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05/16/2017

SPRING CLEANING: IT’S TIME TO DUST OFF AND UPDATE YOUR EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK

Client Alert

Written by: Katrina M. Homel

Is your employment handbook up-to-date? Employment law is an ever-changing field, and community associations, management companies, and employers of all sizes will avoid a later headache by taking the time to review and revise their handbook to reflect recent updates in employment law.

Employee handbooks set forth an employer’s policies and procedures so that there are clear expectations for the employment relationship between the employer and employee. The handbook is not an implied contract, nor is it intended to be comprehensive of every possible situation that may arise in the workplace, though it sets expectations that guide conduct in new situations that may arise. Handbooks address the core terms and conditions of employment including, for example, the nature of the employment relationship, employees’ conduct in the workplace, the employer’s response to misconduct, management of pay and benefits, and general operating procedures. An employer should require employees to review the handbook and sign a statement that they received and agree to read the handbook, that the handbook is not a contract, that it is subject to change at any time at the employer’s discretion, and, importantly, that the employee agrees to follow policies and procedures set forth in the handbook.

Community associations, management companies, and other employers should review their handbook to ensure that they are current and not operating out of compliance with the law. Recent developments in employment law include, but are not limited to, developments in the areas of social media, wage and hour, whistleblower protection, employee privacy, antidiscrimination, disability accommodations, and labor relations. Having an up-to-date handbook will go a long way to protecting the employer and maintaining a smoothly run workforce. Employers with handbooks already in place should revisit the standards and criteria established in the handbook and revise them to reflect current laws and employment practices. Employers without handbooks are urged to consider investing in the protections that a handbook can provide.

For management and lower-level employees, an employee handbook is a helpful resource to answer many questions that may arise in the workplace. For employers, a handbook provides numerous benefits in addressing employee situations. Even small employers with just a few employees are subject to many employment laws, and will benefit from having a handbook that creates consistent expectations for staff.

Clearly written and enforced policies may reduce the risk of liability and will help employers guard against claims of discrimination and unfair treatment.  For example, an employer who can point to a clear anti-harassment policy which has been read and acknowledged by all employees and which is consistently enforced has demonstrated a commitment to legal compliance and can show the steps it has taken to protect its employees and business.

An employee handbook also provides community associations, management companies, and other employers a concrete mechanism to hold employees accountable to follow the employer’s policies. Where policies are clearly communicated in the handbook, an employer can point to its policies in counseling and, if appropriate, disciplining an employee who has failed to meet those expectations.

Additionally, having a handbook in place may be helpful to an employer when it is time for an employee’s performance review, such as in situations where an employee’s conduct is impacting his or her job performance. For example, if an employer has set clear expectations in its handbook regarding lateness and attendance, and an employee’s lateness is impacting his or her job performance, when the time comes around for the employee’s performance review, the employer can point to its policy regarding lateness and attendance during its discussions with the employee about performance.

Having and maintaining an up-to-date employment handbook sets clear expectations for employees so that community associations, management companies, and other employers may operate an efficient and productive workplace, and provides protections for an employer should a workplace conflict arise.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion. If you have questions about recent developments in employment law and their impact on your employment practices and handbook, please contact us.  Hill Wallack LLP’s Employment & Labor Law attorneys have vast experience in counseling employers, including, but not limited to, regarding their policies and handbooks.