UPDATING YOUR EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK

By:  Carol Nibley

When was the last time you updated your employee handbook? Recent guidance from the EEOC on social media and applicant criminal backgrounds are but two reasons you may want to review the policies in your employee handbook. Making sure your policies reflect current practices is also important. For example, have you changed your holidays, benefits, paydays, or other practices since your handbook was last reviewed?

Employee handbooks can be valuable for employers and employees alike. Handbooks should be welcoming, written in easily understood language instead of legalese, and clearly define employee rights and responsibilities. Done poorly, however, employee handbooks can create liability and confusion.

Following are a few other things to consider as you review your employee handbook:

  • If you have employees in multiple states, have you ensured that the handbook policies comply with the laws of each state? For example, California has specific requirements for meal and rest periods, and employers would be wise to clearly state these requirements as well as place the burden on employees for complying with them. California law also forbids “use it or lose it” vacation policies and time limits for submitting expense reimbursement requests. Make sure you research the laws of each state where you employ workers.
  • Does your handbook have a detailed discipline procedure? If so, you may want to add language that allows managers to bypass the normal process when there are escalated issues. For example, it isn’t reasonable to give a verbal warning to an employee who makes threats of violence or engages in other serious violations of policy.
  • Make sure your handbook has a safe harbor provision for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). There is increasing scrutiny by the Department of Labor for enforcement of the FLSA, and employers are wise to encourage employees to bring forward concerns of illegal deductions or improper payment of wages before seeking legal redress.
  • Have your employees acknowledge receipt of the handbook.   A carefully crafted acknowledgment form will be essential should an employee later claim ignorance of certain policies, including the at-will employment provision.
  • Review your handbook no less often than once a year.    Consider having an attorney review your handbook every few years.

Employee handbooks are powerful tools for communicating expectations and rights, as well as helping employees feel welcome and informed. Done well, an employee handbook is one of the best investments an employer can make.

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