Legal Guidance Crucial when Changing Workplace Policies

mosque.jpgEmployers have the right to create a work environment and job requirements they feel will best promote the company’s best interests. However, when doing so, it is crucial to have legal guidance so that you can be confident that any rules or policies you put in place comply with state and federal employment laws.

This is true whether you are starting a new business, or adjusting existing policies. Without legal counsel, employers could face costly lawsuits from disgruntled employees.

Policy change costs Cargill $1.5 million

Recently, a meatpacking division of Cargill Corporation settled a dispute involving changes to a prayer-break policy that affected 138 Muslim employees. First, the company failed to announce the change, then, to make matters worse, workers who protested the change were subjected to harassment and discrimination.

While the company denies doing anything wrong, it paid $1.5 million to avoid additional litigation.

Balancing workers’ rights with company needs

Employers can face some difficult decisions when it comes to providing accommodations to workers, while also protecting the interests of the company. In the Cargill case, it was likely a challenge for the meatpacking company to give Muslim workers the prayer breaks their religion required without causing disruptions and possible safety issues in the plant.

However, taking away religious accommodations is generally not a good solution. Rather, employers should engage employees in an “interactive process” to determine how to best meet everyone’s needs.

Informing employees of changes

It can also be a mistake to change policies or practices without adequately informing employees. Failure to notify workers can lead to confusion and anger, which could add more contention to an already unpopular or undesirable change.

Before making any policy changes that affect workers’ rights, it would be wise for Minnesota employers to understand whether the change could have legal ramifications. With legal counsel, it can be easier to avoid expensive missteps and identify solutions that protect the employer, the business, and the employees’ rights.