Do you have an employee handbook?
If you have more than ten employees, I certainly hope so.
But when’s the last time you’ve revisited it? What was good when you drafted it last decade may seem woefully out-of-date in 2020.
Done right, an employee handbook can serve as both a perfect “level setter” for new team members as well as an ongoing guide for employees of all tenure.
An employee handbook is your team’s point of reference not only for rules & regulations – but for what the organization values and expects.
Employee Handbook Checklist
What are the components that should be in your employee handbook? Start here with what we consider the “must-haves.”
Company Overview, Vision, Mission (or Purpose), and Values – Use the handbook to establish the company’s goals and share leaderships’ vision. This will provide employees, new and old, a sense of purpose and direction.
Compensation and Benefits – This includes the frequency of pay (i.e., weekly), when benefits are available, and how regular reviews are conducted. You’ll also want to talk about exempt and non-exempt employee status and how you handle overtime. If you have additional compensation programs like stock options, make sure it is outlined and explained here. Include here additional benefits and policies (i.e., education/training benefits, company mobile phone, etc.). Finally, make sure you provide either a thorough explanation of health benefits or clear directions on where to find answers and additional, up-to-date information.
Code of Conduct – Always a crowd-pleaser, but a necessity. Don’t over-complicate/overwrite this. Give employees a basic understanding of what’s acceptable. This should include dress codes, break policies, substance abuse policies, smoking policies, computer and data management policies, and disciplinary action policies.
Corporate Policies – For legal reasons, you will want to make sure your company’s employee handbook includes Anti-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity Policies as you’re required by law to explicitly state that your business adheres to nondiscrimination and equal employment opportunity laws in hiring and promotion. Within this section, you may address the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which prohibits unfair hiring, firing, promotion, and recruitment practices related to an employee’s citizenship status, national origin, and eligibility verification process.
If your organization has at least 50 employees, you will need to make sure your Family and Medical Leave Policies in this section as well.
Time on, Time off – Clearly state your hours of operation and when employees are expected to arrive and leave. You may be flexible, but the employee handbook isn’t for those cases – the handbook is there to establish norms and rules. If you are flexible with some or even all of your employees on hours, you can address that one-on-one.
Within this section, you should cover policies related to working during holidays or non-business hours and how employees will be compensated.
Do employees “clock in” their time, track time online, etc.? Explain how hours are measured and how employees are accountable to track time.
Explain your vacation/PTO policies and be clear about holidays, sick days, short-term leave, and vacation. Explain how it is accrued or earned and if you allow days earned to “roll over” into the next year.
Safety and Security – Part of the purpose of your employee handbook is to protect your employees from potential accidents – and protect you from possible lawsuits. Whether you have heavy machinery or (as all companies do) a risk of sexual harassment, processes for filing complaints and accident reports need to be defined.
Moonlighting Policy – With the increase in the work from anywhere, anytime “gig economy,” you will want to establish the kinds of independent work and projects that are and are not permissible for employees to do “on the side.”
Updating Your Handbook for a New Decade
Ideally, handbooks should be revisited and updated yearly. Regulations change and so too does leadership’s goals for an organization. Realistically? Organizations often have handbooks that are old enough to drive; best case see a PG-13 movie without accompaniment.
Times change, and so do laws and regulations. If all you’re hoping your handbook does it protect you from lawsuits, remember that one trial could be the difference between a successful organization and a defunct one. A practical employee handbook reiterates that all employees are treated equally and fairly while helping to promote a positive, inclusive, productive, and safe working environment.
Step 1. Listen.
Seek feedback from your employees, peers, HR staff, and lawyers. Your manual must keep pace with the trends and times. If you’re unsure about if your expertise on employee handbooks, then it might be in your best interest to reach out to an HR consulting firm to assist you in updating your employee handbook.
Step 2. Address new technology.
Social media blurs the line between a business and its clients. It also opens up the possibilities for lawsuits. To avoid these, make sure you define how your employees can (or cannot) talk about and represent your company on social media. Make sure you’re clear about your policies on what is said online and the repercussions of negative talk.
For remote employees, the same applies to media, but you’ll want to have a set of standards for protecting files, internal documents, and customer information.
Step 3. Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policies in 2020
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Upon passage, harassment and discrimination based upon any of the following protected categories are prohibited:
- Sex, and
- National Origin.
While differing views on whether “sex” means gender solely or if it provides protection against sexual orientation and gender identity, discrimination laws on a federal level are not settled. And while Ohio currently doesn’t have laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, 21 states and many local governments do.
Employers should have employee handbooks that state clearly that your zero-tolerance policies on sexual harassment. With this, provide a means to file workplace complaints. Employers should ensure that their employee handbooks and policies cover all unlawful types of harassment and discrimination, including:
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or “ADEA” (prohibits discrimination against employees over 40);
- Americans with Disabilities Act, or “ADA” (prohibits discrimination against employees with statutorily defined disabilities);
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act, or “PDA” (prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy); and
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or “GINA” (prohibits discrimination based on genetic information).
Step 4. Are You Big Brother?
Technology increasingly is allowing employers to monitor activities, email, and even track whereabouts using company phone or car GPS. Your organization will need to establish your policies and be open, transparent, and publish these in your handbook.
You can forbid websites or even block them with the assistance of your IT department. Regardless, you will definitely need a “technology and internet use” policy in your handbook.
Remember, any property (including a computer system, phone, email, etc.) provided to an employee is considered the property of the employer. This gives employers the right to access and monitor any such company-provided property – but we would encourage you to make it clear that these are your rights in your handbook.
Step 5. Consider Everything.
What’s good today may have been considered “silly” not so long ago.
For instance, emotional support or therapy animals are now commonplace. But are you, an employer, required to allow emotional support or therapy animals as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)? Right now, the answer is no, as the ADA does not include companion, therapy, or emotional support animals. Additionally, the ADA only designates dogs as service animals – so that support peacock isn’t eligible.
If your company goes “pet-friendly,” your handbook will need to address pet policies including, but not limited to, vaccination requirements, a guideline for animal behavior, cleaning after animal requirements, as well as requirements for liability insurance and an indemnification agreement.
If you’d like assistance with your handbook, Willory’s team of consulting resources is prepared to help you not only update your employee handbook for 2020, but manage any additional changes that come as a result. By working with our team, you’ll be able to save time while building trust with employees.