Making the Most of Your 2018 Employee Handbook

The end of the year is a perfect time to assess what is working and what is not when it comes to employee handbooks. It is also a good idea to run a compliance check and make sure your employee handbook is up to date with the latest laws and trends. Well just in time, XpertHR recently hosted a webinar with Littler attorney Deidra Nguyen entitled “Is that in Writing? Making the Most of Your 2018 Employee Handbook.” Here are 5 tips and strategies she shared:

1. Use a Handbook

Whether a large or small employer, Nguyen notes that it is essential to have an employee handbook to provide guidance with respect to issues such as employee benefits, leave and paid time off and discrimination and harassment policies. A good handbook not only educates employees, but may be a good tool for managers to use in understanding HR and personnel issues as they are often the frontline of inquiries.

A handbook can also be a useful resource in promoting fairness and consistency across the board. A compliant handbook may also assist an employer in enforcing its policies as an employer can show that employees knew of the policies and agreed to abide by them.

2. Take the Right Approach for Your Workforce

Always consider whether your organization takes the right approach with its handbook depending on the location, size and makeup of its workforce. Employers should also ensure that handbooks are accessible and easily understood by all employees. Nguyen explained that multistate employers face unique challenges and need to comply with federal, state and local laws. So, Nguyen shared some common approaches multistate and multijurisdictional employers can take:

• Develop a national handbook based on federal requirements that apply to all employees with state supplements;
• Utilize separate handbooks for each state;
• Develop a national handbook with supplements for a limited number of states; and
• Institute a national handbook with only “required” state policies.

Nguyen added that a multistate employer also needs to weigh how generous it wants to be against the time, effort and resources needed to create an employee handbook.

3. Check That Your Handbook Contains the Right Policies

Choosing the right policies to include—and to exclude–in an employee handbook is a critical part of the process. That’s why Nguyen advises that the following policies must be included:

• Particular laws requiring written policies (i.e., leaves of absence, paid sick leave, harassment);
• A statement that the employer complies with all applicable laws; and
• State supplements advising employees of local requirements (i.e., leaves, EEO, reasonable accommodations weapons policies).

The following policies are strongly recommended:

• A statement that all employment is at-will;
• EEO policies with zero tolerance for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation as well as a multichannel complaint procedure;
• Wage and hour policies (i.e., timekeeping, meal periods and rest breaks, deductions, overtime, off the clock work, lactation breaks etc.);
• Policies on paid sick leave and paid time off; and
• Other legally required leaves (i.e., bone marrow donation leave, school activities leave, civil air patrol leave).

The following policies should not be included:

• Operational policies that detract from compliance policies;
• Job descriptions;
• Contractual policies such as noncompete agreements, confidentiality agreements and arbitration agreements – should be stand alone agreements;
• Policies that may conflict with contractual or legal commitments including offer letters, individual employment agreements and benefit plans; and
• Policies limiting employer flexibility and discretion.

Nguyen also said employers should steer clear of absolute phrases in handbooks such as “always” and “never.”

4. Be Aware of Hot Button Issues and Trends

In developing, implementing and enforcing an employee handbook, Nguyen advises that an employer needs to be aware of hot button issues and trends, including the proliferation of local laws expanding paid sick leave rights, the rise of predictive scheduling, minimum wage increases and more. In addition, if an employer has a paid parental leave policy, providing equal bonding time for female and male employees may minimize the risk of a sex discrimination claim. Finally, it is worth considering policies specific to the type of workplace (such as for a health care organization, hotel, retail and fast food).

5. Update Your Handbook on Annual Basis

Especially in light of changing trends, an employer must be vigilant and update its employee handbook frequently to comply with the most recent federal, state and local laws. This is especially true in areas that require frequent revisions such as EEO, leave and reasonable accommodations. Further, if a new law takes effect mid-year an employer may want to consider notifying employees of the policy change upon effect and then later incorporating it into the complete employee handbook.

For more insights from Deidra Nguyen on how to make the most of your 2018 employee handbook, listen to her XpertHR webinar.

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