Don’t put off updating your employee handbook

 In Small Business Legal Help

Image for Dana Ball Legal ServicesAn employee handbook is an essential document containing information that every one of your employees should understand and demonstrating that you are committed to complying with all applicable federal, state and local laws that apply to the workplace.

Benefits of the employee handbook

An employee handbook can help protect your business in cases of employee litigation. It also can help you ensure you’re compliant with all applicable laws.

The employee handbook also can act as an effective resource for employees, and a guide for managers and supervisors.

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Dangers

While essential, employee handbooks also pose risks for the employer. They can be used as exhibits in litigation. Statements in them can create implied contractual terms of employment. If not worded carefully, they can undermine the presumption of at-will employment — that is, the presumption of the employer’s right to dismiss any employee at any time, for any reason without having to establish a cause, as long as the reason is not because of the employee’s race or religion or other protected classification.

There is no such thing as a standard employee handbook. There are too many variations in workplace laws among states, and between different industries. Take the time to prepare one specific to your business.

Disclaimers

Your employee handbook should begin with some standard statements known in legal circles as disclaimers:

  • Nothing in the handbook should be construed as creating a contract of employment
  • Nothing in the handbook should be construed as infringing on employment being at will
  • No tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind
  • Equal employment opportunity
  • The commitment to an interactive process between employer and employee
  • Compliance with Immigration Reform and Control Act
  • Nothing in the handbook is intended to infringe on employees’ rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act to join a trade union and engage in collective bargaining
  • The employer has the right to make changes to the handbook and its provisions

The handbook should include an acknowledgement form for employees to sign, stating that they have received, read, understood and agree to its provisions, and are employed on an at-will basis.

Key issues to include

Employee expectations

  • Status: full-time, part-time, temporary, term, indeterminate, probationary, or per diem
  • Employee conduct expectations: harassment, drug and alcohol policy, including testing and consequences
  • Privacy, including security of sensitive employee information
  • Use of employer-supplied equipment such as computers, email accounts and vehicles

Wage

  • hours of work
  • overtime
  • bonuses
  • tips

Benefits

  • health and dental coverage, pensions, savings plans, investment plans — don’t provide a lot of detail; instead, direct employees to separate benefit documentation

Payroll Practices

  • when, where and how wages will be paid and any changes to these policies
  • paycheck deductions —Sometimes deductions in wages are lawful if certain requirements are met, so review with legal counsel before making any such deductions
  • meal and rest periods
  • time for travel, training, changing clothes and taking safety measures, etc.
  • leave: vacation, sick leave, parental and family leave, leave to care for family members (sick children or parents, e.g.), absence with leave
  • military leave
  • leave for jury duty, subpoena, court appearance, voting
  • other reasons you may choose to grant leave may include blood donation, bereavement or for victims of crime or violence

Is your handbook compliant?

Different state and local laws provide additional rights for leave.

Drug and alcohol policies, regulations on testing, records and privacy also vary widely.

These are just the beginning. It’s vital for your business’s survival that your employee handbook be thorough, clear and compliant with all applicable laws. That’s why it’s essential that you have qualified assistance in putting it together.

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