There are so many demands in running a business that having an employee handbook may seem far removed from the bottom line, and maybe even unnecessary if you have a small team. But recording key policies and having certain things in writing can actually protect your business and save you a lot of headache, in addition to giving your employees clarity and setting the tone of your workplace. It also provides a built in way to put employees on notice of certain things you are required by law to provide. Don’t wait to make sure you have one in place and it is in compliance with current law.
Here are the top eight things you want to make sure you record in your Employee Handbook:
- At-Will Disclaimer
It is critical that your employees do not confuse the handbook for a contract or have any expectation that if they follow all the policies, they are promised continued employment. One of the first things your Employee Handbook should include is a disclaimer making this clear.
- Discrimination and Harassment Policies
Don’t forget to mention that you are an equal employment opportunity employer. Business owners must comply with EEO laws concerning all forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on various protected classes under federal, state and local law. It is important to communicate to your employees that you are aware of these laws, and in fact employers are required to have certain posters on their premises by federal law. See eeoc.gov for more information. It is also critical that you have a procedure set up for making complaints about discrimination and harassment (i.e. who are at least 2 different people they can report to, does it need to be in writing, etc.), and the employees are clear on what that procedure is. It is also important to include the fact in the handbook that employees will not be retaliated against for making any such complaint.
- Disability Accommodation Policies
Along these same lines, employers want to specifically mention the Americans with Disability Act, the companies compliance with its requirements, and the procedure by which an employee can make a request for an accommodation for a disability. Having a clear procedure set up protects an employer from claims from an employee who says they made a request for accommodation or that the employer should have known about a disability, but never made the right people aware of the situation.
- Drug & Alcohol and Testing Policies
With marijuana being legalized, both for medical and recreational purposes, and the huge liability companies set themselves up for if their employees are impaired while on the job, it is important to have a clear drug and alcohol policy. Many states, including Arizona, have laws regulating testing done by employers, and it is important to be aware of what they can and cannot do under those laws. Arizona also has notice requirements that companies should to provide their employees under the Smoke Free Arizona Act. See https://azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/smoke-free-arizona/index.php for more information. A handbook is a convenient place to put employees on notice.
- IT Safety and Social Media Policies
In today’s market, it is also important that you address technology and internet security issues by having clear and concise rules stated in the employee handbook, including steps to keep company data safe (e.g., updating passwords, storing and locking computers when not in use, and policies regarding personal use of a business-owned computer). It’s also a good idea to outline the consequences of non-compliance. It is also a good idea to set guidelines for how employees use social media as it relates to your company, but be aware that under the National Labor Relation Act, employers can’t limit an employee’s right to talk about their wages or terms of employment. See https://www.employerlawreport.com/files/2015/04/GC-15_04-Report-of-the-General-Counsel-Concerning-Employer-Rules.pdf for more information on what can and cannot be restricted.
- Time off and Leave Policies
There is a lot of room for confusion here, and it is important to be very clear on what is and is not allowed for paid time off as well as leave. If an employer has more than 100 employees, it is required by law to include certain notices under the Family Medical Leave Act in the handbook, so keep that in mind. It is also important to set clear expectations about meals and breaks and make sure you are in compliance with your state laws.
- Standard of Conduct
This is a broad topic that includes things like disciplinary action, dress code, hours, attendance, use of company equipment, etc. If it is something important to you, make sure your employees are aware of it and the consequences for not complying.
- Policy Acknowledgement
A policy acknowledgement is something that can be easy to overlook, and not all acknowledgements are created equal. Sometimes the handbook acknowledgment is one of the only documents in an employee’s file, and if it is generic and sparse, it will not help very much if an employee is suing the company or an issue arises. Make sure you (a) include a clear disclaimer that the employment relationship is at-will, (b) have the employee specifically acknowledge the harassment and discrimination policy and his or her obligation to report a violation through the proper channels, and (c) make clear that the handbooks and company policies can change at any time and do not constitute a binding contract. These things can save you a lot of time and headache on the back end.
If you need help creating a new employee handbook or revising your existing employee handbook, give me a call. I am here to assist you so the relationship between you and your employees can be a happy and prosperous one. You can reach me at (480) 344-0986 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org