The New Year is an opportunity for business owners to review various aspects of their business and to make changes to improve its operation. One issue an owner may want to evaluate is whether it has an employee policy manual otherwise known as an employee handbook; and, if so, if such handbook needs to be updated. The potential benefits of a well-written employee handbook are numerous.
Businesses are not required to have a handbook, however, failure to have one leaves an employer open to potential disputes with its employees over policies, procedures, and work rules. A handbook is an opportunity for an employer to create a written policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment. The absence of a handbook can be perceived as allowing a culture where discrimination and harassment are tolerated. Such an impression exposes an employer to potential liability.
Some basic policies and procedures that all handbooks should address include:
- A clear statement of the employer’s general rules, policies, and practices;
- An affirmative statement that all employees are employed “at-will” and that there is no guarantee of continued employment;
- A declaration that the handbook is not a contract;
- A notice that the employer has the right to modify, policies, benefits, and procedures at its sole discretion, without notice to employees;
- An assertion that the company is an equal-opportunity employer.
- A declaration that assurances of the employer (including length of employment) are not binding, unless they are in writing, directed to the affected employee, and signed by an authorized officer of the company;
- A notification that sexual harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated; and
- A place for the employee to sign acknowledging that he or she has read and understood the contents of the handbook.The above statements aim to provide the business with safeguards in dealing with employee disputes. Additionally, handbooks should avoid overly cumbersome procedures for discipline and/or possible termination so as to provide the employer with flexibility and discretion in dealing with specific disputes.
The workplace and workforce relationships are becoming ever more complicated. A properly drafted handbook provides a useful set of guidelines for structuring the employment relationship without creating overly burdensome contractual obligations for the employer. If your business’s New Year’s resolutions include drafting or revising an employment policy manual please contact us to assist in reaching your goal.
— J. Ken Butera