Could Your Employee Handbook Use a Quick Makeover?

by / 0 Comments / 51 View / March 31, 2020

When was the last time you updated your employee handbook? Running an effective business entails having updated policies and procedures according to the laws of the state in which you live and the goals of your organization.

These policies, procedures, or SOPs (standard operating procedures) should be:

• Up-to-date and updated frequently

• Available and communicated to all employees

• In compliance with your local, state, and/or federal employment laws

Is a Handbook Update that Important?

The handbook is very important as it houses all of your policies and procedures to run your organization.

Updating it is even more important! As you focus on recruiting, hiring, and retention goals, make sure your handbook addresses your goals and employment laws for union and/or nonunion employees. The handbook is the first manual that outlines how your organization should or will run.

Further, it is a resource for employees to understand what is expected of them and what is offered to them, and it answers commonly asked concerns, such as:

• How much PTO do I have?

• Can I carry my PTO hours over at the end of the year?

• How much bereavement time can I take off if a family member passes away?

• Do I need a doctor’s note after I’m absent one, two, or three consecutive days?

• When do I receive overtime or double time, or holiday pay?

• Layoff and recall

• Probation periods

• Nepotism

• Grievances

• Dress code and more

For union employees, the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) addresses the same operating procedures under their CBA/ union contract.

Policies and/or procedures define the consequence or action steps outlined for employees to follow and the consequences of not following the policies outlined in the employee handbook (or collective bargaining agreement).

Unfortunately, many companies are still using outdated handbooks, which, in turn, means they are using outdated policies, procedures, and/or practices that result in inaccurate operations, heightened safety risks, and many unfavorable lawsuits, all of which can be avoided with an updated handbook.

Do You Really Need an Updated Dress Code Policy?

Dress code policies typically end up on the backburner, but yes, you absolutely do need one, and it should be updated often.

With continual changes over generations, and the ever-changing waves of freedom of expression (e.g., more recently, piercings and tattoos as hot topics), it is often challenging for an employer to know when or how to draw a line in the sand with respect to what is or is not acceptable attire in the workforce.

Often, many companies are challenged with how to balance the safety and professional needs of the business with what their dress code should or should not include.

For example: If your employee works in a manufacturing environment, you may need to update your policy to ensure that every employee wears a closed-toe or steel-tip shoe versus sandals or flip-flops. This is to take necessary safety precautions.

In other organizations, slip-resistant shoes or a safety vest are often needed yet are not worn because they were not in the dress code policy or it was not effectively communicated to the employee, who either failed to read their handbook or simply did not know what attire was required of them.

This lack of communication or lack of policy updating has resulted in countless on-the-job injuries and, in some cases, results in high-rising workers’ compensation claims for employers and/or unfortunate accidental employee deaths.

The best way to approach your dress code policy is to review the job descriptions of each position and then outline what attire would be needed to keep employees safe, with a “safety focus” in mind at all times. This helps avoid the legal ramifications from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that you will face should you fail to take such precautions.

Keep your dress code clear and concise. It is not best practice to have an overly broad dress code. That can lead to legal ramifications as well.

Here is an example of Honda having an overly broad dress code that led to a lawsuit involving the National Labor Relations Board:

Boch Honda, a Massachusetts car dealership, was faulted by the NLRB for having a dress code it deemed to be overly broad. The dealership’s policy stated, “Employees who have contact with the public may not wear pins, insignias, or other message clothing.”

Boch Honda’s unionized employees claimed the policy was too broad and violated their right to engage in protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRB agreed in a 2-1 ruling and reasoned that under the NLRA, both union and nonunion workers have the right to display union messaging and insignia in the workplace and that Boch’s policy could be interpreted as a ban on these kinds of displays.

Because of this ruling, it is important that all employers avoid using overly broad language in their dress codes, which could indicate that union-related messaging and insignia are unacceptable. (https://newenglandinhouse.com/2016/08/16/car-dealers-dress-code-invalidated-by-nlrb/)

How Up to Date is Your PTO/Leave Policy and FMLA Procedures?

It has been our experience at CHRE (Certified HR Experts) that many companies do not have clear or concise PTO policies, which leads to confusion on the employees’ part and even more confusion for their managers who try to follow it.

I have seen countless cases of not just employees mismanaging their PTO hours, resulting in the termination of their employment, but more often, managers mismanaging the PTO policy (inconsistent between employees in approving or denying PTO leave, wrongful implementation of disciplinary actions due to misinterpreting the PTO policy or point systems, and improper tracking of leave time, etc.). These instances have resulted in arbitrations and wrongful terminations that cost the employer a lot of money.

Your PTO policy should be clear, concise, properly tracked, and consistent. Any changes to your policy should be immediately communicated with all employees.

Further, while many companies have an updated FMLA policy posted, as well as other leave policies — such as short- or long-term disability — the denial, approval, and/or tracking of FMLA hours is just as important! Inaccurate processing and tracking of leave time has resulted in the following:

• Wrongful write-ups or disciplinary actions taken toward employees for calling off, inaccurate calling-off procedures, or improper tracking of call-offs and time used as PTO vs. FMLA

• Misinformed eligibility requirements for FMLA

• Wrongful designation of FMLA leave hours

• Incorrect approval, denial, and/or tracking and calculation of PTO hours or short-term disability leave

• Wrongful terminations under FMLA or ADA laws resulting from the employer’s lack of reasonable accommodations for employees or the employer’s failure to retain accurate documentation on unemployment hearings and other legal hearings

What You Can Do as an Employee or Employer

Employees should read their handbook and follow the expectations outlined in it. When in doubt, an employee should see their human resource department for clarification and guidance on any concern.

Employers, it is very simple. Revise your handbook with updated policies and procedures. This allows employers to recruit, hire, and build an audit-ready and sustainable workforce as previously mentioned.

The benefit of having an updated handbook allows you to:

• Give the first introduction to how your organization operates under your vision, mission, and core values

• Clearly define the employers’ expectations for their employees

• Outline all of the benefits available to the employees while they are employed

• Provide information on where the employees can go for help on any related employment topic or concern

Furthermore, the handbook offers protection for the employee and the company as an effective and consistent means of communication.

Yes! It’s Time for Your Handbook Makeover

No more backburner! It is time to give your current employee handbook the needed makeover it deserves, while keeping in mind the local, state, and federal compliance policies. Your human resource professional should stay up to date on any changes that are needed, and those changes should be reflected in your handbook due to ever-evolving regulatory updates.

I urge you to strongly consider reviewing the topics mentioned in this article (and more) that arise by:

Auditing your handbook each year

Conducting a full audit at least every two years to cover new topics such as diversity and inclusion; EEOC; social media, which has changed over the years; and the use of work phones vs. personal phones (i.e., cellphone policy)

Updating new hot topics, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, EEOC and protected classes, HIPAA privacy rule, veterans, company vehicle usage and travel for work, overtime rules, and your drug policy

With ever-changing medical challenges and new medicines hitting our market, your drug policy should include what is or is not acceptable, random drug testings performed (pre- or post-employment), second-chance programs, trainings, as well as your employee assistance programs (EAP), to name a few.

If employers are clear about their expectations of what is or is not acceptable in their organization with a focus on safety, the employer will see an increase in retention, an increase in positive compliance audits, and success in reaching their goals! It all starts with your handbook.


Juliet Jones, MBA, CHRM, is the CEO of Certified HR Experts, which excels at creating or updating policy handbooks. CHRE is recognized as a dynamic leader in Pennsylvania with unparalleled knowledge of employment laws, employee relations, and talent acquisition. Your business is our business; when you succeed, we do too. www.certifiedhrexperts.com

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