Updating Your Employee Handbook

Too many organizations allow their employee handbooks to become static over time. It is imperative that your employee handbook serve as a dynamic text, reflecting changes in your company’s policies. Let us look at some of the things that are easily overlooked and often left out of employee handbooks.

Alterations to Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave

The minimum wage continues to rise in cities and states throughout the country. If your city/state’s minimum wage laws have changed, you should accurately reflect changes in your employee handbook. The mainstream news generally covers these updates so the awareness is present, but the actual update to the handbook is overlooked.  You will want to make sure that you are updating these sections of your handbook as soon as the announcements become official.

Currently, seven states and Washington, D.C. require employers to offer paid sick leave, each with their own unique employee eligibility and hour accrual rates.  Paid Family Leave is also growing in popularity by state as well as large employers.  As the momentum continues in the direction of providing more generous family leave to employees, we can likely see the number of states implementing such policies grow.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Decisions

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issues decisions that affect employers and employees across the United States. Employers should stay up to date on the NLRB’s decisions because their rulings will often affect policies and verbiage in their own handbook. For example, the NLRB views any employer social media policy that prohibits an employee from posting inaccurate information or confidential information violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Vague policy wording can lead an employee to reasonably interpret this as prohibiting lawful discussions regarding protected activity.  The burden of proof is on the employer to show that the employee in question acted with malicious intent.  If an employee perceives the information to be true, even if not accurate or false, their posting is lawful.

In recent news, the NLRB reviewed some of T-Mobile’s policies and ruled them unlawful. One in particular was T-Mobile’s policy about keeping a “positive” work. It was interpreted by the NLRB to be unlawful because it found “that employees would reasonably construe the rule to restrict potentially controversial or contentious communications and discussions, including those protected by Section 7 of the Act, out of fear that the Respondent would deem them to be inconsistent with a ‘positive work environment.’” Rulings such as this one may affect how you construct policy or culture statements in your employee handbook.

It is important to review all of the board’s latest decisions and update your employee handbook accordingly.  You can sign up for NLRB updates by visiting www.nlrb.gov.

Background Check Procedures

An employer’s background check procedures should align with the nuances of local laws without exception. Find out if your city has a ban-the-box law, like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, PA, that prevents requests regarding criminal background inquiries on the initial employment application. Cities across the United States are now implementing these laws.

In short, when it comes to background checks and any onboarding procedures of new employees, you will want to carefully review what is allowed and make sure you are keeping proper records in personnel files.

Violation Provisions

Employee handbook provisions should not discourage workers from reporting possible illegal violations to the respective government agency. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) rule which prohibits retaliation against workers who report a workplace injury became effective on December 1, 2016. Other agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have similar guidance.  This should be considered when updating your employee handbook and paired with management training.

Social Media & Technology Policy Changes

The NLRB has made it crystal clear that employers are responsible for protecting employees’ rights to free speech. Such rights must be protected on-site while at work and also on social media, regardless of whether employees are discussing their dislike for a manager or their supervisor, allegedly poor working conditions or differing pay rates. As the first generation of total digital college graduates enter the work force, more employees are conducting work-related tasks on tablets, smartphones and laptops. Some use these same devices for social media sharing and posting. The employee handbook must communicate that employees have no right to privacy when using social media on computing equipment that is company-owned or when using such social platforms while at work.

Here are a few key things to consider adding or clarifying in your employee handbook in regards to your social media and technology policies. Consider stating in your handbook that:

  • Workers are not permitted to disclose any proprietary information about the company or, if applicable, clients.
  • Employees are not permitted to download applications onto devices that have employer information.
  • Employees should not leave a computing device used for employment purposes in a vehicle or elsewhere that it could be easily stolen. The handbook should state that if such a device is lost, the employee must report it as lost or stolen without delay.
  • When an individual leaves the employer, his computing devices can be completely wiped of all employer data.

These could vary by organization, but they should be carefully considered carefully.

Routine Review of Your Handbook

Your employee handbook is a resource for all of your employees to refer to when they have policy questions. It is important that you review your handbook on a routine basis and make sure that your policies are in line with what labor laws allow in your state as well as any policy changes within your organization.

If you have any questions, contact us today!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

yohn

Susan T. Yohn, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Director of Human Resources

Susan manages all areas of the HR Department as well as consults with clients on topics including, but not limited to: recruitment, orientation, employee relations, compliance with HR related laws, employee benefit plans, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Workers’ Compensation.