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By: Victoria Aguilar

Hand pileupWe have consistently highlighted the importance of having a well crafted and culturally appropriate employee handbook in place. It not only advises employees of the company’s rules, policies, and expectations, but also protects the business against the risk of employee lawsuits and similar complaints and claims.

Just as companies evolve over time, so to do federal, state, and local laws related to management of human capital. Accordingly, it is imperative that employee handbooks be regularly reviewed and revised to ensure that they are in keeping with the current regulations. Whatever industry the employee handbook covers, here are five important elements that should be included:

Policies Regarding Harassment and Discrimination:  In a specific section of the Handbook, a company should state that sexual and other kinds of harassment will not be tolerated, and outline the procedure for an employee to file a complaint. The complaint investigation process should not be addressed, as it is beyond the scope of an employee handbook, but a statement against retaliation for bringing a claim should be included.

Email, Social Media, and Technology Use Policies: Employers should make clear their do’s and don’ts regarding electronic communications and should specifically state that employees have no right of privacy when using the company email and other technology systems. Remember also that social media policies that are too restrictive have been successfully challenged by the National Labor Relations Board, primarily those that prohibit employees from posting messages that disparage the employer.

Attendance and Overtime: It is critical to include language about a company’s attendance and overtime policies in the employee handbook. While excessive and unexcused absenteeism may result in termination, an employer should not take similar action for excessive use of sick days, as such a policy could violate both the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act. Regarding overtime, ensure that the handbook clearly articulates which employees are eligible for overtime pay, in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, and outline the procedure for approving overtime hours. Although unapproved overtime must be paid if it is worked, an employee may still be disciplined for failing to receive the necessary approval beforehand.

Disclaimer: Employees need to understand that a company handbook is not intended to create a legally binding contract. Rather, it is a document that enables employees to learn and understand an employer’s policies and procedures and for both the employer and employee to understand their rights and obligations to one another. To prevent any misunderstanding, all handbooks should include a disclaimer stating that the document is not a contract and may be changed or modified at any time.

Acknowledgment:

It is critical for employers to include in the handbook an Acknowledgment page that appropriately summarizes the key points contained in the Handbook (including those outlined here). Execution of the Acknowledgment for should be part of the employer’s on-boarding process and a copy retained in the employee file.

Please follow this link to learn more about the author, Victoria Aguilar: http://theargroup.com/victoria/

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