Reviewing Employee Handbooks: Nine Steps to Giving Your Staff Handbook an Annual Checkup

While many employers know it is a good practice to have an employee handbook in place, it is crucial to give your employee handbook an annual check up to see which policies should be reviewed, revisited and updated based on changes in the law and in your workplace. So in conducting this annual checkup, what absolute must-haves should your handbook contain?

1. Social Media Use. With social media use continually on the rise and more employees using social media for business and personal use, it is vital for the handbook to include a social media policy addressing all aspects of social media use at work and what is not permitted.

2. Equal Opportunity Policies. It is critical for employers to frequently revisit their policies regarding equal opportunity in the workplace as there is a trend, especially on the state and local levels, to provide employment protections to new and emerging protected classes. Employee handbooks should also communicate that employers are willing to provide employees with reasonable accommodations based on disability, religion, pregnancy, and sexual orientation etc. if doing so would not create an undue hardship.

3. Affordable Care Act. Employers need to be aware that the requirements under the Affordable Care Act significantly change the landscape of health care in the US. There are many requirements that apply to employer-sponsored group health plans which go into effect over a period of several years.

4. FMLA Amendments. Employers should make sure that their employee handbooks comply with the most recent amendments to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which expands the military family leave provisions and incorporates a special eligibility provision for airline flight crew employees. As a result, employers must use an updated FMLA notice and certification forms as well as a new FMLA poster. Employers should also ensure they are compliant with state law requirements.

5. Leave Laws. In several states and municipalities, laws have been passed or proposed to provide various leaves to employees such as paid sick leave, bereavement leave, military leave and domestic violence leave.

6. I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form. As of May 2013, employers are required to use the new version of the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form released by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Employers can ensure that they have an authorized workforce by participating in E-Verify, which allows employers to electronically verify the information provided by new employees on the Form I-9.

7. Medical Marijuana Laws. Legislation has been passed on the state level in many states legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes. Additionally, Washington and Colorado have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Employers need to be aware of marijuana legislation and how this can impact their workplace policies and procedures as well as how to implement a drug-free workplace policy and discipline employees for marijuana use.

8. Workplace Violence and Bullying Policies. Employers should make sure that their handbooks contain clear provisions and guidelines for employees on preventing workplace violence and bullying and that they provide a safe and secure atmosphere for all employees. Doing so can drastically reduce the risk of employer liability for violence, hostility, OSHA violations as well as negligent hiring, workers’ compensation and emotional distress.

9. Avoid Overly Broad Blanket Rules that Violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
The National Labor Relations Board has taken a particularly strong position in support of employee rights to engage in protected concerted activity. Thus, it is critical that the policies in an employee handbook regarding confidentiality, investigation, employee communications, social media, etc. do not violate Section 7 of the NLRA, which provides both union and non-union employees with the right to engage in collective action to improve their wages, hours and working conditions. As a result, employers should avoid overly broad wording, ambiguous provisions and blanket rules that can be reasonably interpreted to interfere with an employee’s protected Section 7 rights.

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