How long’s it been since you reviewed your employee handbook?
Handbooks are a useful tool for both companies and their workers, but keeping them up-to-date isn’t often a job that’s front-of-mind for HR pros. So many handbooks don’t reflect all the employment law changes that have come down in recent years.
That could mean parts of the handbook are now outdated or will have been invalidated by legal or regulatory developments.
It may also mean that new workplace situations not anticipated when the handbook was first drawn up are not covered, resulting in confusion and a vacuum that will be filled by employees in a way that favors them – not the company.
As you undertake a periodic review of your handbook, you’d be well advised to pay particular attention to 10 areas that con present common pitfalls in employee handbooks, says Gary Moss of the Jackson Lewis law firm.
10 areas to check
1. A shield for the company, not a sword for employees. As you re-read everything in the handbook, make sure nothing in the book can be used as a sword by employees to sue the company; all polocoes should be a shield for the company to protect itself against such an eventuality.
2. Include a disclaimer. Always include a disclaimer that nothing in the handbook shall be construed to be in violation of any federal or state law, and that if any provision is later found to be unlawful, this will not invalidate the remainder of the handbook.
3. Defend against wage & hour claims/audits. Make sure if you ever get hit with such a claim or audit, your handbook aids in the defense by setting out legal policies that are universally followed.
4. Rules and regulations. Make sure employees know what’s expected of them – if they don’t, they’ll make up their own rules which can become standard practice.
5. Maximize management discretion. You want to leave management elbow room for decision-making, not put senior managers in a straitjacket.
6. Avoid making promises. This is key to prevent the handbook from becoming a weapon used by employees against the company.
7. At-will employment. If permissible by state law, specify that all employment with the company is at will, meaning at the discretion of the employer.
8. Be sure to include must-have policies. Include the “gotta have” policies. A checklist:
- equal employment opportunity
- non-harassment of protected classes
- disability accommodation
- religious accommodation
- ban on workplace violence
- anti-retaliation provision, and
- report complaint procedure – with options.
Other optional policies may include:
- electronic communication, computer systems, and cellphone use on and off premises
- use of company bulletin boards
- non-compete and non-solicitation, and
- dress code and grooming.
9. Plan descriptions that govern health care. In the benefits area, make sure it is clear that the specific Plan Descriptions govern in the event of a conflict.
10. Tighten up PTO policies.Many companies’ paid-time-off policies are full of legal pitfalls such as:
- poorly defined accrual policies
- failure set caps on PTO
- no parameters for use
- forfeiture rules not clear, and
- lack of payout maximums.