New Year; New You; a Look at Employee Handbooks

This can be a frantic time between the holidays, hustling to complete projects before the end of the year, and planning for the coming year. And while this is a great time to review your HR policies and employee handbooks, that project often gets put on the back burner. So, with the vigor of a New Year’s resolution (New Year; New You!), let’s take a look at that employee handbook to make sure that your policies comply with the quickly changing legal landscape. As you review your handbook, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t turn your handbook into an employment contract: Most companies prefer to keep their employees working “at will” and an employment contract could turn them into “just cause” employees, thereby making it more difficult to exercise discretion in employment decisions.
  2. Include key policies: Certain policies are “must-haves” in an effective and legally compliant handbook. For example, regardless of size, all companies should have an anti-harassment policy to protect their employees from inappropriate workplace behavior.
  3. Don’t overpromise. For example, if your company does not have enough employees to be covered by the FMLA, but still promises FMLA leave in the handbook, then courts may hold the company to that promise.
  4. Don’t include standalone agreements: Remember, the goal of most companies is not to create an employment contract, so the handbook should not include contractual provisions. Non-compete, non-solicit, and/or confidentiality agreements should be in separate documents.
  5. Don’t trust the internet. While probably a wise rule in most situations, it is particularly applicable with employee handbooks. Handbooks are not one-size-fits-all, and internet handbooks are often generic. An effective handbook must be tailored to the industry and the laws of the states in which the company operates.
  6. Not everything is confidential: Just because you say information is confidential does not necessarily mean that the law agrees. If information has to do with wages, hours, terms, or conditions of employment, the law permits employees to discuss those matters. So, for example, policies which say “Do not discuss customer or employee information outside of work, including phone numbers and addresses” or “If something is not public information, you must not share it” has been found to be unlawful.

These are just a few areas to keep in mind when performing your policy audit. Other key issues include civility, talking with the media, medical leave, and trademark/copyright policies. A good policy audit requires taking a hard look at all policies which pertain to your employees which will help to protect against the headaches and expense of litigation in 2021.

As always, our team of talented professionals is here to assist you when it comes to things like auditing your employee handbook. Feel free to reach out to us anytime for a free consultation.

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