By Jean Roque, Trupp HR.
When done correctly, an up-to-date employee handbook delivers value to both your organization and your employees. For new hires, your employee handbook is an introduction to company policies, procedures, and culture, providing the first impression of your business. For employees and supervisors, it serves as a basis for understanding and consistently adhering to organizational practices.
For the employer, it provides legal evidence that the company’s policies are consistent with and encourages adherence to employment laws. And now it is more important than ever to have strong policies around anti-harassment and reporting procedures, as we face significant anti-harassment trends around the #metoo movement.
Clearly, an employee handbook is an important document for every employer to provide for their employees, but as companies grow and regulations evolve, it is just as significant to maintain the document and ensure it is not out of date. Here are 10 signs that your handbook needs attention.
1. The handbook does not reflect how things actually happen in your company
Having an employee handbook in place is not merely a matter of checking another box in the list of employer “things to do.” Rather, the handbook should be aligned with how your organization operates. This requires leadership to make decisions throughout the organization based on published policies. When supervisors and employees understand your company policies and are regularly encouraged to follow them are less likely to feel they are treated unfairly in their work environment.
2. Your computers are updated more often than your handbook
We live in a world of constant change. It’s important to stay current with laws and best practices, but other changes to the business environment should also be considered. In 2019, there were over 65 legal changes at the state and local levels that required an update to employment policies! Additionally, changes in technology, industry trends, and economic conditions, can also influence case law, how policies should be presented, and which policies may be relevant to your organization.
3. Employees turn elsewhere for guidance on company policies
Does your employee handbook suffer from being extremely lengthy and full of details? Or, does it use a tone that is unfriendly to employees or language that requires a legal degree to interpret? Providing too much detail creates confusion for employees while leaving your company open for attorneys to highlight your company’s inconsistencies. Employee handbooks should be concise, compliant with state, local and federal law, easy to understand, and reflect the culture of your organization.
4. You can’t verify if all of your employees have received a handbook
Having an employee handbook in place is essential, but without collecting signed receipts of acknowledgment from every employee, your good efforts will fall short of the goal. And, don’t forget to include that at-will language in your acknowledgment forms so that there is no opening for the handbook to be misconstrued as an employment contract.
5. Employee classifications are confusing or incorrect
Properly representing and assigning employee classifications, including exempt or non-exempt employee versus temporary, seasonal, or independent contractor, is critical because it determines an employee’s eligibility for overtime and employee benefits. Misclassification of employees is very costly and a frequently enforced and litigated topic. Your employee handbook is crucial to your ability to defend against employee claims.
6. The harassment policy is missing or weak
Including an anti-harassment policy is about much more than sexual harassment. Harassment can take on many forms, including age, disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and national origin. To complicate matters, several states mandate harassment policies which must include very specific language in order to be in compliance. In addition to identifying the varied forms of harassment, the handbook should provide guidance for those employees who have witnessed or experienced harassment and should inform employees that all reports of harassment will be investigated and addressed appropriately.
7. It doesn’t represent local laws or industry-specific considerations
Although “off-the-shelf” handbooks may be convenient and cheap, employers should be extremely cautious about using an employee handbook that has been constructed without consideration for the specific laws and policies that are relevant to their industry, location(s), and unique practices.
8. The last time you opened your handbook was the day it was received
If your handbook is tucked away collecting dust on a shelf, then it isn’t providing the value that it is intended for. An employee handbook introduces new employees to the policies, practices, and culture of their new workplace. It serves as a helpful tool for employees and supervisors to understand and consistently adhere to organizational practices. It provides a foundation for handling employee performance management issues. And, it serves as legal evidence that your company’s policies are consistent with and encourage adherence to employment laws.
9. Employees are not paid for “unapproved overtime”
An employer is obligated to pay for overtime worked in accordance with applicable local, state, and federal laws, regardless of whether or not the overtime has been properly authorized. Employers may implement and enforce policies regarding the conditions for authorized overtime and may discipline employees for violating those policies, but they are not able to withhold earned overtime pay.
10. What handbook?
Haven’t gotten around to implementing a handbook for your company? Working with a professional to create an employee handbook provides the opportunity to crystallize organizational practices, create a common understanding of what’s expected, and encourage and enforce behavior that contributes to the success of your organization.
Note: This article was originally published in August, 2012 and has been updated and republished to incorporate current best practices and employment law trends.