What Policies Should Be Included in an Employee Handbook
Once we get past why every business needs an employee handbook (that’s a subject for another blog), we are next asked what policies should be included.
Since what you put in your handbook can come back to haunt you, let’s start with what should not be included:
- Promises of any kind an employer isn’t willing or able to uphold, i.e., a policy on pay practices stating the company’s salary structure is competitive to the market
- Policies that restrict your discretion as an employer to make decisions that are best for your business, such as a structured progressive disciplinary policy or a point-system based attendance policy
- Policies that restrict employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), such as those prohibiting employees to discuss their own pay or complain to co-workers about working conditions
- Probationary period (or Introductory, which is just a more PC way of stating “probationary”)
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); these should be in a separate document
What policies should every handbook have? These fall into federal, state-specific, and Best Practices and include:
Statement of Employment Relationship
This policy states that employees are “at-will” (and defines what that means), that all prior handbooks are null in the void, that the Company has a right to change policies at its discretion, and that nothing in the handbook is intended to supersede a collective bargaining agreement or restrict an employee’s rights under the NLRA.
Equal Employment Opportunity
This policy states the Company provides equal opportunity in all of all aspects of the employment relationship to qualified employees and applicants without regard to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information (including family medical history), or any other category protected by federal, state and local laws.
Policy Prohibiting Harassment and Discrimination
This policy explains the Company’s commitment to providing a work environment free from discrimination and harassment, where employees treat each other with respect, dignity and courtesy. It should list the federal, state, and local protected classes, explain the two types of sexual harassment, note that employees are protected from harassment from outside parties including clients and vendors, and outline the Company’s complaint procedure, specifying that employees will not be retaliated against for bringing complaints in good faith to the Company’s attention. Please note: some states, like New York and California, require separate policies specifically on Sexual Harassment.
This policy explains what types of employees the Company has (full-time, part-time, temporary, etc.), how their status is defined, and to whom they can go for clarification, in addition, to know whether or not they are exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Federal law requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has a need to express the milk. Note: A few states have their own, specific, requirements for employers.
Employees should know the business hours of operation, what breaks they are entitled to, and who they need to get approval from in order to work overtime. Note: some states have specific requirements about breaks and the number and type of hours that count towards overtime.
Employee Work Product
This common-law policy states that whatever work employees perform is the property of the Company. Employees are not permitted to copywrite, trademark, or sell their work product.
These may be separate policies for Paid Time Off (PTO), Vacation, Holiday, and Sick. They should be consistently applied to employees (no special deals or exceptions) and outline who is eligible for the time off and when and what happens with unused time (Does it rollover? Is it payable upon termination?) Note: Some states and even some cities within states have specific regulations for time off.
Employees should be put on notice that the Company may conduct reference and background checks on all new employees and that employees can be disciplined up to and including termination for misrepresenting anything on their employment application. In addition, all requests for references should be directed to one point person in the Company who will confirm only name, position, and dates of employment.
Similar to Time Off, these policies should state who is eligible for the benefits (i.e., full-time regular employees) and when (i.e., following 89 days of eligible employment). Unlike time off, these policies shouldn’t be too specific; rather, they should provide a broad overview of the benefits and direct employees to the Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs), which are controlling.
Employees should know the Company will comply with all aspects of USERRA and who at the Company they should contact if they get called to serve.
Businesses need to provide job-protected leave for employees called to serve jury duty. Depending on the state, this time may not have to be paid; however, depending on your company’s size and industry, it may be Best Practice to pay for some days, up to a cap.
Conduct Standards & Discipline
The Company’s expectations for behavior as well as the consequences should be noted in this policy, with a specific note that the Company will not necessarily follow progressive disciplinary steps but will handle each case at its discretion.
Ethical & Legal Business Practices
The Company needs to state that employees must comply with federal, state, and local laws, behave ethically at work and maintain confidentiality.
In addition, the handbook should contain a detailed policy on the Company’s expectations of its employees to maintain the confidentiality of company, client, vendor, and employee information.
Employees should be put on notice that everything, everything (Internet, phone, desks, lockers, cabinets, lockers) at the Company is the Company’s property. Employees can use Company property for limited personal use so long as they 1. Can still perform their job per expectations (no 8 hours on Facebook) 2. Adhere to Company policies 3. Comply with laws 4. Have no reasonable expectation of privacy (and this part of the policy should be in caps and bolded to stand out).
Smoking and vaping must be done on authorized breaks and designated areas.
Drug & Alcohol
Employees can’t be under the influence of or sell controlled substances at work. The Company reserves the right to administer a drug and/or alcohol test upon reasonable suspicion.
This policy should outline what constitutes workplace violence (it’s not just physical; threats should be taken seriously) and what employees should do should they witness or become aware of a situation or potential issue.
The Company is committed to maintaining a safe and healthy environment for all employees. As such, employees must immediately report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions, and health and safety-related issues.
Control of Infectious Disease
This policy reiterates the Company’s commitment to a safe and healthy work environment and outlines how it plans to prevent the spread of infection in the workplace, including requiring that employees stay home when sick, sanitize their workstations, practice social distancing, etc.
In addition to those noted above, depending on the size of your company and the state where employees work, you may need to include additional policies such as Federal Family & Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Pregnancy Accommodations, Pay Equity, Sick Leave, Family Leave, Whistleblower, Voting, COBRA.
Finally, at the end of the handbook should be an Employee Acknowledgement, where employees sign off acknowledging that they have received the Company Employee Handbook and have read and understood the policies.
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