Employee Handbooks: It’s Time to Revisit
Two years ago, workplaces across the nation experienced one of the greatest disruptions in history. The coronavirus pandemic has led to sweeping changes in offices, and even on manufacturing floors.
“I would say now is definitely a good time [to review your handbook],” Halloran & Sage partner Kevin Green told a room of 200, with another 100 watching virtually, at CBIA’s 2022 Human Resources Conference March 17.
Green encourages his clients review their employee handbooks annually, at least semi-annually.
“Don’t go more than two years without updating your handbook,” Green said. “There is a risk there.”
And he’s seen it in the midst of legal battles. A poorly drafted or outdated handbook can make a case quite difficult to defend.
“Having a bad handbook is far worse than having no handbook,” said Green.
Why a Handbook?
Green says the reasons for having an employee handbook are simple:
- Keeps employees educated about policies and procedures
- Communicates corporate culture, history, missions, and values
- Easily identifies a firm’s expectations
- Provides managers with guidance for implementing policies and maintaining consistency
- Form of potential legal defense
- Provides platform for legally required notifications (sexual harassment provisions, etc.)
Simple should also define the language in the handbook. Employers should remember a handbook is a document for employees.
“It should not necessarily be a policy and procedures manual for human resources or a manager or supervisor,” Green said.
“It really should be a general overview, describing your policies in language your employees can understand and get value from.”
The goal should be to keep the handbook consistent.
Green said progressive discipline is often inconsistent in handbooks, as well as language about paid time off and flexible work schedules.
Phrases like “open door policy,” “automatic deductions” for lost money and damage to equipment, and “probationary employee” are terms Green recommends avoiding.
Drugs and alcohol, work from home, and family and medical leave policies have likely changed for Connecticut employers in the past two years.
Green recommends companies think about including a remote work or work from home policy in their handbook.
“The important thing is ‘work from home’ is a privilege now, not a right,” Green said.
Eligibility, expectations, and employee responsibilities should be outlined in the remote work policy.
He suggest the policy include various sections:
- Scope and eligibility of who is eligible to work for home and how often
- Request and notification process for notifying an employer about working from home
- Attendance and availability expectations
- Security requirements
- Disciplinary and standards of conduct
Employers should note remote work may require different policies for exempt and nonexempt employees for timekeeping reasons.
These types of policies may be unfamiliar to employees can change overtime, but all changes should be made to the handbook promptly.
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