How Employee Handbooks Become a Smoking Gun
Your employee handbook is an important document. Not only does it help employees understand company policies, promote solid company-employee communication and set a consistent standard of expectations, but it can also have serious legal ramifications for your municipality or educational institution.
In many employment lawsuits, your handbook will be a key piece of evidence that can either protect your company or provide ammunition for the employee (or former employee) who’s suing you. It’s vital that your handbook is thorough, up to date, legally compliant, understandable and readily available to all employees. It’s also wise to make employees sign a form stating that they received and reviewed the employee handbook, so that they can’t later claim during a lawsuit that they were unaware of a particular policy.
The following areas are examples of common legal mistakes employers make with their employee handbook.
- Changing Laws and Requirements - It’s vital that you update your handbook regularly to comply with new and changing laws, both federal and state.
- Employee Rights - Many handbooks make the mistake of outlining employer rights but glossing over the rights of employees. Omitting them is an equally unwise option.
- Employment Relationship - Your handbook needs to be explicit about the at-will employment relationship – that the employer (and employee) has the right to terminate employment at any time, with or without cause.
- Exempt or Non-Exempt Classification - Wage, hour and overtime complaints are among the most common legal actions taken by employees or former employees. Be sure your handbook is clear in the distinction of exempt and non-exempt, and that all employees are classified properly.
- Computer Usage - Your handbook must make clear that the company owns its computers, email and all data, and that nothing on a computer is private.
- Follow Through - Providing a comprehensive, compliant handbook is only the first step – your company must always follow through with the policies outlined.
Because employee handbooks are so important, consider having legal counsel review yours periodically to ensure it reflects any adequate updates. Not sure what needs to be updated? View our Recent Employment Law Developments Webinar Replay to ensure your handbook encompasses all that it should.
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