Human Resources News & Insights

Employee handbooks: Is yours keeping pace with the times?

It’s an easy task to overlook. But keeping your employee manual up to date is crucial in today’s ever-shifting maze of workplace rules and regs.

Need an example? Consider this: Paid sick leave tops the list of emerging issues most commonly addressed in employee handbooks, with an impressive 79.4% of respondents addressing this new legal trend in their handbooks, according to a new survey of HR pros from XpertHR.

Data privacy is the second most common issue addressed (67.2%) and social media is a close third (64.2%).

Pretty big difference from just five or 10 years ago, right?

Respondents find that keeping their handbooks current with an evolving workplace and workforce (41%) is the most challenging aspect, and keeping it current with the law at a close second (35.6%). A distant third (11%) is getting employees to comply with handbook policies. Addressing state requirements is the top challenge for a mere 3.4%.

Other issues begin to emerge

Other issues are just starting to rear their heads: Wearable technology, such as so-called smart watches, isn’t yet making its way into handbooks in any significant way, with only 4.1% of respondents indicating they have incorporated this budding technology into their handbooks. Medical marijuana, now legal in nearly half of the states, yet still against federal law, is a challenging issue for workplaces — but only 6.4% of respondents have explicitly addressed it in their handbooks. Bring your own device (BYOD) policies are addressed by 14.5% of handbooks; Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) protection by 17.2%; and e-cigarettes by 20.6%.

Of the 521 individuals surveyed, 91.9% report having an employee handbook. Those with handbooks are generally diligent about keeping them updated, with 78% reporting updates within the last two years; 14.2% within three to five years; 3% within six to nine years; 2.1% within 10 or more years; and 2.8% unsure when updates were last made.

Sector plays a significant role in whether an employer has a handbook. 92.6% of the private sector reports having a handbook, while that figure is 86.1% for the public sector and 94.9% for nonprofits.

By far the majority (58.5%) of employee handbooks are prepared in-house by HR with review by a lawyer; 18.8% prepare handbooks in-house without review by a lawyer. Roughly one in five of the respondents produce multiple handbooks for various employee groups, generally for one of the following categories: seasonal employees vs. permanent employees, corporate vs. locations by state, hourly vs. salary, union vs. non-union, field workers vs. office workers, staff vs. faculty vs. administration, exempt vs. non-exempt, and manager vs. employee.

Handbooks continue to be distributed primarily via print (64.5%), although intranet is a close second at 55.3% and email at 28.2%.

The maintenance of the handbook falls squarely on HR’s shoulders, with 83.4% of respondents reporting that in-house HR is responsible for updating their handbooks, distantly followed by in-house legal (3.7%), outside law firms (1.4%), and outside consultants (2.5%).

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