Why Your Company Needs to Keep its Employee Handbook Up-to-Date
What's typically included in this workplace manual and why you should keep it current
Business owners and executives will all agree that managing employee issues takes up a lot of their time, and not properly managing such issues creates legal risks for the organization. One way to help both employers and employees navigate this landscape is through an employee handbook. While not legally required, any business – or nonprofit – with employees should have an employee handbook.
A good handbook has many benefits, including:
- Welcoming new employees and introducing them to the organization and its culture.
- Communicate the employer’s expectations for workplace behavior and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.
- Company policies and clarification for how to ensure they are enforced fairly and consistently, which will lower the risk of lawsuits and other claims by employees.
- A resource to employees and managers for handling day-to-day issues, reporting violations and filing complaints.
- Define the employment relationship as “at-will”, which gives the employer more flexibility if it becomes necessary to terminate an employee.
WHAT'S TYPICALLY INCLUDED IN EMPLOYEE HANDBOOKS
There is no “one-size-fits-all” employee manual. The contents of a handbook will vary depending on size and industry of the employer, where it does business, the demographics of employees and other factors. What works for a $5 billion national or global company will not be appropriate for a $5 million local or regional employer, but both should have a company manual.
However, there are certain topics that every employee handbook should address, including sexual and other harassment, anti-retaliation, disability and religious accommodations, employee privacy and equal employment opportunity. Handbooks also frequently cover payroll, compensation, attendance and leave policies (including vacation, sick leave, military, jury duty and parental leave).
Health and safety practices are also part of handbooks, especially if there is the potential for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversight, such as in a manufacturing or warehouse setting. This section may also cover prohibitions on smoking and substance abuse, as well as drug testing and workplace violence.
IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING THIS CURRENT
Many companies may issue an employee handbook but fail to review and update it periodically. This increases the legal risks to the company, because employment law changes, both on the federal and state level. If the law has changed in a particular area and the company does not keep up with those modifications in its dealings with employees, it may find itself liable for violations of state or federal law.
For example, if the law on family leave has changed to be more generous and your policy does not reflect that, employees may not receive the amount of leave they are entitled to and could file a claim against the company.
DEVELOPING PRIVACY LAW IMPACTING EMPLOYERS + EMPLOYEES
Several areas of rapidly developing privacy law are affecting relations between employers and employees. These include computer and smartphone use, especially use of personal devices for work purposes; social media use and monitoring of employees. Companies may want to monitor employee activities, including communications, for a number of reasons, including:
- Measuring productivity and preventing slacking off, such as personal use of the internet or spending work time on social media.
- Protecting confidential information or trade secrets from being compromised.
- Protecting the organization’s reputation and brand from disparaging comments by employees.
- Detecting and deterring workplace harassment and potential violence.
This is a rapidly-changing area of the law, one that is struggling to keep up with changes in technology and employee expectations. It is important to advise employees of what the company will be doing to monitor the workplace, but it is equally important to conduct that monitoring in a way that complies with the law and does not violate employees’ rights.
This is a broad topic, and can only be mentioned here, but one that led to much litigation in recent years. Again, employers should regularly review and update employee handbooks to make sure they comply with recent changes in law and regulations in this and other areas. Doing so will provide a useful resource for employers and employees, help with managing employee questions and concerns, and lower the legal risk to the employer.