As we have discussed at length in various blog posts (take a look here and here), maintaining employee handbooks is a critical necessity for businesses operating in the every-changing employment law environment of California. Preparing, maintaining, and updating a handbook that reflects the policies of your company and your operations takes time and expertise, and the guidance of an experienced employment lawyer
While a properly drafted employee handbook can be an effective document to ensure compliance with applicable laws as they evolve and as new laws go into effect, many employee handbooks remain a neglected and underappreciated company document. This not only opens a company to potential litigation, but to confusion around certain policies (like the #MeToo movement, for example). After reading the employee handbook, there should be no questions as to employee actions surrounding attendance, conduct, and potential disciplinary action.
Put simply, the right employee handbook should be written in a manner that is well-thought out, easy to read, and user-friendly. Skip the legalese (in most cases) and use plain English that your employees are sure to understand. Furthermore, do not forget to include disclaimers. Consider incorporating that the handbook is not a contract of employment, it does not modify the at-will nature of employment, and policies within the handbook may be revised, modified, or revoked at any time, with or without notice.
Read on for a few key policies to consider including in your employee handbook for 2019 and beyond.
Anti-Harassment Policy. Again, let us refer you to the #MeToo movement and our various blog posts on the topic. As allegations of workplace sexual harassment continue to make headlines across the country, and the EEOC continues to pursue these types of claims, you want a company policy that makes it clear that your company is committed to maintaining a harassment-free workplace. This area is one exception for the legalese. Your company should explain what constitutes sexual harassment under California and federal law and what type of conduct will violate your company’s anti-harassment policy.
Leave Policies. Leave policies, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, Paid Sick Leave, and Parental Leave, may require some updating. Be sure your leave policies are not inadvertently discriminatory. As we have previously discussed, parental leave policies should apply equally to all types of new parents. What’s more, there is an important distinction between paid leave for recovering from childbirth and paid leave for bonding or other non-medical reasons.
Workplace Conduct and Social Media. This is an ever-evolving area of the law and policies need to be carefully drafted with enough specificity to demonstrate the rights bestowed to employees. Many recent rulings have given incredible leeway to employees regarding what they can say on social media, including while “off the clock”, and it is critical that your employee handbook does not infringe on protected speech. Read more about employee rights on social media here.
Employee Benefits. While your employee handbook is not the ideal document to set forth the details of your health and welfare benefits, it should provide a brief description of employee benefits subject to eligibility requirements of the employee and the individual plan. If you employ part-time and full-time employees, do not expect to get into detail for each type of employee. You can use the handbook as an opportunity to specify that the handbook only addresses benefits for full-time employees and then indicate what part-time employees can do to understand their benefits.
Other policies that may necessitate review and updating include those around confidentiality, reasonable accommodations, marijuana use, and LGBTQ matters.
If you have not updated your employee handbook for 2019, do not despair – it is not too late. However, before you begin to review and update it yourself, obtain the assistance of human resources, technology personnel, and employment counsel and once updated, don’t forget to train your supervisors on the updated policies. To discuss updating your employee handbook, contact employment attorney Drew E. Pomerance today.