Often, my initial contact with clients results from something going wrong or an issue with an employee. As part of discussing and remedying the problem at hand, one of my first requests is to see the company’s policy on the matter. In response, I am frequently met with a hesitance level that indicates either they do not have a policy or are not confident in that policy. The client most commonly has a policy, but it is so outdated that it either isn’t legally compliant or doesn’t reflect what the company actually functions.
Why does this matter? Because a handbook loses its utility if it is inaccurate, outdated, or not legally compliant. If done correctly, an employee manual can and should be a resource for the employer. If done the wrong way or without customization, a handbook can come back to bite you.
Imagine you pull a handbook offline and distribute it to your employees. It turns out that a lot of the procedures in the manual do not apply to your company. You then have a dispute with an employee about how his manager handled a matter involving the employee. Armed with the handbook policies, the employee shows up to your office and demands to know why their manager did not follow the company’s guidelines. You are confused and then realize where the disconnect is.
This scenario is not infrequent and can cause a lot of trouble for employers. This is especially true when their handbook policies or actions are not compliant with applicable law. It also leaves many business owners with a bad taste in their mouths for handbooks and general and a misperception that handbooks are the enemy. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Carefully drafted handbooks are an opportunity for employers to communicate to employees the company’s policies and procedures, set expectations, and notify employees of how the company is complying with applicable state and federal laws. Here are a few tips for how you can make sure your handbook is a friend, not a foe:
- Customize, customize, customize! Every company’s needs are different depending on its size, geographical footprint, culture, and operations. While you do not need to reinvent the wheel, you better make sure it fits your car!
- Make sure it is compliant with state and federal laws. Now that employees are working remotely, many are moving to other states, requiring employers who were only ever based in one jurisdiction to examine and comply with other state employment laws.
- Keep it current with yearly updates. Employment law is an area of law that is continuously evolving, and so are company operations and procedures. While yearly may seem burdensome, updates are often quick and easy, barring substantial changes in operations or the law if you start with a good base document.
Ultimately, when it comes to handbooks, they can be a great “friend” to the employer when a company gives them the attention they deserve.
Questions about this or any other legal matter, please contact Sarah at Sarah.Sawyer@offitkurman.com.
ABOUT SARAH SAWYER
As an experienced business advisor and litigator, Sarah works with business owners to implement policies and practices that keep their businesses running smoothly, helps them avoid expensive legal battles, and fights for them when litigation arises. Sarah focuses her practice on providing her clients with general business advice, drafting and analyzing employment documents ranging from employment agreements and severance agreements to employee handbooks, and litigating all aspects of general civil and commercial disputes.
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