Employee Handbooks and Workplace Policies
Employee handbooks are a simple way of organizing and summarizing the main points of the larger body of information about the company. Typically, they are used to consolidate the information that a new employee would need to know about compensation, benefits, rights, and the company’s rules and policies.
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There are certain policies that every handbook should contain, regardless of the size or type of employer. Even if you decide to create a handbook on your own, you’re well advised to have an employment attorney review the policies to ensure legal compliance and effectiveness. At a minimum, your handbook should include the following policies:
- An at-will employment statement — for example, to prevent a court from finding that you entered into an employment contract with an employee and breached the contract by terminating him.
- An equal employment opportunity statement that covers all the characteristics protected by state and federal law but doesn’t extend beyond those classes unless your company makes a conscious decision to do so. Be sure you’re offering all the benefits required by law and that if you’re offering benefits not required by law, you’re doing so by choice, not by mistake.
- A harassment policy that covers all types of illegal harassment. Many employers mistakenly associate “harassment” with only sexual harassment. Unlawful harassment, however, can occur when an employer (or its agents) creates an intolerable work environment based on an employee’s protected class. That means there can be race-based, national-origin-based, or religion-based harassment because all of those characteristics are protected by law. Double-check your manual to ensure that you haven’t limited your harassment policy only to harassment based on gender, i.e.,sexual harassment.
- Additionally, a harassment policy must include a clear, step-by-step guide for employees to report any harassing behavior. The policy should include actions that will be taken in response to a complaint as well as consequences for employees and managers who fail to report harassment. There should be a zero-tolerance policy for managers who fail to properly respond to a complaint.
- A policy and corresponding written acknowledgment for the company’s right to monitor employees’ use of electronic communications systems. Telephone calls in and out of the company’s phone systems, use of company e-mail, and use of the Internet on the company’s computers all constitute “electronic communications.”
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