Your employee manual should be reviewed at least once a year – and reviewing it before the end of the year is a good idea. Because you may do open enrollment for benefits, you could roll out the changes for your employee manual around the same time to make the process easier and more efficient.
Since you have written your employee manual to provide guidance, the manual would be a good source of information. However, if your manual is not written properly, it could provide confusion or the wrong information to your employees. The review of the employee manual should be done with the intent to ensure it conforms with the latest changes in the laws and regulations, the strategic direction of your company, and to make sure that what you have written in your manual still applies to your current culture and the daily operations of your company.
What You Should Review
Now that you have taken your somewhat dusty employee manual from the top shelf of your bookcase, or found it on an ancillary hard drive, sit down and do a detailed review of it, page by page, and policy by policy.
Changes in the law. Some recent changes in the law should be easy to apply, such as the recent hike some states implemented in their minimum wage, overtime rules, meal and rest period laws, exemption standards, and other wage and hour laws. Make sure your manual reflects the changes.
Harassment. You should also review your harassment policy. With the many recent events in the news and on social media, you need to seriously consider finding a competent labor attorney who can provide harassment training to your entire company, from the leadership to the lowest pay-grade employee. This should be made mandatory training for all current employees and newly hired employees going forward.
Keep a record of who attended the harassment training and the date you provided it. In recent months, harassment training has become mandatory in some states, while the training must be done by a live person in other states, rather than by webinar or pre-recorded session. As you review your employee manual, ensure there is language requiring that all harassment should be reported to HR. Make sure you provide ways of reporting it that will facilitate upward communication so it can be properly and completely investigated and documented. If necessary, consider consulting your legal counsel for assistance in investigating and resolving.
Technology Use and Abuse. With the increased amount of information kept electronically, review your policy dealing with the use of devices, internet access and use, email communication, risk abatement, and how to keep your computer equipment safe and secure. Remind your employees to be alert and vigilant, and not let their guard down and become complacent by not using the required steps to ensure your information – and that confidential information of your clients/customers and vendors – is kept secure.
Freedom of speech. One of the latest surprises is the reach of some government oversight boards that previously applied only to unions; however, in recent years, boards are applying the same rights to non-union employees. These oversight boards may consider certain language used in your employee manual to be intended to keep your employees from expressing their opinions. The freedom to express their opinions needs to be protected and your manual must reflect that freedom. It should not prohibit any discussions among employees regarding the terms and conditions of their employment, including salaries.
Cannabis. Adding to the confusion of drug testing policies, marijuana is now legal in many states. Your policy should be clear that regardless of the legality of the use of marijuana, it is not okay to indulge while at work.
Administrative Details. When you update a policy in your employee manual, the “effective date” must be displayed on the policy being updated. Keep a record of the old policy that was removed. These policies may need to be referred to at a later date, in court.
Once you have finished bringing your policy up to date and roll it out to your employees, obtain an acknowledgement from each employee that they have received the revised manual. The statement should state that they received it, they have or will read it immediately upon receipt of the manual, and that if they have any questions or need clarification, they can contact their HR department for assistance.
Each company communicates differently with their employees. Your employee manual should reflect your culture. Regardless how you choose to deliver your employee manual, make sure to always have your labor and employment attorney review it before you deliver it to your employees to assure it reflects the latest changes affecting your workforce!
This article was originally posted in the Leading Edge Digital Magazine – Fall 2018 Edition.