An employee handbook serves as a guide for employees and employers. The handbook is a tool that defines ground rules and explains what is and is not considered acceptable behavior. Done properly, an employee handbook is a great first line of defense for a variety of legal issues.
However, if an employee handbook is done improperly, it can lead to confusion, anger and lawsuits. The sections contained in the handbook need to be carefully worded in order to avoid those pitfalls. Generally, laws regarding employees and employees are drafted in favor of the employee so without the protections offered in an employee handbook, the employer is open to more risk.
Although some federal regulations such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act do not go into effect until you have 15 or more employees, a business of any size can be sued for other employment related issues.
To minimize your risks, it is important to have a relationship with an employment law attorney who will update you of any federal or state required changes.
Other ways to minimize risks include an annual handbook review. As the world changes, you may need to create new policies that reflect the changes in the law and your employee handbook should reflect those changes. For example, think of the changes to the workplace over the past few years like health care reform, employees working from home more frequently, working parents and the balance between home and work life, the use of personal mobile devices and so many others.
In addition, the handbook should be reviewed to make sure the documented polices that are included in the book are consistently followed and are a reflection of the culture of your work environment. If the policies in the handbook are not followed and not a reflection of your work environment, you will have a weak defense if a dispute arises.
Remember, it’s not enough just to update the handbook. Clearly communicating any change or policy update to all employees is also required.