10 Topics for Employee Handbook Review

11/22/2021 Jen Eten
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It is a risky practice to rarely or never update your employee handbook. As employment laws change and social norms evolve, updating your employee handbook is more essential than ever; and, even more so  as new court decisions that affect employment practices are established.

To remain compliant, employers need to review the policies in the employee handbook at least once per year. It’s advisable to ask an HR Consultant or an attorney who is familiar with employment law for guidance in this review. The following checklist covers 10 topics to examine while revising your employee handbook:

Equal Employment Opportunities. Does your policy list all the legally protected classes? The federal laws protect the following classes of employees from illegal discrimination: race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or over), disability, genetic information, military service, or veteran status. Also, ensure your policy includes any additional classes protected by your state and local laws.

Employment-at-Will. The statement of your employment-at-will rights (even if strictly limited by your state law) must be stated directly and clearly at the beginning of your handbook.

Voice Mail and E-Mail. Surveillance of employees’ personal messages can violate employees’ privacy rights. It is imperative that your policy explicitly states any information on these systems is the property of the employer, the equipment is for business use only, and the communication systems may be monitored at the will of the employer. Advise employees they have no presumption of privacy when using the employer’s communication systems.

Weapons In the Workplace. To curb workplace violence and promote employee safety, ensure your anti-weapons policy is direct and transparent. Also, identify the disciplinary action, up to and including termination, for violation of the policy.

Confidentiality. A confidentiality policy is essential if employees have access to privileged information. What’s considered privileged? Information “such as but not limited to” trade secrets, technical knowledge, employer financial data, and client information.

Paid Holidays. Ensuring your paid holiday policy is detailed and clear is essential to avoid holiday pay issues. If you have employees who may work on a paid holiday, be sure to explain the difference between time worked and paid time off, and how overtime is calculated in a week which includes a paid holiday. It is recommended to use applicable examples to plainly show employees how you pay for holiday work.

Harassment and Discrimination. Even though most employee handbooks include a sexual harassment policy, it is often not comprehensive and in need of an update. These two topics need to be evaluated to ensure compliance:

  • Adequately spell out all the elements in guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and ensure they are current.
  • Be sure to cover other types of illegal harassment and illegal discrimination.

Workweek. When the employee handbook does define the workweek, it’s often defined as the business hours employees normally work in a calendar week, usually something like this: “Our normal workweek is from Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.” This definition is typically insufficient. To ensure employees know how overtime hours are credited, it is important to clearly define the workweek as the period of seven 24-hour days used for determining when employees qualify for overtime pay.

Discussion of wages. Remove it! Some employers have a policy in the employee handbook prohibiting employees from discussing their wages. This policy needs to be eliminated from the employee handbook. Labor law protects the employee’s right to discuss pay and other work-related conditions with co-workers.

Absence without notification. This policy informs your employees that if they are absent without notification or approval for a brief period, such as two consecutive workdays, they will be recorded as voluntarily resigned.  The Absence without notification policy makes it difficult for employees who are absent without approval to claim they were fired and qualify for unemployment benefits.

For assistance ensuring your employee handbook is compliant, contact VonLehman’s HR Consulting team at dbird@vlcpa.com or 800.887.0437.

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