Like any other organization or entity in today’s world, a workplace cannot function properly without rules.  An efficient and productive company should have guidelines for how employees are expected to perform, how employees should treat customers and co-workers, and for how supervisors should treat their employees.  Those guidelines or rules should be memorialized in writing, although there can be many or only a few, and should be accessible to all employees.  The typical or standard format is to provide a hard copy at the start of employment; larger employers may also choose to post their policies or guidelines on a company intranet.  In order to hold employees accountable for their actions, or to support a termination for failure to comply, a company must be able to show that an employee was aware of the applicable rules. [Proof that an employee was aware—or should have been aware–of a workplace rule and chose to disregard or ignore it may be helpful particularly when contesting an unemployment compensation claim.]  Therefore, regardless of the size of your handbook, or compilation of policies, we recommend that all recipients complete an “Employee Acknowledgment.”  In that document, which should be the last page, an employee acknowledges that he or she received a copy of the Handbook, has read the document, agrees to seek clarification if needed, recognizes that he or she is employed “at-will[1],” that nothing in the handbook creates a contract for employment, and that the employer is free to amend or revise the policies if and when it chooses.

Handbooks are more than workplace rules; they also present a great opportunity for companies to highlight the benefits they provide for their employees.  Handbooks can be used to emphasize an inclusive and welcoming environment, especially when they describe an employer’s commitment to: Equal Employment Opportunity, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment; providing reasonable accommodations, including leave; establishing a bank of days for sick or personal leave; and recognizing an employee’s right to protected leave under certain circumstances.

If your company currently does not have an employee handbook, we recommend that you start that process immediately; the best point person is one who oversees HR-related issues.  If you do have a handbook or set of policies in place, we recommend that you have them reviewed at least once a year.  Laws change, court opinions change, and the National Labor Relations Board[2] frequently revises or even overturns prior decisions on employment-related policies.  Uniform application of workplace rules can help negate a claim of disparate treatment by an employee, and an Employee Handbook is one of the best ways to ensure that supervisors act consistently and fairly.

If you need a handbook, or would like your current handbook reviewed, please contact us.  With updated templates in place, we can assist you quickly and efficiently.

[1] “At-will” employment means the employment is not for any specific time and may be terminated at will, with or without cause and without prior notice by the employer, or the employee may resign for any reason at any time.

[2] Even if your company is not unionized, unhappy or disgruntled employees can file complaints with the NLRB regarding employment-related policies they consider to be too strict or draconian.  The NLRB’s opinions on “social media policies,” for example, should be required reading for all employers.  See https://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/rights/nlrb-and-social-media