Not updating the employee handbook regularly is a mistake employers can’t afford to make. This document is employers’ first line of defense against litigation.
And with frequently changing federal and state laws, increased government enforcement and sue-happy workers, it’s critical for firms to make sure everything is up to date.
It’s impossible to mention employee handbooks without touching on two of the most crucial elements: the disclaimer and the at-will statement. Every handbook should include something along the lines of “this handbook is not intended to be construed as an employment contract.”
It should also include an at-will statement letting employees know the company has the right to terminate their employment at any time.
In addition, it’s a good idea to review your handbook with a close eye on the following seven areas :
1. Federal and state regs
One of the most common errors employers fall victim to is failing to update the handbook to accurately reflect changes to federal and state regs.
Just last year changes to the FMLA took effect, and the Obama administration has promised major changes to the FLSA.
So staying on top of these changes – and updating accordingly – is an absolute must. To make sure everything is in order, you’ll want to huddle with HR and legal counsel.
2. Non-discrimination policy
Every handbook should include a non-discrimination policy/equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement.
Employers should be sure this section includes clear definitions of discrimination and harassment, a statement about religious and disability accommodation, as well as reporting procedures.
3. The FMLA policy
The FMLA is the only federal law that requires any covered employers to have an FMLA policy listed in the employee handbook.
Based on last year’s changes as well as potential changes like the “Family Medical Leave Enhancement Act,” it should be reviewed frequently.
4. Vacation/Sick Leave/PTO
On top of making sure everything is accurate – how much leave time employees get, how it is accrued, clear forfeiture rules, etc. – there’s another pressing reason to review this policy.
Your policy may violate the ADA. Because additional leave may count as an accommodation under the ADA, policies with capped leave or auto-termination provisions should be amended.
5. Classification/OT status
The difference between exempt and non-exempt employees should be explicitly spelled out in the handbook.
In addition, how your company’s “workweek” is defined for overtime-calculation processes and what the OT-approval process consists of should be included.
6. Breaks for nursing mothers
A health reform law amendment to the FLSA requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide reasonable break times for nursing mothers to express breast milk and a space to do it – and this should be reflected in the handbook.
7. Social media policies
To keep a handle on employees’ social media activity and protect the company, many employers have created specific social media policies.
But there are limits to what employers can do, and a number of firms have found themselves in legal trouble due to overly strict policies.
To be safe, the NLRB offers this sample of an “acceptable” policy.