The Law @ Work

Does your Employee Handbook Do More Harm than Good?

By Amelia J. Holstrom

I often tell clients that one of the most important documents they need to have is an employee handbook, and that handbook needs to be up to date and legally compliant. Why? A handbook that is out of date, inaccurate, or poorly written really can do more harm than good. If you don’t have a handbook, put one in place.  If you have one and haven’t reviewed it in the past year, now is the time to do so.

Here are my top three reasons to update your employee handbook now:

1. A Key Piece of Evidence

In almost every lawsuit we defend, the employee handbook, or at least certain policies from it, are important pieces of evidence. For example, if an employee is terminated for poor performance, policies on disciplinary action and employee conduct would be important for a jury or other decision-maker to see.

2. Changes to State and Federal Laws

There have been many changes to state and federal laws, new laws and court interpretations of laws that may affect your existing employment policies. The laws are always evolving at both the state and federal level, and courts’ and agencies’ interpretations of older laws evolve as well. Over the past several years, there have been a flurry of employment laws enacted impacting employer policies, and employers need to be sure they have addressed those in their handbooks.

For example, the new Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law requires employers to inform employees that if they use PTO or other employer-provided paid time off for a qualifying reason, such use will count against the employee’s annual  PFML leave allotment. Further, employers need to tell employees that if they choose to use employer paid time off to cover such absences, they cannot also collect a paid benefit from the state.

3. They Set the Tone

Even if you never face a lawsuit from a current or former employee, your handbook provides employees with important information about state and federal laws, rules of your business and your expectations while providing businesses with legal protections. Other than the information provided in the interview process, the handbook is one of the first pieces of information that a new employee receives about your business.

Bottom Line

This is just the tip of the iceberg. My colleague Erica Flores and I will be conducting a complimentary webinar on December 17, 2020 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Employee Handbook Reviews during which, in addition to the above, we will cover many important handbook topics for employers.   If you would like to register, you can do so here.

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