by Leonard A. Bellavia, Esq.
A good employee handbook serves many purposes. It notifies employees of the standards of conduct that the business expects. It is an excellent vehicle to describe the business’ philosophy and the expectations of the business that its employees shall work to satisfy consumers 100% of the time, operating in a forthright, ethical and honest manner. Your employee handbook should be carefully designed and thoroughly reviewed before adoption. Some provisions you should include are:
- Prevention of harassment, discrimination and retaliation: Besides expressing your company’s policy against discrimination, harassment and retaliation, your employee handbook should establish a process whereby employees may bring to a supervisor’s attention matters that may violate civil rights laws. This process should be explicit and clear to avoid claims by employees that their inability to understand the process or a lack of knowledge of the company’s process led to their failure to notify an appropriate supervisor. Steps taken here can help establish defenses for your company in a discrimination case filed by an employee.
- Receipt/Acknowledgment of Handbook and Processes: Each employee should sign a receipt or disclosure form for a handbook. Have a manager responsible for human resource functions regularly audit employee files for these receipts or disclosure forms.
- “At Will” Provisions: Both the handbook and the receipt or disclosure form should have provisions that these documents do not form an employment contract between your company and the employee. You will want to make sure that, where allowed by law, employees are considered “at will” employees. Your handbook should be clear that an employee may leave at any time with or without cause and that your business can terminate the employee with or without cause at any time. Lastly, consider any requirements that your employees must provide notice (usually two weeks) before leaving. Courts may view this provision as a waiver of “at will,” so watch how you request an employee provide notice of intent to leave.
- Family and Medical Leave Act: Businesses with 50 employees within a 75 mile radius are required under federal law to provide Family and Medical Leave Act protection to employees who have worked at the business for one year and who have worked at least 1250 hours in the previous year. Your handbook should state your company’s Family and Medical Leave Act policy in such a way that complies with the law.
- Substance (Alcohol and Drug) Use: Clearly state your company’s drug and alcohol use policy. Your policy must prohibit illegal drug use and establish limits of permissible alcohol use (if any). If your business drug tests employees, the policy must be clearly stated.
- Right to Search: Employees must understand that they do not have any right to privacy at your business. For many reasons, desks, work benches, tool rooms and other closed areas must be available for inspection to make sure that your employees are not violating your policies.
- Information Technology (IT)/Social Media Policies: Your handbook is a great place to state your policies on IT and social media. Employees must know that the business’s e-mail system is for business only and that all e-mails are subject to review. They must also understand that they cannot use your equipment to download or to convey to other employees offensive or copyrighted material. Remember to include mobile devices that your company provides. Your policy should also clearly state that employees must not access your computer system with IDs and passwords that are assigned to other employees.
- Dress/Appearance Code: Contrary to what some may think, employers have rights to specify how employees should dress and what their appearance should be. Be careful to draw your dress and appearance code to eliminate unreasonable gender-specific or other unreasonable restrictions.
For help creating an employee handbook, or to ensure that your present handbook covers all the bases, please call us at 631-224-7000.