HAVE YOU UPDATED YOUR HANDBOOK RECENTLY?
Handbooks are frequently used to communicate benefits, standards of conduct, and information about what the employer expects of employees and what employees can expect from employers. 2023 has been an active year for employment law updates at both the state and federal level. Because of these updates, numerous policies must be updated to reflect compliance with those changes. Those recommended or required updates include:
- Earlier this year, the PUMP Act was enacted and broadened the scope and protections afforded under the Nursing Mother’s Break law that was included as part of healthcare reform legislation in 2010. The law extends protections to remote workers as well as exempt employees. Your policy should be reviewed and revised to reflect those changes.
- The Pregnant Employee Workplace Fairness Act became effective in June. This law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. The EEOC has issued proposed rules which appear to expect employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant workers in the same way they would reasonably accommodate someone under Americans with Disabilities Act. Even though these are proposed rules, the law is already in effect and it’s recommended that employers include a statement in their Equal Employment Opportunity Statements or in their Non-Discrimination, Non-Harassment policies that, in addition to reasonably accommodating the needs of employees who are disabled or require religious accommodations, the company will also reasonably accommodate the needs of pregnant workers.
- Revisions to policies to comply with recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings. Even though your company may not be unionized, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) likely applies to your business. In a recent ruling, the NLRB determined certain policies on confidentiality, personal conduct, conflicts of interest, and harassment may effectively “chill” employees’ exercise of their rights under the NLRA. This ruling is like one made by the Board approximately 10 years ago during President Obama’s administration. Nevertheless, it merits a review and update of policies that may be regarded as inhibiting employees from engaging in protected, concerted activities.
- Various states have enacted paid leave laws, bereavement leave laws, new rules regarding freelancers, updated laws regarding use of marijuana, and much more.
These are but a few examples of changes that need to be made to your handbook to ensure it is compliant.
When updating your handbook, keep in mind the following “do’s and don’ts:
- Include a statement that the handbook is not an employment contract.
- Include information in your paid time off policies regarding payment of unused time at termination.
- Retain the right to change policies, wages, benefits, and working conditions.
- Have a Rules of Conduct and Discipline/Corrective Action policy.
- Keep previous editions of your handbook which include publication/revision date.
- Distribute your handbook to ALL employees either via hard copy, intranet, or both.
- Include language specific to all states in which you operate. Otherwise, adopt a handbook for each state that is tailored to reflect the laws and culture of that location.
- Understand that there is a difference between an employee handbook that is distributed to employees and a procedure manual which provides guidance to supervisors on how to enforce/implement/interpret your employee handbook.
- Ensure your handbook conveys your mission, vision, history, purpose, and goals.
- Ensure your handbook sets your expectations for employee conduct, behavior, and performance.
- Consult with departments, such as IT and Accounting, that may have input on policies regarding paychecks, bring-your-own-devices, social media, etc.
- Keep the language simple and easy to read/understand.
- Review your handbook annually.
- Have an attorney review your handbook.
- Do require employees to sign an acknowledgement that they have received, reviewed and are responsible for complying with handbook policies.
- Use the word “permanent.” This implies employment is not at-will.
- Use the phrase “probationary period.” This could lead to an expectation that someone has completed their probationary period that they are permanent. Additionally, “probation” sounds like a disciplinary term rather than one that would be used to orient a new employee to the job.
- Use the word “should.” “Should” gives the employee the choice to comply with the policy or not.
- Try to cover every situation that may occur. Give the company flexibility to adapt to various employee situations and changing business needs.
- Make promises by using words such as “will” and “shall”. Instead maintain company flexibility by using “may” or “will make every effort to.”
- Get mired in the details of a particular policy.
- Neglect to address state or local differences for those employees working in other locations.
Updating handbooks can be time-consuming and overwhelming, especially if you have locations in multiple states. If you need assistance updating your handbook, creating a new policy around a new law that has passed, or simply a review to ensure you’ve captured all of the changes necessary to move into the new year, the Solutions Team is available to consult with you.