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Opinion

Opinion

Editorial

Normally in this space, we have nothing but high praise for Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration.

Indeed, since taking office in 2015, he has proven to be an effective, entrepreneurial governor, a good friend to the business community (for the most part), and a great friend of Springfield and the surrounding region.

The governor is fond of saying — and we mean fond, because he tells this story every chance he gets — that, while Mayor Domenic Sarno didn’t support him in that 2014 race for governor, one of his first visits after winning that election was to Springfield City Hall to find out what he could do to help.

And help he has, on fronts ranging from economic development to workforce development; from promoting entrepreneurship (his administration is very fond of Valley Venture Mentors and its efforts, for example), to simply helping to promote this region and some of its businesses (he likes the Student Prince so much they named a burger after him).

And it’s not just Springfield. Last week, the governor and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito were both on hand to announce a $21 million award to Westfield State University to bring its Parenzo Hall into the 21st century and make it a true resource for the school and the region.

Albano’s appointment to the Board of Review … is a real slap in the face to everyone who has worked so hard to pull Springfield out of its decline. The governor, who may or may not have been directly involved in this appointment, probably doesn’t realize that, but he should understand that rewarding the former mayor — and that’s what he’s doing, make no mistake about it — represents really bad optics and equally bad policy.

Like we said, the governor has been a good friend to this region.

Which makes his administration’s recent appointment of former Springfield Mayor Michael Albano to a six-figure job as a member of the Board of Review at the Department of Unemployment Assistance a real head-scratcher.

Albano, as most everyone knows, was essentially the architect of Springfield’s precipitous decline into finance-control-board management more than a decade ago. His administration was defined by incompetence and corruption, with several of his appointees being sent to prison.

Springfield’s brand suffered a terrible hit, and it has taken years of hard work, considerable assistance from two governors (Deval Patrick being the other), and a good amount of luck in the form of MGM Springfield, CRRC, and other recent arrivals, to pull the city back from the depths and to a point where optimism prevails and the sky is the proverbial limit.

Albano’s appointment to the Board of Review won’t impact any of that, obviously, but it is a real slap in the face to everyone who has worked so hard to pull Springfield out of its decline. The governor, who may or may not have been directly involved in this appointment, probably doesn’t realize that, but he should understand that rewarding the former mayor — and that’s what he’s doing, make no mistake about it — represents really bad optics and equally bad policy.

We think it’s great that Albano wants to continue working and has been energetic in his pursuit of employment that will bolster the sizable pension he already receives. Indeed, he ran for sheriff of Hampden County, and thankfully lost, and has applied for a host of jobs, including director of the Cannabis Control Commission.

However, that doesn’t mean the governor and his staff have to skip over the dark paragraphs on Albano’s employment history and reward incompetence.

Overall, the governor just doesn’t seem to take appointments of this nature as seriously as he does other matters. Remember, soon after he was elected, he decided that the best, and apparently only, qualification needed to assume one of the jobs with the Mass. Office of Business Development was to be a Republican who fought hard but lost a race for the state Senate or House of Representatives.

He should take these matters more seriously. And that’s especially the case here.

Springfield would like to put Albano and his corruption-riddled administration behind it. This appointment certainly doesn’t help it do that.

When it comes to appointments like this, it’s not just whether a candidate is qualified that matters. Sometimes, there’s a message being sent when someone gets a job like this. In this case, it’s the wrong message.

Opinion

Editorial

Westfield city officials and leaders with Westfield Gas & Electric, the city’s municipal utility, unveiled a new marketing campaign recently called ‘Go Westfield.’

The slogan might not fall into the categories of ‘highly imaginative’ or ‘cutting-edge,’ but the campaign itself is a worthy initiative and an example of what more cities and towns in this region need to be doing — building their brands.

This is a tricky subject for some industry sectors and especially municipalities — ‘why are they spending money to hype the city when there are roads that need paving and sidewalks to be fixed?’ is an often-heard refrain.

Westfield’s story is a very good one. It has ample land on which to build, a turnpike exit of its very own, an airport, a municipal utility offering attractive rates and high-speed Internet service, a downtown that’s coming back after years of decline, Stanley Park, a great ice rink, a state university, and much more.

But brand building is as important an exercise for municipalities as it is for businesses in every sector. If you have a good story to tell and you want to grow your business — or if you want to bring more businesses and residents to your city, as is the case here — you need to tell that story.

And Westfield’s story is a very good one. It has ample land on which to build, a turnpike exit of its very own, an airport, a municipal utility offering attractive rates and high-speed Internet service, a downtown that’s coming back after years of decline, Stanley Park, a great ice rink, a state university, and much more.

‘Go Westfield’ will tell that story through a new website, a promotional video, and some advertisements in regional outlets and industry journals. As with any branding campaign, one never knows what the results will be, but it’s safe to say that this proactive step is far better than trying to let the city sell itself.

Meanwhile, the campaign provides another example of the important role played by the region’s utilities, and especially the municipal utilities, in economic development.

Energy costs are among the many important items to be considered when a business looks to relocate — or expand within its current location — and the Westfield G&E, like its counterpart in Holyoke, continues to play a key role in helping the community attract and retain companies and jobs.

There’s a reason why Coke continues to pound the airwaves with ads even though everyone knows that brand. The same with McDonald’s, Ford, and Geico. If you want to grow your brand, you have to promote it and keep it in the public eye.

“It’s critical that we communicate our strengths,” Westfield’s mayor, Brian Sullivan, said at the unveiling.

He’s right about that, and there are lessons there for all area cities and towns.

Opinion

Editorial

As you read this, the countdown clock at MGM Springfield is inside 50 days.

Which means that, in essence, the nearly $1 billion project that has dominated the local landscape, literally and figuratively, for the better part of seven years, is essentially done. Just as Union Station is done and the massive I-91 reconstruction project is done.

And soon, there will be a number of other initiatives in the proverbial ‘done’ pile, including Stearns Square, the innovation center, Riverfront Park, an extensive renovation of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and others, with the acknowledgement that ‘soon’ is a relative term.

That’s a lot of things to get done, and the city should be proud of all that has been accomplished and how the landscape has been dramatically altered for the better — much better.

The question of ‘what now?’ has been tossed around for a while now, and while such talk might be a little premature — after all, it will take some time for MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other initiatives to really be done and have those facilities fully assimilated — but in most ways, it isn’t.

There are certainly things the city has to do to as part of that assimilation process and as part of building off the momentum that’s been generated. That list includes everything from creation of new market-rate housing in the downtown to a remaking of Tower Square into something much more vibrant and relevant, to some aggressive marketing of the city and its comeback story.

And in some ways, work on all those initiatives is already underway.

But Springfield has another big and important challenge facing it, and that is to revitalize many of its proud neighborhoods — to take the progress beyond downtown, if you will.

This is, in many ways, more difficult than any of the projects undertaken thus far, and that’s with the acknowledgement that it took 40 years or more to revitalize Union Station and for the largest development project in the city’s history (MGM) to revitalize the South End.

That’s because rejuvenating neighborhoods like Old Hill, Mason Square, the North End, and the South End are difficult undertakings, especially in these changing times and continued rough going for most old manufacturing centers, like Springfield.

There has been some progress made, though the efforts of local, state, and national initiatives and the of work nonprofit agencies ranging from DevelopSpringfield to Wayfinders, from Revitalize CDC to ROCA. But many of Springfield’s neighborhoods still rank among the poorest in the state, and progress has come very, very slowly.

This isn’t exactly a news flash, but Springfield’s neighborhoods are truly the city’s next big challenge. If this community is to make a real comeback, the good news has to extend beyond Main and State streets.

For the comeback to spread to those neighborhoods, there must be opportunites — or more opportunities, as the case may be — for employment, home ownership, and new-business development. As we said, there has already been some progress made on these fronts, but more extensive efforts are required in order to keep these neighborhoods from being left behind.

A few paragraphs ago, we referred to Springfield’s proud neighborhoods. You almost always see that adjective used in that context, and for a reason. Residents of these areas are proud of their neighborhood, although in many cases, they’re proud of what they once were, not what they are now.

Creating far greater use of the present tense when it comes to these neighborhoods and ‘good times’ is clearly the next big challenge for Springfield.

Opinion

Editorial

Sports all-star games have been enduring somewhat of a public-relations crisis in recent years.

Indeed, the NFL’s game, now played the week before the Super Bowl, has become almost a farce, with players opting not to play, fans opting not to show up, and viewers opting not to tune in. The NHL and NBA games, meanwhile, have become circus shows where no one plays defense, and in the latter case, the game is actually upstaged by the slam-dunk contest the night before. Major League Baseball still has the best game, but that league, too, has struggled to make the so-called midsummer classic captivating and relevant, especially to younger audiences.

No, it’s not the best of times for these games.

But the narrative is a little different with the American Hockey League and its decision to play next year’s game in Springfield. Here, the story isn’t about the game, the gimmicks, or the weekend’s supply of festivities that may or may not work.

Instead, it’s about what the game means to the city and its hockey team, and what it symbolizes in terms of what comes next. All of that came together late last month when the logos for the event and the official corporate partner, Lexus, were unveiled.

Don’t forget, 27 months or so ago, this city didn’t even have a hockey team. And when a group of area business people came together, bought a franchise, and brought it to Springfield, there were many who doubted whether this franchise would fare any better than the one that just departed for Arizona.

To say those doubts have been dispelled would be a huge understatement. The team has become one of the best business stories of the past few years, and BusinessWest chose the team’s owners and managers, collectively, as its Top Entrepreneurs for 2017.

But the AHL All-Star Game coming to the City of Homes next February is not just about the Thunderbirds and the remarkable work done by President Nathan Costa 2018 40 Under Forty’s top honoree to revitalize hockey in Springfield and make the team part of the fabric of the community.

It’s also about the city’s resurgence and the arrival of MGM and its $950 million casino, MGM Springfield, which will serve as presenting sponsor of the all-star game. MGM now manages the MassMutual Center, and it no doubt played a prominent role in effectively bringing Springfield into the discussion when it comes events like this All-Star Game.

To say that it wasn’t in those discussions for the past decade and more would be another understatement. It is now, because of its resurgence, the team’s incredible surge, and MGM’s ability to help put on a good show.

And this combination bodes extremely well for the city moving forward. The game came to Springfield as a result of effective partnerships and strong teamwork, and these potent forces can bring more shows and meetings and conventions to this city and this region.

As we said at the top, all-star games have suffered some bad press and some tough times lately. In many respects, the games are no longer a big deal.

This is a notable exception, and one the city should be proud of.

Opinion

Despite the occasional major project landing in the region — that casino opening is only two months away — the Pioneer Valley’s economy is still driven far more by the myriad small businesses that dot the landscape.

That’s why it’s important to give entrepreneurs the tools, inspiration, and resources they need to make the risks they take in launching their enterprises worthwhile.

Our story on page 40 is always a fun assignment — our annual writeup on the winners of the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator Awards. This year, we sat down with the entrepreneurs behind the three top winners, who received, through this program, significant funding for their projects, but, just as important, key guidance and support in taking their businesses to the next level.

Because those enterprises deal in such critical matters as clean water, continuing medical education, and equipping low-income youth to write their own entrepreneurial stories, that next level, as you’ll see by reading these accounts, may turn out to be life-changing for many — and even world-changing,

Then there’s our page 26 story on Click Workshop — perhaps a less splashy story, because no one is handing out giant checks. Rather, they’re handing over monthly payments (rather reasonable ones, at that) to participate in a community of 98 small (mostly solo) businesses that share resources and network in a refurbished former warehouse in downtown Northampton.

One of the region’s growing number of co-working spaces, Click is supporting economic energy in its city while also boosting the profile of another type of entrepreneur: the local artists and musicians to whom it offers exposure and a place to promote their creations.

These two articles may seem unrelated at first, but they both speak to the importance of creating a supportive community of entrepreneurs who understand that the success of each contributes to the success of all, by establishing Western Mass. as a place where ideas can turn into viable businesses.

“You have a lot of ups and downs. The wins are big wins — they’re really high highs,” said Barrett Mully, one of the VVM Accelerator Award winners. However, “it’s just so intangible at times, it’s like you’re feeling your way through the dark a little bit.”

Programs and organizations that support the region’s startup culture are making that journey a little bit brighter.

After all, countless entrepreneurs are taking calculated gambles every day that have nothing to do with a casino. When those risks pay off, everyone benefits.

Opinion

Opinion

By Tom Jones

The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the use of arbitration agreements to prohibit class-action lawsuits generated widespread cheering in the business community. But employers would be well advised to hold their applause.

That’s because this Supreme Court decision is unusual in that it does not draw a bright line making it clear what employers may or may not do. It simply opens the door for employers to pursue mandatory arbitration as an option.

Most importantly, the decision does not allow employers to use arbitration agreements to escape the “onerous” aspects of legally established remedies.

The court has made clear that, while arbitration involves a change of forum from the courts to the private arbitration arena, and an elimination of class actions, it does not change workers’ substantive rights. Arbitrators must apply the same law that a court would apply and award the same substantive remedies for proven violations.

Employees will still be able to file a claim for non-payment of wages, sexual harassment, or other adverse consequences at work. They just won’t be able to do it as a class action.

The best advice to employers any time they face a new legally justified option is to take time to weigh the options before moving ahead.

The Supreme Court ruled that companies may use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues. The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s more conservative justices in the majority. The court’s decision could affect some 25 million employment contracts.

Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch said the court’s conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court’s precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, “the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away, and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace.”

The ruling does not necessarily invalidate Massachusetts law on the topic of arbitration. For example, a Massachusetts case from a few years ago centered around an arbitration waiver agreement that prohibited plaintiffs’ recovery of multiple damages in any arbitration proceeding — a provision that directly conflicted with the Massachusetts mandatory treble damages law.

In 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) declared the waiver of multiple damages in the arbitration agreement unenforceable, ruling that the FAA (Federal Arbitration Act) did not preempt the SJC from holding that waiver of multiple damages in these circumstances is void as contrary to Massachusetts public policy.

Given that arbitration is really a procedural strategy, there are many questions you should consider before adopting a change in your company’s practices. Some questions to ask yourself as a company include: how will arbitration be a benefit to us? How much will it cost to use it? What is the potential cost vis-a-vis the likely benefit? Will we be better off as an employer with such a policy in place? If so, how? How often do we get sued? What issues do we get sued for? Wages? Discrimination? If or when we do get sued, what is our success record under the current rules?

Consider that, in discrimination cases filed at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), the agency found “lack of probable cause” (i.e. the case was dismissed) in 87% of the cases filed, according to its most recent annual report. Are you likely to do any better with an arbitrator?

One other thing to keep in mind is that federal and state administrative agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or MCAD, are not bound by private arbitration agreements; they are able to sue over statutory rights where private claimants may not bring a case.

Before jumping on the bandwagon of arbitration, you need to engage in due diligence to see if it makes sense for your company.

Tom Jones is vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial

A recent report issued by the Pioneer Institute, a conservative-leaning, Boston-based think tank, brought a new wave of criticism to the admissions practices at the University of Massachusetts and its flagship campus in Amherst, but what it really did — we hope — is open some eyes to some of the alarming trends in higher education today.

The report, released late last month, revealed that out-of-state applicants are often getting in at the expense of in-state residents with higher grade-point averages and SAT scores. The average GPA for admitted out-of-state students was 3.78, while for Massachusetts students it was 3.97.

Stating the blatantly obvious, Mary Connaughton, co-author of the report, said it isn’t supposed to be this way. “It’s actually heartbreaking,” she told the Boston Globe. “We don’t want our kids left out in the cold.”

Indeed, we don’t. But we need a much deeper analysis of the numbers and, more importantly, some aggressive action taken by the state elected leaders to perhaps reverse them.

Out-of-state students are preferred in this environment because they pay higher rates. Meanwhile, competition for those students (and all students, for that matter) is especially keen as high-school graduating classes continue to shrink in size, and that’s why out-of-state applicants are getting admitted to the Amherst campus with lower GPAs than young people in Chicopee, Lowell, and Fall River.

As the Pioneer Institute said, in essence, that’s bad — because this is the state university we’re talking about. It’s there, primarily, to serve state residents, especially as a lower-cost alternative to the many, many exemplary private colleges and universities in this and other states.

Through the decades, it has filled this role well, even as its stature has increased and it has become much more than a ‘fall-back school’ — a phrase used by so many who went there in the ’70s and ’80s to capture how it became their choice after they couldn’t get into, or couldn’t afford, those aforementioned private schools.

But in recent years, changing financial conditions have forced changes in admission policies, and we choose those words carefully. As the state’s commitment to higher education wavered, the university was seemingly left with little choice but to favor out-of-state students and the higher tuitions they paid.

There are other reasons for admitting out-of-students; for starters, they want to come here because of the excellence of the programs, which is a good thing, but the school also wants to create needed diversity by admitting students from other parts of the country and other parts of the world.

But mostly, it’s about money. The estimated cost of attending UMass Amherst for an in-state resident is just under $30,000; conversely, for an out-of-state resident, it’s between $47,600 and $49,000. You can do the math.

And so can the people trying to administer programs at the flagship campus. They would appear to have two choices: admit more in-state residents and incur losses in revenue that threaten quality of programs and perhaps the existence of others, or admit more out-of-state students.

The latter has been the course, and in 2016, the school actually gave more admissions to students who lived outside the state than to those who called the Baystate home — although, overall, more than 75% of those attending the school are from Massachusetts.

School officials believe that’s a good number. The Pioneer Institute doesn’t, and Connaughton believes the state should consider a cap — perhaps 18%, the number used by some other states — on out-of-state admissions so that deserving state residents don’t lose out.

We have a better idea — stronger support of higher education at the state level so those reviewing admissions applications don’t have to make the amount of tuition a student can pay the first number they look at.

Opinion

Opinion

By Beth Haddock

The e-mail can arrive in your inbox cleverly disguised, appearing to come from your boss, a co-worker, or some other person, business, or organization you trust.

But click on a link or attachment as instructed, and you could be in for a headache. You’ve just given cybercriminals access to your company’s data — and potentially put the business out of compliance with federal laws and regulations about protecting that data.

Phishing attacks are one of the most common security challenges individuals and businesses face when it comes to keeping information secure. The phisher’s goal is to steal sensitive and confidential information. That information could include Social Security numbers, credit-card and bank-account numbers, medical or educational records, dates of birth, and e-mail addresses.

That’s problematic because federal regulations may require that your business keep certain information secure. Just as an example, health providers are expected to safeguard the medical records of patients under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Such compliance issues can create unwelcome complications for businesses, which is why they need to be proactive in addressing phishing. Here are a few steps they can take to protect themselves.

Educate employees. The first line of defense against phishing is employees, because they are the ones likely to be targeted. Make them aware of the concerns and tell them to be suspicious of e-mails that offer them links with little explanation, or that ask for sensitive data, even if it appears to be coming from a trusted source.

Reassess who has access to data. Because employee mistakes are the most likely cause of a breach, retraining alone may not get the job done. A business or organization may want to take another look at who should have access to all that sensitive data, and make adjustments where possible.

If a breach happens, take action. You can’t just ignore the data breach. Right away, your IT team needs to be notified so they can get to work handling the breach. At the same time, it’s important to immediately contact your compliance officer or attorney so they can take appropriate steps for reporting the breach to the proper regulatory agencies.

These phishing expeditions from cybercriminals represent a serious challenge for businesses and for their compliance officers. It’s critical to be aware of the threat and to know that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and avoid finding yourself out of compliance with regulations that govern your sensitive data.

Beth Haddock, CEO and founder of Warburton Advisers, is the author of Triple Bottom-Line Compliance: How to Deliver Protection, Productivity and Impact. She has more than 20 years of experience as a compliance and business executive, and her consulting firm provides sustainable governance and compliance solutions to leading international corporations, technology companies, and nonprofits.

Opinion

It was encouraging to see that work will be starting again soon on the Innovation Center in downtown Springfield. Very encouraging.

It’s been almost a year since the work stopped, creating a strange and at the same time troubling blip in what seemed like an otherwise uninterrupted flow of progress, good news, momentum, and positive vibrations.

The center is just one project, but the halt to work — the result of what has been called a severe miscalculation of just how much this project cost and a resulting cash-flow problem that prompted the contractor to cease and desist — was unnerving on a number of levels.

Indeed, while all those involved were confident that work would start again soon and the project would live up it to its considerable hype, as the months went by and the quiet continued on Bridge Street, doubts grew about whether this important link in the chain would become reality.

Now, it seems likely that it will. And that’s good news on many levels.

Let’s start with DevelopSpringfield, the agency that conceived this project and saw its reputation take a small hit when the venture ran aground, if you will, just as its former director was leaving to take another opportunity.

The optics weren’t just bad, they were terrible. But the agency has bounced back from this setback to a large degree, and we will remind people that, from the beginning, and from a projects standpoint, DevelopSpringfield has taken on what could only be called the ‘hard ones.’ Make that the ‘really hard ones.’

This portfolio includes the Gunn Block in Mason Square across from the Springfield Technical Community College campus, a building that may be beyond rehabilitation at this point. But it also includes sites such as 77 and 83 Maple St. and 700 State St. (the former River Inn) — properties that have been successfully rehabilitated.

These are projects that no one else would seemingly touch. When you target longshot projects like this, things are not always going to go smoothly.

But there is a bigger-picture perspective when it comes to the Innovation Center. As we said, it is an important link in the chain, or important ingredient in the recipe for a successful downtown, if that analogy works better.

Indeed, for a central business district to work, it needs many different constituencies coming together. It needs workers (downtown has always had those); it needs residents (downtown has many of those, but it needs more, especially those in higher income brackets, and it will likely get more if talks for more market-rate options become reality); and it needs visitors, and downtown should have a much larger volume of those given the opening of MGM Springfield, the rehabilitation of Union Station, some new restaurants, and the possible revitalization of a moribund Tower Square.

But it also needs startups and young entrepreneurs, people who can make Main Street or Bridge Street, or any number of other streets in the downtown, their mailing address. In cities ranging from Cambridge to Seattle to Brooklyn (OK, that’s a borough, not a city), startups have been a huge factor in the off-the-charts growth of those communities.

They bring jobs, residents, commerce for service business, vibrancy, and something else — more startups.

The Innovation Center won’t do that all by itself, but it will be a huge contributor to that movement as it serves as home to not only Valley Venture Mentors, but eventually some of the startup businesses VVM mentors.

Given everything else going on downtown and all the things that have gone right, the restart of work on the Innovation Center may seem like a minor story.

It isn’t.

Opinion

Opinion

By the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast

Is your company handbook in need of a checkup? While handbooks vary in scope and detail, below are five policy areas employers should review.

Sexual harassment. With the rise in social awareness about sexual-harassment and workplace respect in general comes the need for companies to review the scope and depth of their policies, not only to ensure their policies are current regarding the process and procedures for handling complaints, but also in the messaging being communicated by leadership.

Equal opportunity. With additional protected classes coming into effect into 2018 in some jurisdictions (such as state initiatives designed to expand pregnant workers), employers should ensure their EEO policies cover these new protected groups.

Pregnancy accommodation. Some states, including Massachusetts, have enacted pregnancy-accommodation laws that will provide expanded communications and policies to inform employees about their rights to pregnancy accommodations and what those might entail.

Standards of conduct or employee conduct. With a new composition of board members at the National Labor Relations Board come new interpretations on a variety of subjects like civility, social media, and confidentiality.

Leaves of absence. As states continue to adopt sick-leave legislation and/or paid family-leave legislation, companies will either need to add leave policies to comport with the new requirements or update their existing policies to ensure that they are properly aligned.

In addition to these hot topics, here are five more handbook pitfalls to avoid:

Gender-identifying pronouns. Avoid using language like ‘he’ and ‘he/she’ in policies. Rather use language like ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘employee,’ or ‘employees’ where possible.

Contract language. Avoid language or phrases such as ‘terms or conditions of employment,’ ‘in consideration,’ and ‘employer and employee agree’ that could potentially leave the door open for a court to construe the document as a contract.

Handbook versions and revisions. Failure to maintain revision dates, execute and maintain signed acknowledgement forms confirming receipt of the current handbook revision, or identify in the handbook that the current handbook supersedes prior editions all can raise questions of which policies apply..

Avoid legal and ambiguous terminology where possible. Your employees are not lawyers. Use easy-to-understand, objective language in policies, particularly in discipline and related matters. Provide clear examples of behavior to provide a better understanding of employer expectations.

Avoid automatic termination or ‘cliff’ language in leave-of-absence policies. Leave policies that dictate that termination will automatically result after a certain amount of time could be construed as unlawful by a court or agency because it disregards the employer’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to engage in a “good-faith, interactive process” and fails to consider whether an extended leave of absence would be an undue hardship on the employer.

 

Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast