Do we really need to have an employee handbook?

Maybe you are a small business owner with just a few employees, or even a mid-to-larger-sized employer with a longstanding company culture and dedicated, long-tenured employees, and things appear to be going just fine. While there is no legal requirement, per se, that you publish a formal employee handbook, there are many reasons why you might want to formalize your existing policies or adopt new ones in a written document. Certain regulated businesses are often required to adopt policies to participate, such as a government-funded healthcare provider or military subcontractor. The coming new year might be a good time to roll out a new employee handbook or review and refresh your existing policies.

As we have seen throughout the past year, employment laws can change rapidly as new cases are decided, or various governmental agencies publish new guidance. Employee handbooks are not generally a “one size fits all” or “set it and forget it” proposition. They should ideally be tailored to your business, industry, and workforce’s specific needs. Whether or not you are doing business outside of Ohio or in several states can have profound implications. Many states, for instance, have recently passed new medical and personal leave laws, which may apply to your employees in other states. Another important consideration is whether your employees are subject to specific occupational health and safety rules.

Employee handbooks outline your expectations for your employees and can assist you in the event of disciplinary matters or even potential legal claims. Employee handbooks can also be helpful for your supervisory and management staff and designated human resources professionals.

A non-exhaustive list of some considerations in drafting or revising your employee handbook include:

  • Does my employee handbook contain any language that might be construed to form a contract with my employee? Do I have an “at-will” employment statement, and have I reserved the right to terminate an employee for “just cause” or “no cause”?
  • Are my policies compliant with all applicable federal, state, and local laws? Which of these laws apply to my business? For example, federal civil rights laws apply to employers with fifteen (15) or more employees. In comparison, the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) only applies to employers with fifty (50) or more employees. At the same time, there may be other laws that apply even where the federal law does not due to the size of your workforce.
  • Does my employee handbook contain appropriate disclaimers, such as the right to modify its contents with or without notice?
  • Does my employee handbook specify the conditions under which an employee will be “paid out” their vacation or remaining Paid Time Off (“PTO”) balance, and whether the vacation or PTO balance will be forfeited?
  • Does my employee handbook contain confidentiality, social media, code of conduct, or work rule policies? Does my employee handbook contain a written acknowledgment or “sign off,” and have all my employees done so? If not, one way to tackle this challenge is to distribute a revised and updated employee handbook for all employees to sign their acknowledgment of the most current set of policies.

 

Most importantly, verifying that your current practices comply with the policies and procedures in your employee handbook is essential. If there are instances where a policy is routinely not followed, it may be time for you to revise that particular policy or consider other options. The attorneys in the Labor and Employment Section of Pickrel, Schaeffer, and Ebeling are here to help you with your employee handbook, whether it is your first draft, ongoing review, revision, or any other employment issues you may have. Contact Kristina Currey at kcurry@pselaw.com or 937.223.1130 with any employee handbook inquiries.

 

AUTHOR: Kristina Curry
kcurry@pselaw.com