The employee handbook is a staple for any organization. It is the roadmap for your organization – identifying the unique aspects of your company while at the same time laying out important policies that specify employee conduct, guide management decisions and mitigate risk. The handbook is the “go-to document” for how to respond to employee questions, criteria for making decisions, and legal issues you may find yourself in. Having an up-to-date, compliant handbook is not a nice-to-have, it is a MUST-HAVE! However, given the depth of policies covered and multitude of laws to consider, mistakes can be made. For example, 4 common handbook mistakes include:
Being too specific
Your employee handbook should serve as a general framework – not a place to list every detail that could possibly arise for each policy. Overly specific handbooks can tie an employer’s hands if a conflict arises (especially discipline policies).
Not conforming with state and local laws
The employment laws that govern your state and even your city or county may differ from federal language. Often times, employers will use a form handbook (an online template not specific to your company), assuming there is a one-size-fits-all approach to handbooks. These form handbooks can be dangerous to rely on because they most likely do not take into consideration your unique company attributes (e.g., industry, number of employees) or state and local laws. Any part of the handbook that conflicts with state or local laws is invalid.
Verbiage that violates the NLRA
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent federal agency focused on safeguarding employee rights and helps prevent unfair labor practices. Surprisingly, many common handbook policies may violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) when it comes to verbiage that discourages employees from discussing certain topics (e.g., compensation, union organizing, workplace complaints, etc.). Reviewing your policies for any conflicting language that may violate the NLRB is a must.
Failure to update
Employee handbooks should be updated on a regular basis and keep pace with federal, state and local laws as well as changes in company policies and procedures. Setting a schedule for updating your handbook is a great way to keep on track. A great time of year to review is after the end of a Supreme Court term (June or July). Also, most state and local laws tend to go into effect in January – another good time for review.
With the Trump administration in place, we anticipate more employment law changes. These anticipated changes may impact areas such as health care insurance, paid maternity leave, and additional protections for veterans and small businesses. To stay up-to-date on laws that may impact your organization, sign up for email alerts from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Need assistance reviewing your employee handbook or creating one? Email us or give us a call at 703-587-5615. We work with our clients every day to help them develop policies that support their organization’s objectives and culture as well as compliance with the ever-changing world of work. We would love to do the same for you.
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