The holidays are over, the New Year is here and everyone is returning to work. As we turn our calendars 2013, we inevitably consider new goals for the coming year. For those of us who work in HR, one important goal is avoiding employee claims. To further that goal, here are some ideas for HR New Year’s Resolutions for 2013:

1.         Review your Employee Handbook. This is one of those tasks that you know you need to do, but you rarely get around to. Make 2013 the year that your review your employee handbook and make sure it is up-to date. Have you incorporated important changes in the law? Have you hired enough employees to cross important statutory coverage thresholds? Have you moved into to new states or countries with laws your current handbook does not address? Now is the time to make sure your handbook is still doing its job.

2.         Review Job Descriptions. As long as you are reviewing things, take a look at those job descriptions. Do they still accurately describe the essential job functions and reasonable expectations for the relevant position? Have new positions been created or old positions been eliminated? Has technology or other facts changed how a job is or can be performed?

3.         Evaluate Employee Classifications. As job functions, requirements and expectations change, so do the correct job classifications. Make sure that all employees are treated as non-exempt for overtime purposes unless they fit into a recognized exemption. In addition, if you use independent contractors, review the latest guidelines from relevant government agencies to assure that you can defend your independent contractor classification. Internal Revenue Service resources on proper classification of independent contractors are found here, but remember that different federal and state agencies have slightly different tests.

4.         Strengthen Confidentiality Protections. Take some time to reevaluate the information that is most important to your business and make sure your policies and employee agreements are specific and strong enough to protect it. But remember–saying it does not make it so. In addition to policies and agreements, make sure other adequate protections are in place to protect confidential and trade secret information. Locked files, password protection, encryption and other tools should be used to actually protect what your polices and agreements say is protected.

5.         Update Yourself on the Latest NLRB Developments. Whether your workforce is represented by a union or not, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been busy the last few years expanding its influence and the rights of your employees. Make sure you understand how their rulings and actions affect your workforce. You can start by reading the NLRB’s statement on employee rights here

6.         Implement or Update Your Social Media Policy. Social media is here to stay and its impact on the work place is significant and evolving. There are multiple social media outlets and ways for employees to participate. Make sure your policy addresses your company’s expectations regarding how employees participate in social media. In addition, make sure your social media policy is coordinated with policies on other important topics, like harassment, confidential information and corporate communications. Finally, make sure managers and HR staff know when social media activities should – – and should not – – lead to counseling or discipline.

7.         Assure that Employee Health Information is Adequately Protected. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act (GINA) both place important restrictions on the use and maintenance of employee health information. If you do not have a handle on when and how such information can be requested, review the relevant ADA and GINA provisions now. And make sure that all employee health information is maintained in separate confidential files with access limited to those with a business need for the information. If you maintain employee health information in electronic form, that means password protection and encryption.

8.        Brush Up on USERRA. Veterans and armed service members make up an important part of the workforce. Make sure you understand the re-employment, benefits and other rights protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA), as well as any state statues that protect the rights of these employees. You can find a compliance guide to USERRA here

9.        Survey the Healthcare Horizon. This past year has seen some dramatic changes in health care benefits, but the biggest changes are coming in 2014. This is a good time to make sure you understand what the Affordable Care Act requires of employers now, and what is coming down the road. 

10.       Train, Train, Train. Your policies and procedures only work if your managers and supervisors know how to implement and enforce them. Take some time to think about what your front line supervisors should understand about discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave, social media, discipline and any other important policies; then, think about effective ways to train them. In addition, consider higher-level managers and what they need to know. Take a proactive role to help managers understand their responsibilities regarding compliance with the law.

By setting a few achievable goals, you can help your company comply with the law and avoid unnecessary claims and litigation. And that will make for a happy and prosperous 2013!