There is no law that states that companies must have employee handbooks. However, employee handbooks are a good idea, once a company has more than one or two employees. Definitive and universal employment rules give employees guidance and assurance that all employees will be treated under the same set of policies. Employee handbooks also provide companies with important legal protection – if an employee challenges an employer’s actions in court, the company can point to its employee handbook as evidence of how the company operates with respect to its employees. A well-crafted employee handbook can serve as a powerful defense tool in the event of an employment-related lawsuit.
It is critically important to use caution when establishing company policies, whether they are formal written regulations or informal rules and common practices. Legal requirements for policies vary depending on the number of employees employed by the company. Companies should carefully review their employee handbooks to make sure policies and procedures comply with applicable employment laws, which can change every year, and to avoid pitfalls and potential legal issues with personnel. An inadequate or improper employee handbook could serve as evidence against the company in a lawsuit filed by an employee claiming the company engaged in an illegal employment practice.
Topics to include in an employee handbook include:
- Introduction, with a company mission statement and business history
- Working hours, timekeeping requirements, and attendance policies, including hours for full-time and part-time employees and overtime policies and procedures
- Employee benefits, including insurance, holidays and which employees qualify for benefits
- Anti-harassment policy, describing what behaviors are prohibited and what actions employees must take if they have evidence of illegal harassment
- Vacation and sick leave policies, with clear calculations of accrued time off
- Leave policies, including, if applicable, FMLA/CFRA leave, pregnancy disability leave, jury duty and other California and federal required leaves of absences
- Alcohol and drug abuse policies, including testing and help with substance abuse
- Equal Opportunity Employer policy, clearly communicating the company’s commitment to prohibiting unlawful discrimination
- Discipline and prohibited conduct policies, clearly describing conduct that may result in discipline or termination and stating that the company reserves the right to discipline or terminate for reasons not stated in the handbook
- Safety and health issues, stating safety rules and the procedure for reporting dangerous conditions and injuries, and an injury and illness prevention policy
- Use of company email, social media, telephones and computers, as well as addressing use of personal electronic devices on company time
- Confidentiality policy to protect the company’s trade secrets and proprietary information
- How the company will handle conduct and situations not covered by the employee handbook
- Description of at-will employment, clearly stating that the employee handbook is not a contract of employment or a guarantee of continued employment
The employment law attorneys at Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P. routinely work with employers, of all sizes, to develop a tailored and specific employee handbook, ensuring that all policies and procedures are in compliance with current federal and state laws and to avert expensive legal disputes with employees.
Whether you are contemplating crafting an employee handbook for your business, or would like us to review or update your existing handbook, contact our office to request an Employee Handbook Questionnaire and to schedule an appointment to discuss your company’s policies and handbook needs.