Time to Get Employee Handbook Back into Shape

Have you looked at your employee handbook lately? Has it kept up with changes to state and federal laws and workplace safety regulations? If not, it might be time to spruce it up a bit.

Employers need to update employee handbooks to ensure they are comprehensive and complies with changing laws. For example, Ohio's new concealed weapons law may be a reason for employers to issue a policy on guns in the workplace.

"When writing an employee handbook, companies must consider workforce size and the states where the company employs workers," says Stephanie E. Trudeau, a partner in the Employment & Labor and Business Litigation Groups of Ulmer & Berne LLP. "Workforce size dictates the laws with which the employer must comply."

For instance, the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only applies to companies with 50 or more employees while the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) applies to companies with 15 or more employees and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies to nearly everyone.

In addition, Trudeau adds, "Companies should include certain provisions or face legal risks."

Trudeau says s list of employee handbook "musts" should include:

  • Employee handbook receipt
  • Employment-at-will statement
  • Equal Employment Opportunity policy
  • Prohibition against discrimination and harassment (including sexual harassment)
  • Attendance and absenteeism policies
  • Workplace violence prohibition
  • Use of employer-supplied communication systems (i.e., computers, voicemail, Internet, cell phones)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (if 50 or more employees)
  • Leave of absence policy if FMLA does not apply

In addition to the above, Trudeau says it is helpful to explain an employer's practices on other discretionary issues, such as vacation, holidays, rules regarding time off, problem-solving procedures, drug and alcohol use during business hours and workplace safety and reporting workplace injuries.

And, she adds, "Update your handbook at least once a year to make sure it's current with any newly passed laws and court decisions interpreting existing laws."

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