Now is a great time for employers to begin reviewing their handbooks and other company policies for 2022.
Employers should be reviewing their handbooks and policies annually for changes to the law, as well as changes related to company culture, headcount, benefits, difficult issues faced during the year, and more. Handbooks can be one of the most useful tools in developing a healthy employment relationship. IN Handbooks provide an efficient way for an employer to present its policies, provide legally required notices and information, and detail employer expectations.
A well-drafted handbook may provide a defense to an employer in certain instances such as some wage and hour and sexual harassment situations. Alternatively, a poorly drafted handbook can create liability by provide unintended guarantees to employees or conflicting with the law.
At a minimum, employee handbooks should include the following:
At-Will Statement and Disclaimer
An effective “at-will” policy should be stated upfront and use clear and unambiguous language. Remember, however, that employees who are subject to employment agreements or collective bargaining agreements may not be “at-will” employees.
Equal Employment Opportunity
Equal Employment Opportunity policies should clearly state that employment decisions will not consider an employee’s protected status and state that the employer will reasonably accommodate all individuals entitled to such accommodation unless doing so causes undue hardship to the employer. Handbooks should educate employees regarding how they may request an accommodation.
Policy Against Unlawful Harassment
A policy prohibiting unlawful harassment and discrimination is essential to a handbook and provides a defense to claims of unlawful harassment and discrimination against an organization. State and federal laws related to discrimination and harassment have changed over the last several years and are likely to continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, it is important that employers include the most up-to-date information in their handbooks.
Wage & Hour Issues
Handbooks should address key wage and hour issues including the workweek and meal and rest periods among other issues. Well-drafted handbooks also include specific language under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Washington law which provide some protection to employers making inadvertent and erroneous deductions from wages in certain circumstances.
Leaves of Absence
Employees may be entitled to legally protected leaves of absence from work in certain instances. Such leaves of absence under state and/or federal law should be outlined in an employee handbook.
Social Networking & Electronic Communications
Employee’s activities on social media and electronic communications have become a source of concern for many employers. A clear social media and electronic communications policy that is tailored to an employer’s needs. Social media and electronic communications policies must be written to comply with prohibitions on limiting speech related to protected concerned activity and privacy concerns.
Employee Acknowledgment, including signature
An acknowledgment signed by the employee verifying that the employee received a copy of the handbook is a good item to add to any handbook. Evidence demonstrating that the employee received a copy of the handbook may prove invaluable in supporting disciplinary decisions or terminations based on policy violations.
In short, handbooks can be one of the most important investments an employer can make. If you have not reviewed your employee handbook recently, now is a great time to do so. Associated Industries offers its members a sample handbook that is updated each year to include changes to the law and also offers handbook training courses throughout the year which will take employers through best practices as well as pitfalls and practices to avoid.
Please contact Member Services if you have any questions about your handbook or need assistance updating policies or join us for our handbook class on Wednesday, November 3!