and also take into account federal, state, and local laws that govern that particular workplace.
Application of laws and regulations typically depend on a couple of things including the location of the employer, the location of the employees, and the number of employees and the type of industry. For example, on the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to workplaces with 15 or more employees. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to workplaces with 20 or more employees.
State laws are also triggered in the same manner and many states have specific laws that provide additional employee protections or, in some cases, provide additional employer defenses. Similarly, some city/municipality laws apply to employers located within those jurisdictions.
In regards to state laws, for Michigan employers, the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (the “Act”) allows for a statutory defense to failure to accommodate claims, but only if specific language is included in the employer’s handbook or posted. This is something completely different than the ADA and is specific to Michigan employers.
What is does is, under Section 210(18) of the Act, an employee or applicant with a disability may allege that an employer failed to accommodate a disability only if the individual notifies the employer that an accommodation is needed 182 days after the person needing an accommodation knows of their need or reasonably should have known of their accommodation need.
For a Michigan employer to take advantage of the shortened statute of limitations allowance, however, the employer must post a notice or use “other appropriate means” to notify employees or applicants of the 182-day time limit and request for accommodation in writing requirement under MCL 27.1210(18) – (19), which provides:
(18) A person with a disability may allege a violation against a person regarding a failure to accommodate under this article only if the person with a disability notifies the person in writing of the need for accommodation within 182 days after the date the person with a disability knew or reasonably should have known that an accommodation was needed.
(19) A person shall post notices or use other appropriate means to provide all employees and job applicants with notice of the requirements of subsection (18).
This notice can be included in the employer handbook and, in addition, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) updated the poster employers must post at their Michigan work sites, which is available here, but noted on its website: “[w]hether the notice is included in this poster or not, a business that fails to provide adequate notice to its employees may waive the ability to use the time limit as a defense.”
While there are other specific state laws employer must be aware, this is one that demonstrates how important it is that companies work with employment law professionals for their handbook needs, and why a one-size-fits-all handbook is very rarely, if ever, going to provide the employer with all workplace defenses allowed, provide all required notices to employees, or be applicable for workplace issues specific to that workplace. This is particularly true for employers that have employees in more than one state.
For employers with employees in Michigan, please review your required posters to ensure you are complying with the law. It may also be a good time to have your handbook reviewed to ensure you are taking advantage of all potential defenses and that you have workplace policies that actually fit your workplace needs and issues.