The importance of an employee handbook cannot be overstated. In the past, employers would hire their staff and give verbal instructions about the expectations of their job, if they provided any at all. Today, however, with employment laws changing frequently (often each July and January) and with more and more lawsuits arising out of policy breaches, it is extremely important to have a thoughtfully drafted employee handbook that clearly defines the expectations of employers and employees alike. It is advisable for employers to review their current policies on an annual basis.
What are some of the most important policies to include?
1. California is an at-will jurisdiction, meaning that an employee can be terminated (or terminate their employment) at any time, without notice and for any non-discriminatory reason. California is also extremely litigious, meaning that people feel inclined to sue when aggrieved. Therefore, an at-will policy outlining the above considerations is one that should always be included in a California handbook.
2. Another policy to include is an open-door policy informing employees of the employer’s availability to listen to and address their grievances. Many times, an employee that feels unheard or unprotected will be the first to file a claim. A well-written open-door policy lets an employee know that the employer truly cares about the work environment.
3. Consistent with an open-door policy is an Anti-harassment policy which tells the employee that the employer will not tolerate harassment by other employees. This sets the standard for conduct in the workplace but can also protect the employer against a vicarious liability claim of employee-to-employee harassment. But, it is crucial that the employer actually practice what it preaches, and enforce its strong anti-harassment policy.
4. All policies relating to employee leave should be clearly spelled out as well. This includes Family Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy Disability Leave, and Workers Compensation. It is beneficial to be aware that employee leave is one place where the law frequently adds new time-offs available to employees (such as leaves to donate bone marrow, vote and to attend parent-teacher conferences, for example) so having a current handbook with current leave policies is extremely important.
5. Lastly, it is important to note that the employee handbook serves as an enforceable contract between employers and employees. As such, every handbook should include an acknowledgment whereby the employee affirms that they have read and understand the contents of the handbook. If the employee fails to sign or the acknowledgement is missing and the employee then sues, the employer does not have the documentation to prove that they gave the employee the handbook. These are general guidelines, for assistance on your company’s employment policy, work with an experienced employment attorney.
Why is it important to have handbooks reviewed by employment attorneys?
Without a doubt, the internet is an excellent source of information for people, but it can sometimes provide inaccurate information. There are hundreds of thousands of handbooks available for free online, however it is important to know when the document was written. Because the field of employment law is a constantly evolving field, a document written in 2008 will be antiquated.
While it may take some time to draft a well-written handbook and it may cost some money upfront to have it reviewed, the costs of failing to have a handbook or using one that is outdated would be far greater than the costs of having one generated from the start.
To discuss drafting an employment policy for your place of work, contact RPNA managing partner and employment attorney Drew E. Pomerance.