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Ten topics for employee handbook review

August 30, 2012

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner AdvanceHR

There is danger lurking in employee handbooks that are rarely or never updated. Employment laws change. New ones are added. New court decisions affect employment practices. And social changes also impact the workplace.

So regularly, perhaps once a year, employers need to review the policies in the employee handbook. (It’s wise to ask an HR specialist or an attorney who is familiar with employment law for guidance in this review.)

To help you get started with your employee handbook review, following is a checklist of 10 topics to consider:

  1. 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, pregnancy, national origin, citizenship, age, military service or veteran status, physical and mental disability, and genetics. But your policy also needs to include any additional classes protected by your state and local laws.
  2. Employment-at-will. The statement of your employment-at-will rights (even if severely limited by your state law) needs to be declared directly and clearly at the beginning of your handbook.
  3. Voice Mail and Electronic Mail. Monitoring employees’ personal messages may infringe on employee privacy rights. So make sure your policy says loud and clear that any information on these systems is the property of the employer, the equipment is for business use only and that the communications system may be monitored at the employer’s discretion. Tell employees they have no expectation of privacy when using the employer’s voice mail and electronic mail.
  4. Weapons In the Workplace. Homicides are among the most common causes of workplace fatalities. Make your anti-weapons policy statement strong and attach disciplinary action, with possible termination, for violation of the policy.
  5. Confidentiality. A confidentiality policy is important if more than a few employees have access to privileged information. What’s considered privileged? Information “such as but not limited to” trade secrets, high-tech knowledge, employer financial data, and also client information.
  6. Paid Holidays. Be sure your paid holiday policy is specific… particularly if you have employees who may work on a paid holiday. Holiday pay problems develop when the employer fails to clearly explain the difference between time worked and paid time off, and how overtime is calculated in a week that includes a paid holiday. Suggestion: Use examples to clearly show employees how you pay for holiday work.
  7. Harassment and Discrimination. On this topic many employee handbooks contain a large hole. Although many handbooks have a policy against sexual harassment, the policy is outdated for two reasons.  The policy doesn’t adequately spell out all the elements in guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).  The policy doesn’t also cover other types of illegal harassment and illegal discrimination.
  8. Workweek. When the handbook does define the workweek, it’s often defined as the days employees normally work in a calendar week, something like this: “Our normal workweek is from Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.” This kind of definition is inadequate. So that employees know how overtime hours are credited, it is important to define the workweek as the period of seven 24-hour days used for determining when employees quality for overtime pay. Something like this: “Our seven-day workweek begins at 12:01 a.m. Monday and ends at 12:01 a.m. the following Monday.
  9. Discussion of wages. Do you have a policy in your handbook telling employees that discussion of wages among employees is prohibited? Take it out. Labor law protects the employee’s right to discuss pay and other work-related conditions with co-workers.
  10. Job Abandonment. This policy tells employees that if they are absent without approval, for a brief period of time (such as eight hours, or a shift, or two consecutive workdays), they are self-terminated. This policy makes it difficult for an employee who is absent without approval to claim he or she was fired and to qualify for unemployment benefits.

For help creating or editing your employee handbook, use SBAM’s partner ASE to receive reduced rates.

[NOTE: Information and guidance in this story is intended to provide accurate and helpful information on the subjects covered. It is not intended to provide a legal service for readers’ individual needs. For legal guidance in your specific situations, always consult with an attorney who is familiar with employment law and labor issues.]

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