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Top 10 Reasons to Update your Employee Handbook

June 1st, 2017 by Mindy Flanigan, Inspiring HR

If you have an Employee Handbook already in place, fabulous! If you don’t and you wonder if you need one, the answer is yes.  Refer to “The ROI of an Employee Handbook.

We are always pleased to hear that a company has what they call an employee “manual”. We prefer “Handbook” for a variety of reasons.  Whatever you call it, it may be slightly frustrating to learn that it will never actually be “finished”.  Sorry.

A finalized Handbook that has been distributed to staff still needs an update from time to time. Companies grow and mature and so must their policies.  Labor laws will change from time to time, and internal policies are affected by those changes.  Hopefully you operate in a state that does not have complex, ever changing laws, so you can extend what we call the shelf life.

Reflect on the last time your company’s handbook was updated. If your Handbook hasn’t been revised since 2012, it is growing very out of date in at least these areas: American’s with Disabilities Act, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Categories – Safe Harbor, Social Media/Blogging and Family and Medical Leave (for 50+).

If you aren’t already sold on updating your Handbook, here are our top 10 reasons to reconsider:

  1. Be clear(er) on “employment at will” and business rights.  Worried your Handbook might be construed as a contract? An effective Handbook clearly defines what employment at will means and includes disclaimers that give the company the right to change pay, policy and practices according to what state or federal law allows. There should be no doubt throughout the handbook that it is not a contract and the company is not guaranteeing anything.
  2. Remove language the National Labor Relations Board considers unlawful.  The NLRB is on a mission as of late to pick at this. There is a 30 page memo that was released by them to clarify. Good grief who will read that? A good HR Consultant has a handbook template that has been legally vetted and can easily spot language that could make your Handbook illegal. In general remember that employees have a right to discuss and voice complaints regarding working conditions, including pay. Biggest mistake we see? A policy that states if an employee discusses their pay they will be disciplined or fired. Remove that. Immediately.
  3. Minimize the risk of harassment or discrimination claims.  We strongly encourage a statement of zero tolerance and a clearly marked sub section that cover “How to Report a Claim”, which identifies multiple choices of persons to report a claim to. Consider adding an additional policy in the Handbook that makes Personal Relationships in the Workplace standards very clear.
  4. Expand the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) policy.  Did you know there were signature changes to the ADA in 2012? A current Handbook will include language related to the ADAAA and include direction on how to request an accommodation.
  5. Update Employee Categories.  Are you AND your employee clear on the difference between Exempt and Non-Exempt? Does your Handbook cover what Exempt employees should do if there is an improper deduction from their pay? If offering a group health plan, is this section clear on the definition of full-time, part-time and benefit plan eligibility requirements for hours worked?
  6. Confidentiality & Non-Disclosure protections.  Are you asking employees to sign what is called a CNDA at the time of hire? A Handbook policy that covers these standards and the company’s right to use legal means available to recover lost property, including intellectual property is a great re-enforcer.
  7. Commit to Federal/State/Local Wage & Hour law compliance.  Ever worry about what a retaliatory ex-employee might attempt to complaint to the Department of Labor about? Handbook policies that cover what a company is legally obligated to do goes a long way in establishing processes employees and leaders should be following, such as: Breaks & Meals, Non-Exempt Overtime, Jury Duty, Paid Sick Leave, Final Paycheck.
  8. Attendance, Attendance, Attendance.  The number one reason that employees are involuntarily terminated and a very hard unemployment claim for a company to “win”. Why? Attendance policy wasn’t specific enough in terms of rules and standards to follow, including how many hours (reasonably), in advance, an employee must notify their manager if they are going to be unexpectedly late or absent. We also encourage a clear definition of Job Abandonment – categorizing it as voluntary resignation.
  9. Evolve from Cellular Phones to Mobile Devices.  First step is to be sure you have a policy that covers rules surrounding use of company issued cellular phones or personal cellular phones used while working. Within that there should be ZERO tolerance for any type of manual phone use while working. ADD to that, all other kinds of rules and protections you need for other types of company issued or personal, used for business, mobile devices.
  10. Employee Conduct Standards.  Can you prove to a current or ex complaining employee, or an outside party inquiring in, that the employee “should have known” that was a policy or performance violation? That doesn’t mean have a 30 item list! But do include statements that cover the obvious – yes, the obvious. No dishonesty, theft, insubordination, harassment, discrimination and engaging in an act that deliberately causes a safety concern, including violation of the Substance Abuse policy.

Signed Handbook Acknowledgements, on file, for everyone!

Sadly, anyone can sue or complain at any time. It is how the company can defend itself that makes a difference.  How will the company prove, if challenged, that the employee “should have known”?  A signed Acknowledgement can be used to defend employment actions related to discipline and termination, including protesting or appealing an unemployment claim related to the termination of an employee for poor performance or a policy violation – if that policy was clear in the handbook.  See attendance above.

Don’t wait to update!

Labor laws are only going to keep changing. Put a maintenance plan in place this time around.  Delegate and get it done.  The reward of a current Handbook will far outweigh the risk and cost.

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