Employment manuals or handbooks can be a sword or shield, depending on whether you are an employee or employer but, no matter, employment handbooks are essential for all businesses. In these difficult economic times, many employers try to forsake putting together a handbook, in the hope of saving some money, while others, who have an existing one, will forego reviewing and updating the handbook for the very same reason. In each scenario, employers put themselves at risk, increase their chances of ending up in court and potentially costing the company more in the long run.
The employment handbook is a written guide that should be given to the employee on their first day. It should set forth the consistent procedures and policies that each employee is expected to adhere to and that the company will apply. There is no value in writing one thing in the handbook and then proceeding in a different fashion. Initially, it is extremely important to have both management and human resources meet with counsel to ensure that the goals of the company are in line with the ever changing laws and regulations in the employment law area. There are many basics that need to be included from the policies on family leave and sick leave, vacation time, substance abuse policy, working hours, non-discrimination and harassment policy, compensation, benefits, holidays, etc. Two of the many other topics that also need to be addressed, in a handbook, are a zero tolerance approach to workplace violence and computer use policies.
Workplace violence has become more prevalent and can range from an inappropriate remark to actual physical harm. Any threat must be taken seriously and appropriate protections and assessments must be made. As for workplace computers, clear guidelines must be in place regarding the limitations on computer use for any non-company matter. Employees should be aware that there is no expectation of privacy on a company computer. One other issue which has been mentioned in prior articles is that the handbook must make clear that it is not to be considered a contract and that it does not change an employee’s status; i.e., “at will.” Clear, prominent, conspicuous and bold language and disclosures must appear within the handbook.
Handbooks are an important tool in ensuring that everything runs as smoothly as possible not only during the employment relationship but in the event of termination. The above is certainly only a sampling and the tip of the iceberg on the issues in play. We can certainly assist as you review your current policy or begin to implement a new one.
Darrell M. Felsenstein is a Partner at WJ&L and is active in our Litigation and Employment law practices. Employment Manuals