Whoever said that summer months are slow didn’t tell my adversaries or the Courts. Alas, I promised you the top ten Essential Components of an Employee Handbook, so here are numbers six through ten. These are a quick recap of some of the essential components of a good handbook. However, handbooks must be tailored to fit your company/industry so consult your attorney prior to publishing a “generic” handbook.
6. Leave Policies
While the workaholics among us may not care too much about this, I can assure you that most employees are eager to know how they will accumulate leave time and what restrictions, if any, the employer places on the use of that time. This is also an area employees tend to abuse and if it is clearly laid out, the employer can rely on its policy in any disciplinary action taken against an employee.
7. Disability and Religious Accommodations
This is a great place to encourage collegiality, understanding and respect for everyone’s differences and beliefs. Good handbooks include references to the Family Medical Leave Act and/or its state equivalent and educate employees about their rights under each. This is also a great place to identify the individual(s) to whom requests by an employee for an accommodation based upon a religious belief or disability should be directed, thereby, limiting the potential impact of a rogue supervisor who has not been properly trained in this area of the law.
8. Confidential policies
If you require employees to execute confidentiality agreements to protect trade secrets, customer lists, and other confidential information, this is a perfect place to reinforce those agreements. Include a non-exhaustive list of confidential items and tailor it to your business.
9. Alternative dispute resolution policies
This is an evolving area of Labor and Employment Law, with many companies seeking to limit the costs and potential negative publicity associated with litigating work-related disputes. Arbitration is not a bad idea; in fact the Federal Arbitration Act permits waiver of statutory remedies in favor of arbitration. However, consents to arbitrate must be a clear and concrete manifestation of the employee’s intent.
In addition, some employers are restricted in their use of arbitration agreements. For example, in a recent Alert, we discussed the United States Department of Defense’s interim rule (pdf) issued on May 19, 2010, which restricts defense contractors in their use of mandatory arbitration for Title VII, sexual assault or harassment claims brought by its employees or independent contractors.
10. Distribute and Collect signed acknowledgments
I cannot stress this point enough. It makes little sense to spend all this time and effort, reading this blog, consulting counsel, reviewing and revising your handbook, and then forgetting to distribute to all employees and have them acknowledge receipt of it. An acknowledgment closes the door on the “I didn’t know that” defense. It can be accomplished in many ways under the law, even via electronic means. Ensure each employee acknowledges receipt and maintain a copy of the acknowledgment in each employee’s personnel file.
That is my top ten. There are several other policies that I would traditionally include in an employee handbook but I am certain you would agree that a “top ten” is more manageable than "top twenty." That said, consult your counsel, then draft and/or update your handbooks to ensure that you are complying with the law and are setting the tone of your workplace.