Construction Executives Should Be Dusting Off Employee Handbooks

The construction industry, which is seemingly plagued by a never-ending labor shortage, necessitating construction executives having to grapple with pandemic-related workplace issues and challenges, is not exempt from the benefits of a thorough, well-formed handbook.
By Adam E. Richards
December 2, 2021

For most businesses—large and small—the importance of maintaining and updating an employee handbook that sets forth a uniform set of company policies cannot be understated. The construction industry, which is seemingly plagued by a never-ending labor shortage, necessitating construction executives having to grapple with pandemic-related workplace issues and challenges, is not exempt from the benefits of a thorough, well-formed handbook.

The employee handbook should be a window into the soul of a business. Even though annual updates are appropriate, they seldom occur. To say a lot has happened over the last few years barely begins to scratch the surface. Particularly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction executives and human resources professionals within construction-related businesses throughout the country have been forced to evaluate business models, values and cultures in furtherance of deciding where and how to evolve.

Once those decisions are made, the employee handbook is deserving of time and attention. Reflecting the evolution of your construction business is only part of the overall plan; however, demonstrating compliance with new laws is equally important.

Remote Work

Construction falls within the group of industries where remote work is possible, at least for certain positions, but also remains difficult for others due to the inherent hands-on nature of construction, coupled with the lack of technology to permit otherwise. Consequently, executives must consider where on the spectrum of remote work they wish to fall. For construction businesses that are more receptive to remote work, it is important that they also explore potential technological upgrades both for offices and jobsites, not only to promote improved collaboration, data sharing and communication in this age of remote work, but also to evolve the processes and operations if and however possible.

Given the labor shortage, talent remains scarce, and flexibility along with tech savviness is a growing factor in employment decisions. Maintaining a well-defined remote working policy reflecting the company’s approach toward remote work, technological advancements, training and flexibility in the handbook provides fair and consistent guidance that employees and applicants desire.

Federal Vaccine Mandate

Of equal if not greater importance, not only for federal contractors but for any construction business with an eye on potential government work in the future, is to understand parameters and compliance of Presidential Executive Order 14042. The order imposes vaccine mandates on certain federal contractors, including subcontractors, and covered employees will have until Dec. 8, 2021, to be fully vaccinated, absent a medical or religious objection. Indeed, even employees that do not perform work for or in relation to a particular project may still be subject to the vaccine mandate.

Moreover, the order also imposes workplace safety measures that employers and employees must adhere to, including compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking and social distancing guidelines.

Construction executives must carefully consider how best to memorialize the company’s policies and processes in connection with compliance efforts, while also making sure to accurately state short- and long-term expectations for the benefit of both management and employees. Considering those objectives and in light of the entry of the order, a handbook is well suited to ensure company compliance and keep employees informed.

For example, the order requires each covered contractor to designate a COVID-19 coordinator tasked with overseeing the implementation of workplace safety protocols, which likely would include reporting requirements in the event of observed noncompliance by employees and others. Not unlike standard discrimination, harassment and retaliation reporting and investigation protocols, which are often the hallmark of a thorough handbook, the designation and duties of the appointed coordinator, including reporting and investigation requirements, should follow a similar track.

Exhibit A

The employee handbook sets the stage for successful employment with a business and provides a detailed glimpse into the business itself. It should come as no surprise that this document is often Exhibit A in any dispute resolution proceeding involving labor relations. The construction industry remains antiquated with a multitude of challenges, both technologically with the advent of remote work relationships and through compliance progress including following the recent COVID-19 mandates and policy. Construction executives should take the time to scrutinize and evolve the handbook in conjunction with compliance efforts and assessing the future operations in an ever-changing world still suffering from the major impacts of a pandemic. Considering these current and pressing issues, along with any other potential adjustments stemming from the last year’s inefficiencies, losses or claims, will surely help owners and managers run a more profitable, cohesive and productive construction business.

by Adam E. Richards
Richards is a member of Berger Singerman’s dispute resolution team and construction law practice. 

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