Let’s face it: Your daily routine doesn’t leave a lot of room for you to thumb through your handbook.
So when you do make time to go over it with a fine-tooth comb, you’ve got to do it right.
Otherwise, you may end up with an expensive employee lawsuit on your hands.
The best way to make sure your handbook doesn’t make commitments beyond what you intend is to conduct a step-by-step audit.
Here are questions you should ask yourself about five crucial policies in your handbook:
You want to be able to attract the best employees possible, without discriminating on the basis of sex, religion, race, color, age, disability or national origin.
Review your hiring policy carefully, then answer the following questions:
- Does your hiring policy clearly state that no promises made during the employment interview can negate the employment at-will concept?
- Does your hiring policy recognize that applicants can’t be denied employment because of race, sex, religion or national origin?
- Does your policy state that providing false information during the employment process will be grounds for termination?
- Does your policy explain the drug and alcohol screening process?
- Does your policy explain that a reasonable accommodation will be offered to all employees covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
- Does your policy explain that an accommodation can be refused if it constitutes an undue hardship for the company?
- Does your policy consider the impact of an accommodation on the ability of other employees to do their jobs?
Example: If restructuring a job to accommodate an employee with a disability creates a heavier workload for other employees, it may constitute an undue hardship.
- Does your policy explain when employees with alcohol and drug problems will be offered accommodation and when they won’t be?
No section of your handbook will come under closer scrutiny than your discharge policy.
Many employees who deserve to be fired collect huge wrongful discharge awards because the company fails to follow the steps called for in their policy.
Other firms have lost because they fired an employee for an offense that wasn’t listed in an exhaustive table of termination offenses.
Check your termination policy against the following:
- Does your policy explain the behavior that may result in immediate termination?
- If your policy contains a list of termination offenses, does it include a disclaimer that other offenses not listed may also result in termination?
- Does the policy use language such as “may be terminated” instead of “will be terminated”?
It’s always better to allow for extenuating circumstances.
- Does your policy offer the employee the right to an appeal?
- If the termination is for poor performance, do you have documented performance appraisals as called for in your policy?
- Does your policy consider the accommodation requirements of an employee covered by the ADA?
- Does your policy give the employee sufficient time to improve performance or behavior specified in your policy?
- Have other employees been terminated for violating the same policy?
- Is there any evidence that the termination might violate your policies on age, race or sex discrimination?
- Does your policy explain your procedures?
You have every right to expect employees to be on the job, on time, every day.
Your policy should emphasize the importance of good attendance and spell out what can happen to those who are frequently late or absent.
Employees who’ve been terminated for poor attendance have won in court when they are able to show that the policy was unclear and not enforced consistently.
Ask yourself the following:
- Does your attendance policy explain how absences are to be reported and the penalties for excessive absenteeism?
Your policy should distinguish between excused and unexcused absences.
- Do you follow state and federal law concerning absences for jury duty?
It is a violation of federal law and state law to discipline employees who are absent for jury duty.
- Does your absence policy take into account the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
It is a violation of the FMLA to charge a covered employee with unexcused absences while on leave.
- Does your policy consider religious accommodation requirements before charging employees with unexcused absences?
- Does your policy consider the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act concerning absences for drug, alcohol or medical treatments?
- Does your policy explain that unexcused absenteeism has a negative effect on employees’ performance appraisals, promotions and continued employment?
Dress code policy
You have every right to establish a policy setting dress and grooming standards for employees that are based on safety, health and/or company image.
Your policy can get you into trouble if it imposes standards that can be considered discriminatory.
Check your policy against the following audit:
- Is your dress code policy based on business needs?
- Does your dress code policy take into consideration safety factors such as working near machinery, chemicals or hazardous waste?
- Does your dress code policy force sex stereotypes upon employees?
- Does your dress code policy explain when accommodation can and can’t be offered to an employee who objects to it because of religious convictions?
- Do you discipline dress code violators according to your established disciplinary procedures?
- Do you encourage employees to give input on your dress code policy?
- Does your policy offer an employee who disagrees with a manager’s judgment the right of appeal outside of the normal chain of command?
You always want to preserve the at-will status of every applicant.
It’s also important that employees understand that the handbook isn’t a legal document and the policies are subject to change.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your disclaimers placed in prominent positions in the handbook and not set in small type? Courts don’t accept the practice of making commitments in large type and then modifying them in small type.
- Do you give prospective employees handbooks prior to the actual start of work?