Three recent changes mean you might need to refresh your policies.
There is no law requiring you to have an employee handbook, but it’s still a really good idea. In a single document, your handbook details your workplace’s rules and policies. It’s a way for you to spell out the behaviors you want to see—and the ones that, by law, your employees must avoid.
The tricky thing is that employment law (and its interpretation) changes regul- arly. If you aren’t updating your handbook, your official rules may be out of line with federal regulations.
Here are a few frequently seen policy statements that may get you in trouble.
» Social media continues to evolve. It impacts employers’ and employees’ responsibilities inside and outside the workplace. What is your social media policy? Do you currently prohibit employees from posting any information about your company on social media? If so, this could be unlawful under recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board.
» Employers cannot discriminate in hiring and promoting based on protected categories. Are you keeping up with what is and what is not a protected category? There can be confusion and misunderstanding around this. The handbook is a great place to provide clarification for employees and managers.
» Do you still state that employee compensation is confidential and that disclosing compensation to others may result in discipline or termination? If so, this is now considered unlawful per the National Labor Relations Board.
Useful Policies for Your Employee Handbook
There are many policies you should include if you choose to create an employee handbook. A few are:
» Be sure to have stand-alone at-will policies. The policies should explain what “at-will employment” means and should note that it cannot be modified except with a written agreement, such as an employment agreement.
» Make it clear that the handbook is not a contract and that the company reserves the right to modify the handbook.
» Define who is exempt and what that means.
» Include an Americans with Disabilities policy if you have 15 or more employees.
» Have an equal employment opportunity policy on nondiscrimination, not simply a sexual harassment policy. Include a reporting procedure.
» If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, be sure to include the FMLA policy in your handbook.
» Provide a resource and contact information for employees to report improper payroll deductions. State when corrections will be made.
» Note that nonexempt employees are prohibited from working overtime without prior approval. Clarify that if they work unauthorized overtime, they will be paid. However, also note they are subject to discipline up to and including dismissal.
The handbook is not just about the rules. Employees want to know what benefits the organization provides. Tell them about your paid holidays and PTO accrual. Promote your benefits and the reasons why you are a great employer.
How to Update Your Handbook
An employee handbook can provide your company with valuable legal protections, too. For example, an at-will policy can provide a defense against an employee claim of breach of contract.
Once a year, review the handbook and make appropriate policy updates. Then, communicate and distribute the handbook to your employees.
More employers are providing the handbook electronically. That is fine. Just make sure it is in an accessible place, such as an employee portal where all employees can reference the handbook. If employees don’t have computer access, provide a couple of printed copies that are available to them.
At the yearly update, have all employees sign a new acknowledgment of receipt. File each receipt in the employee’s personnel file.
Keep in mind that no one reads a handbook from cover to cover. Employers shouldn’t ask employees to say they’ve read the handbook. Instead, use verbiage such as, “I have received the handbook” or, better yet, “I have received and will reference the handbook.”
If your handbook hasn’t been thoroughly updated in the last
year, it is probably outdated. A little handbook and policy work now can prevent misunderstandings, save time and avert possible legal headaches in the future.