Often, when an employer gets sued, the first thing a company’s lawyer says is, “Let’s see your employee handbook.” If it’s old and unrevised, the next thing the lawyer often says is, “We have a problem.”
Outdated policies or the failure to properly inform employees about new policies can be a big black mark against employers defending themselves against a bias charge. So there’s no better way to kick off the New Year — in a business sense — than by making sure your handbook is up to date. The top-priority items to check:
- New FMLA regulations. The U.S. Department of Labor has revised the Family and Medical Leave Act regulations a couple of times in the last year. Further, the DOL requires employers provide each employee a notice of their updated FMLA rights in a handbook or a handout at the time of hire. Failure to do so will be the first area attacked in a lawsuit over FMLA leave.
- Genetic Discrimination. The recently passed Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of an employee’s genetic information. What follows is that your employee handbook should include genetic information among the “protected” traits that have EEO status.
- Privacy and electronic devices. Employees may have privacy expectations in their use of company computers and other devices, such as PDAs. Still, courts have ruled generally that employers can monitor and limit computer and electronic-device usage for improper activities such as accessing “adult” materials, inappropriate e-mails, or outside business use, as well as strains on bandwidth. The handbook is one effective way to serve notice about company monitoring policies and employee restrictions on use.
- Social Networking. Facebook, Twitter and similar sites have become part of our culture — and our workplaces. More and more companies are instituting policies regarding limits to access of such sites during work time and what employees may disclose about their workplace. Such policies should be part of your handbook.