Employee Handbooks: The Most Critical Legal Document in HR

Do you have an employee handbook? If you do, has it been updated for 2023? If you answered no to either of those questions, you’ll want to know why an employee handbook is so important. Employee handbooks are one of the most important components of staying compliant as an employer. Not only does the handbook communicate your mission as a company, it also explains important policies and procedures that all employees must know and comply with. It forms the basis for justifying many forms of employee discipline and sets employee expectations. It will also help defend against employee claims by showing that your company has clear and consistent policies that are enforced equally against all employees. 

Inquiring minds still want to know, “What should be in an employee handbook?” Every state’s laws are different, so your company will need different policies for each of the states where you employ workers. To that end, this list is illustrative and not exhaustive and is mostly based on federal laws only. But here we go:

  • A solid at-will employment statement to avoid creating an employment contract with your employees
  • A statement that policies found within the employee handbook may be modified at any time with or without notice to employees
  • An Equal Employment Opportunity statement detailing that your company does not discriminate based on the protected classes in your jurisdictions
  • An anti-harassment policy that includes sexual harassment, reporting procedures and an anti-retaliation clause
  • An Americans with Disabilities Act statement with detailed reporting procedures
  • Company equipment, phone, computer and driving policies
  • Any overview of actions that may be cause for employee discipline including a drug and alcohol testing policy
  • Information regarding pay, how to track time, and overtime
  • Benefits including vacation, sick time, PTO
  • Leave time including FMLA, military leave, pregnancy leave (where applicable), bereavement leave, and any other state or company-specific leave your company provides
  • An acknowledgement page that the employee signs either electronically or physically that is stored in the personnel file

As a reminder, the variations in state and municipal laws make all the difference in getting an employee handbook that is both appropriate and compliant for your business. If you employ individuals in Dallas, Texas, you are required to include the new paid sick leave ordinance in your handbook. If you employ individuals in Minnesota, you must include a nursing mother’s clause. If you employ individuals in Illinois, you must include a statement regarding pregnancy and the employee’s rights in the workplace.

For those employers who operate in multiple states, you have a few options for how you ensure compliance across each state:

  • Examine all of the states in which you employ workers and choose the most employee-friendly policy from each state and apply them across the board to all employees. For example, if you employ workers in California, Georgia, and Iowa, you could choose to enforce California’s employment policies for all of your employees regardless of whether they work in Georgia or Iowa.
  • Employers could maintain one handbook that complies with all federal laws and states where the state legislatures have chosen to follow federal employment laws (rather than create their own) and then utilize state-specific supplements where the state laws vary.
  • Employers can do a separate employee handbook for each state where it employs workers.

Any option above is acceptable, but all carry different levels of administrative burden. 

Having an up-to-date employee handbook is imperative for all businesses. They’re typically the first thing asked for during a DOL audit, as well as your first line of defense of a claim from a current or former employee. Don’t hesitate! Implement a fully compliant employee handbook today! 

Attorney drafted employee handbooks are included in myHRcounsel’s ASK HR and ASK Pro services, offered at a discount as a benefit of a partnership with the Brewers Association. Learn more: https://myhrcounsel.com/brewers-association/

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