Now that the holiday season is over, it is time for employers to focus on ways to improve their companies. One of the more important ways to do this is by is updating or creating the company employee handbook if you do not already have one.
I know what you are thinking. Stop!!! Do not perform a Google search for printable employee handbooks because most of those handbooks are generic and do not take your company’s industry into consideration. A company that neglects its employee handbook now will regret that decision when defending a lawsuit.
An employee handbook is a valuable document that not only informs employees of the company’s policies and expectations, but it also can provide the company with protection against potential employee lawsuits and other complaints. An up-to-date, carefully drafted employee handbook tailored to your company’s particular needs is a strong line of defense to minimize both litigation and liability. As your company changes, so do the federal, state and local laws, and so should your employee handbook. Therefore, if your company is still using a handbook from 2012, you need to update it. If your company is using one created under the George W. Bush administration, you probably need to create a new one. If your company is using an internet searched or a generic handbook, you definitely need to create a new one that addresses policies related to your industry. And if you don’t have one at all how do you expect your employees to clearly know your company policies?
Here are ten reasons why your company needs an updated employee handbook in 2014.
- At-Will Statement: Employees should be notified that their employment is at-will and can be terminated at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. A failure to include a statement like this may lead an employee to believe that he/she can only be terminated for cause.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Policy: Employers should specifically state that your policies comply with all legislation, federal, state and local government laws. “Genetic Information” and in some states “Sexual Orientation” are protected classes. Your company handbook should reflect those classifications as well as have a catchall phrase “all other classification protected by law” in case you failed to list one. These policies are helpful defending a lawsuit as juries like to see “written” company policies on discrimination.
- Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Policy: Employers should not only state that they will not tolerate sexual and other types of harassment, but should outline the process for an employee to report complaints of harassment and misconduct. Most importantly, employees should know that there will be no retaliation for a complaint unless it is without merit and filed maliciously.
- E-mail, social media and technology policy: In this day and age, whether it is email, text messaging, Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, electronic communications are the prevalent mode of communication. Companies should have policies in their handbook that address the “do’s” and “don’ts” of electronic communication. However, your social media policy cannot be too restrictive as the National Labor Relations Board has challenged several social media policies especially those that prohibited employees from posting electronic messages that damage the employer or any person’s reputation because it can be interpreted as an unfair practice interfering with employees rights to unionize. Employees should also be told that company-supplied technology such as laptops and cell phones could be monitored.
- Disclaimer: An employee handbook is not intended to create a contract. It is simply a document that allows employees to learn the company policies and procedures. Therefore, all employee handbooks should contain a statement that says “This handbook is not a contract and is subject to change and modification at any time.” Disclaim in the introduction section and where appropriate throughout the handbook.
- Family Medical Leave Act(“FMLA”): The FMLA requires companies with 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius must grant employees unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks a year for certain medical or family care reasons. If your company is covered by the FMLA, make sure you properly state the terms under which leave will be granted, including eligibility requirements, leave request procedures and guidelines for when employees return to work.
- Overtime and Attendance: Your handbook should state your attendance and overtime policy. Excessive absences may result in termination. However, you should not state that excessive sick days will result in termination as this could violate both the Americans with Disabilities Act and FMLA. Your handbook should also address which employees are eligible for overtime pay as to not violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employers should also address the procedure for approving overtime work if necessary. Unapproved overtime must be paid non-except for exempt employees but an employee can still be disciplined for failing to obtain the necessary overtime approvals.
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse Policy: Employers should implement a drug and alcohol abuse policy during work hours and any use outside of work that impacts the workplace. Such abuse can definitely impact an employee’s awareness and impact the overall safety of the workplace. A prevention policy should clearly prohibit the use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace and company events, as well as preclude employees who are impaired from entering the workplace.
- Workplace Violence Prevention: Employers need a policy that states they do not tolerate violence or threats of violence under any circumstances. The policy must clearly identify what is considered inappropriate behavior in the workplace and at company events. Employers should be aware of state laws, as some states allow employers to seek orders of protection against individuals who have been violent towards company employees to prohibit further violence or threats of violence.
- Disciplinary Procedure: Employers should have a progressive disciplinary policy in their employee handbook. A progressive disciplinary policy should protect your company from claims of discrimination by employees who attempt to point to uneven application of disciplinary rules. This policy should not limit your ability to apply the appropriate discipline on employees as most disciplinary issues are not identical. You should reserve the right to administer any level of discipline when an employee’s conduct merits it.
Many business owners believe handbooks are only for large companies and are of no benefit to their company. However, whether you have one employee or thousands, state and federal laws apply to your business and those laws provide guidelines for the issues your company will face with your employees. A handbook is the best place to address those issues and identify your company’s procedures to resolve them. As you review or revise your employee handbook, legal counsel should review your drafted policies to ensure your company is protected.