The Smart Employer’s Guide to Employee Handbooks

We’re in the last quarter of 2018. Oh, how time flies. But we still have time to accomplish our goals for the year— like updating the employee handbook.

While no federal or state laws require employers to have such a handbook, smart companies know that a thorough, updated employee handbook can save time and money if properly constructed. It’s also a great way to provide employees with important information and set workplace expectations.

Pittsburgh attorney Brian D. Lipkin recently compiled a checklist to help with preparing or revising an employment handbook. I encourage you to view the entire list.

Here is a summary of a few particularly important topics for your handbook.

Acknowledgment

The acknowledgement page is signed and confirms the employee received, understands, and will abide by the policies contained in the handbook. Consider having separate acknowledgement pages for certain key policies, such as anti-discrimination and confidential information policies.

Wage and hour issues

The specifics of wage and hour policies will vary according to the type of company and classification of employees.  At a minimum, clarify how hourly and exempt employees will be paid for regular and overtime work. If the company chooses to offer meal or other break periods—or if state law requires them—explain when they will be offered, where they should be taken (for example, requiring that meal periods be taken away from work areas is a good idea), whether they will be paid or unpaid, and how an employee should document this time using the company’s work time tracking procedures.

Paid time off policies

As you review paid time off policies, consider how the current policy aligns with the company’s business objectives.  Does it make sense to combine vacation, sick, and personal time? Be sure to address other types of leave available, such as bereavement and jury duty, and what happens to unused paid time off when an employee leaves the company. Include an explanation of employee rights under Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if applicable to the employer.

Reasonable accommodations

In addition to acknowledging the company’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, identify how employees can/should request reasonable accommodation under the Act. Consider including procedures for bringing service animals to work.

 Discrimination and retaliation

The more clarity you give your non-discrimination/anti-harassment policies, the less likely you are to be subjected to claims. Be straightforward about your commitment to equal treatment and that your employees are protected from discrimination and retaliation.

List protected categories and consider adding those that are still being settled in court (e.g., sexual orientation and gender identity). Make it mandatory for employees to report discrimination and retaliation they encounter or observe and specify the procedure for making reports. Include alternate reporting methods should they feel uncomfortable reporting to an immediate supervisor or feel a complaint was not fully resolved by a manager to whom they initially reported an incident.

Restrictive covenants/Trade secrets

Nondisclosure of proprietary company information may seem like an obvious requirement for employees, but, again, clarity in the employee handbook can save misinterpretation of what constitutes confidential information and/or a trade secret.  In addition to defining these terms and requiring that such information be kept confidential, be sure to mandate return or destruction of that information, including customer lists or access to company-related social media sites or followers, upon an employee’s separation from the company. Employees should also confirm they are not subject to any noncompete restrictions and do not possess any confidential and/or trade secret information from a prior employer.

Labor law issues

Even industries without labor unions are subject to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) so be sure to carve out any prohibitions that would prevent discussion among employees of workplace conditions or conflict with a collective bargaining agreement.  Clarify your solicitation and distribution policy keeping in mind the same rules must apply to union and non-union communications.

Other

Consider other policies that may be necessary because of changes in the workplace or to prevent future problems:

  • How do handbook policies correlate with unwritten procedures and practices? If possible, incorporate all policies in a single place to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Define your social media policy and permitted use of company phones, computers and email and social media accounts.
  • If medical marijuana is legal in your state, clarify the policy for its use (or strict prohibition) at work.
  • Remove or revise any policies that you have not enforced in the past and are unlikely to be enforced in the future.

The amount of information you need to cover may seem overwhelming, but an employment and labor attorney can ease you through the process. Call us anytime — we’re happy to help.

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