As many employers head into this new year, it is a great time to step back and take a look at your employment policies and handbooks. Employee handbooks are an often forgotten item on a human resources professional to-do list.
However, an employee handbook and its accompanying documents is one of the most important tools an employer has to set standards and create clarity in the employer-employee relationship. Additionally, the legal requirements of employee handbooks are ever changing as a result of decisions and guidance by agencies, like National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the courts.
For example, the national labor board has taken an ever increasing look at employer’s social media policies to determine whether they pose problems or violate the National Labor Relations Act. Additionally, employee handbooks often address discrimination and harassment policies, which can aid in an employer’s legal defense in a lawsuit if drafted correctly. Also, employers may have policies that do not meet the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. In short, there are many ways in which an employer may run afoul.
Another common occurrence is that the policies and procedures contained in the employee handbook have changed over time, and employers are no longer using these outdated policies as a practical matter. However, they may still appear in the employee handbook. This creates a situation that supervisors and employees may not understand the expectations or requirements set by company policies.
In addition, if a lawsuit were also to arise, the discrepancy between the practice and the written policy also may create problems for employers.
Employers should review their employee handbooks and other related documents to determine the last time they were reviewed. Employers should seek legal counsel to determine whether their policies meet legal standards and requirements.
Updating and revising an employer’s employment policies and handbooks is great way to start a new year of employee relations.
Sarah Phaff is an employment law attorney in Atlanta and Macon at the national labor and employment law firm of Constangy, Brooks, & Smith LLP.