While legally employers are not required to have an employee handbook, these guidelines are considered good business practice. An employee handbook sets forth company policies and procedures, spells out employment expectations and benefits, and outlines an employee’s rights. They can also protect an employer in a lawsuit, particularly against discrimination or unfair treatment claims.
When to Update
Traditionally human resource executives have recommended that companies update their handbooks at least once a year, and review them every six months for any necessary changes due to new laws. In 2020, however, safety and workspace considerations related to the coronavirus pandemic and compliance with CDC and OSHA guidelines, as well as a move for more employees to work from home, have resulted in multiple updates for some companies. The Supreme Court’s recent decision on broadening the definition of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identification will challenge business owners to make employee handbook changes.
Critical Handbook Components
At the most basic level an employee handbook should:
- Detail the company’s mission and goals, enabling a smoother transition into the workplace for new employees;
- Spell out employees’ rights and responsibilities, giving them a clear picture of what is expected of them;
- Communicate key policies and procedures, providing a reference for employees;
- List avenues of recourse should an employee encounter a problem;
- Explain the employer’s desire to comply with state and federal laws.
In terms of complying with employment laws, any employee handbook should include sections on workers compensation, Equal Employment Opportunity protections, non-discrimination and harassment policies, and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights. The Coronavirus Response Act extended FMLA coverages to cover COVID-19 related issues. Handbooks should be updated to include these changes.
Along with these legally extended rights and obligations, handbooks should also include a section explaining employment is “at will,” meaning either the employee or employer can terminate employment at any time.
If a company employs minimum wage workers and is subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the corporate handbook should include a section on overtime policies and recordkeeping.
Benefits and Who is Covered
A good employee handbook also incorporates a section on benefits, including vacation, sick leave, health insurance, life insurance, and retirement plans. This section should detail who is eligible for insurance and benefit plans as well as how employees enroll.
Many handbooks also include sections on office conduct to set a standard for in-office, day-to-day decorum. Depending on the company, these sections deal with everything from dress code to visitors to internet use for personal business to nepotism.
Reflection of the Times
Employee handbooks are often a reflection of the times. New state laws on medical marijuana use and e-cigarette/vaping regulations have forced some employers to create policies and address these issues in handbooks.
Social media policies regarding how employees can refer to or mention their employer are also a hot button now.
Employee handbooks both set out office policies and procedures and serve as protection for employers in enforcing these policies. In that vein, it is always a good idea to have employees sign an agreement stating they have read the handbook and understand the policies. Then keep a copy of the signed agreement in the employee personnel file.
Employee Handbook Experts
Any adjustments or changes you make to your employee handbook should be reviewed by an attorney. The experienced attorneys at InPrime Legal can help you update your handbook for new laws as well as make adjustments for issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact us at 770-282-8967.