Most businesses—of all sizes—have employee handbooks. The handbook is a policy manual that serves as the governing document for the business’s workplace and human resources operations. The handbook not only provides the “playbook” for expectations about workplace practices and culture, but it can also serve as valuable evidence in a lawsuit. An employer should draft the handbook in a way that covers all prospective litigation bases, as employees will try to use the handbook as evidence of the employer’s illegal practices.
Employers who wish to put on the strongest possible defense with a compliant handbook should have an attorney review for the following items:
- Legally mandated policies. Not all policies need to be included in the handbook to be operable. However, key policies concerning family medical leave, vacation pay, and sexual harassment reporting procedures should be included. Both California and federal policies should be drafted in an understandable and clear way. Laying out the policies bolsters an employer’s position that it acted legally in the event of a lawsuit. Employees may argue that the policies were not enforced consistently; the employer should be prepared with notes or other evidence to demonstrate their enforcement practices.
- Frequent updates. It is best practices to update the handbook on an annual or biannual basis, and provide every new hire typically with a copy. When changes to the law occur, depending on the significance of those changes, a mid-year memo or handout notifying employees of a change will suffice until a formal update to the handbook can be distributed.
- Reporting and communication procedures. Employees need to know how they will be evaluated, when they will receive a performance review, and the procedures for improvement. They also need to know whom to talk to for issues with workload, harassment, or other conflicts with supervisors and coworkers.
- Most employers require the employee sign an acknowledgment form after receiving the handbook or the annual or biannual update. Again, this acknowledgment can serve as strong evidence that the company had policies in place and a procedure for reporting complaints—and that the employee was aware of such procedures.
The handbook should be written in a clear, understandable manner. Further, the human resources professionals charged with understanding and enforcing the handbooks policies should be well-versed in what the handbook policies cover.
To discuss an employee handbook for your business, contact attorney Drew E. Pomerance today.