By Christine Thelen

Most businesses recognize the value of employee handbooks for establishing company policies, procedures, and expectations for professional conduct. But it is easy to lose sight of just how quickly the content becomes outdated.

As your business grows, practices inevitably must adapt, new technologies are implemented, work environments shift to incorporate current trends and innovations, and new employment laws unravel established policies.

Oh the times, they are a changing

Consider the workplace changes that have taken place in just the last five years. Most employees now work on laptops that they take with them on the go. Schedules flex to accommodate international clients and colleagues in different time zones. The lines between the personal and the professional are more blurred as a greater number of employees work-from-home at least some of the time and use their personal mobile devices for work, and most companies use social media for marketing and client engagement. We’ve seen significant changes to leave laws at the federal, state, and even the local level, and greater enforcement of employee classification regulations. And then, of course, there is healthcare reform.

Keep up with cultural and workplace changes

These important changes to the workplace have ramifications on company culture, alter the employer-employee relationship and create new risks for employers to manage. The following are just a few important employee handbook policies that employers should review in light of recent workplace developments.

With more employees working remotely, it is important for organizations to establish clear expectations for time-keeping, availability and communication, technology and security, ergonomics and safety, workspace and equipment, and even employee engagement and cultural considerations.

Technology and Use of Personal Devices.
Greater use of laptops and personal devices for business raises issues of employee privacy and protection of confidential and proprietary information, and increased risk of wage and hour violations, among other liabilities. Employee handbooks must establish guidelines to manage these risks.

Strong Equal Employment Opportunity Policy.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has received an increased number of complaints regarding retaliation, religious discrimination, and sexual harassment as of late. This policy should address all protected classes, contain a statement about retaliation, and establish procedures for reporting issues.

Drug and Alcohol Policy.
Current policies may need to be updated to address recently passed laws related to the legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana, to reserve the right to have an employee tested for drugs, if their behavior warrants it, and let employees know the consequences of failing these tests.

Leave Policies.
Employers should ensure their paid time off/sick leave policies are in compliance with the growing number of state and local sick leave laws being enacted – and start preparing for the paid parental leave policies that are starting to pop up in various states and cities.

Definition of a Full-Time Employee.
Under the Affordable Care Act, an employee that works 30 hours or more a week is considered full-time. Employers should consider revising their benefit eligibility and other policies to reflect the ACA’s requirements.

Social Media Policy.
With social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter becoming more widely used, employers should consider policies and guidelines that clearly establish when an employee’s content or commentary published to social media has gone too far.

Feeling lucky?

Updating an employee handbook requires an in-depth review of existing company policies and practices as well as considering outside factors. It must reflect local, state, and federal laws and should be specific to your business and industry. It is helpful if your handbook is easy to understand, properly positions your business, and reflects your organizational culture. We strongly recommended that an HR professional with expertise in employment law review your employee handbook to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations and to make sure you are aware of your choices and obligations when creating or modifying policies.

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Note: This article was originally published in March 2014 and has been updated and republished to incorporate current best practices and employment law trends

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