Making Your Employee Handbook Bullet Proof
Given all of the changes in California Labor Laws along with Cal-OSHA, your Company Handbook becomes a very important document. In fact, any good Labor Law Attorney will tell you that your first line of defense is your company handbook.
Given these points here are some questions that should be on the mind of every employer.
- What policies should a good Employee Handbook contain?
- How many employees should a company employ before a company manual is needed?
- How often should my Company Manual be reviewed?
Before we get into the policies that a good Employee Manual should have let’s talk about some of the other questions we have asked.
Because of the California Paid Sick Law, along with the importance of establishing a properly written ‘AT-Will” Status, every employer should have an Employee Handbook once he hires his first employee. Of course, the need increases with the addition of each employee.
An excellent company handbook will serve several important purposes.
- Employees will know what they can expect from the company in the way of benefits.
- Employees will also get a clear picture of what the employer wants from the employee.
- Disciplines and rewards will be spelled out along with other relevant company policies so that at the end of the day both the employee and the employer knows what is expected from one another.
One of the major questions that an employer needs to ask themselves is: Do I want to be a ‘for cause’ employer or do I want to rely strongly on my “At-Will” Status? If you choose to become a for cause employer you need to be aware that the burden of proof will be mainly on the employer. Questions that will be asked would be: Do I have enough documentation should I wind up in court?
Were my efforts to rehabilitate said employee enough to meet the burden of proof that must be borne with for cause employers?
Another question to ask is, are my policies fair? Are my policies consistent from the first page to the last?
The worst thing you can do is to borrow an employee handbook or parts of employees from other employers that you know. This is true even if they tell you that the information you are going to take was written by a labor law attorney.
This needs to be your document; it does not have to be written by an attorney per say but it does need to be written by someone that you know has an understanding of what a good Procedure Manual is.
Alright, that should give you some good food for thought. Next, we are going to dive into the policies that should be in a good Employee Handbook.
Welcome New Employee
Your welcome policy should be very brief, but it should be inviting. Have some verbiage that shows your company values it’s employees and feels that employee are crucial to the success of the company. Let the employee know that you want them to enjoy their stay with the company.
In the introductory statement, this is an opportunity to provide information about your company. This would include some information about working conditions, employee benefits, and some of the policies that will affect the employment.
There should also be a clause that will explain that no employee handbook will be able to address all of the potential variables that could arise in the workplace.
This is a very important policy, so you want to make sure that you get this right. In this policy, you want to define what At-Will Employment means. At-Will Employment means that either the employee or the employer can terminate the working relationship with cause or without cause. And that this termination can happen by either the employer or the employee with or without notice.
Your At-Will Policy also needs to address that there are no modifications to this policy unless they are made by management and in writing. One last thought on your At-Will Policy it must be located somewhere between pages 1-3. If it is not in those place, it could be viewed that you don’t have one even though you do.
Right To Revise
Failing to have a right to revise policy can make it tough for an employer to revise their Employee Handbook. The right to revise should include language that says the company has the right to revise, delete, modify or add to any and all policies procedures, benefits with the exception of the companies At-Will.
There should also be a notice that explains all changes will be in writing and then distributed to the employees.
The next policies that should be in your employee handbook we will list but not discuss. (Should you have any questions about these or other policies you can give us a call.)
- New Employee Orientation
- New Employee Reporting
- Open Door Policy
Sexual and Other Unlawful Harassment
This is a very important policy, and there have been changes to this policy that went into effect last April. Since April employers must have this policy in their employee handbook but they must also pass out the policy as a standalone and have the employees the handout as well as the Company Manual.
In this policy, you must define what sexual and other forms of harassment are, including bullying in the workplace and a hostile environment.
You must give instructions what to do should an employee has encountered some form of harassment. Should an employee file some kind of a complaint you want to make sure that do your due diligence. Should you call in an outside service to investigate the issue make sure they are licensed to do so, otherwise you have just lost your case.
Equal Employment Opportunity Employer
The policy should stress that employment with the company will be based on merit, qualification, and other abilities.
The law forbids discrimination on the basis of genetic information when it comes to any act of employment. This would include hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, or any other term or condition of employment. An employer may never use genetic information to make an employment decision.
Under Gina, it is illegal to fire, demote, or harass an employee because the employee has filed a claim.
Business Ethics and Conduct
The successful business operation along with the reputation of your company will depend upon the honesty and the integrity of the company and its employees. This is a very important policy to have.
Immigration Law Compliance
Employees need to know that the company is committed to employing only United States citizens, and aliens who are authorized to work here in the United States.
Conflicts of Interest
Employees need to know what the company might consider to be a conflict of interest.
Conducting Personal Business
This policy should tell employees when if every while at work that they may conduct personal business. Perhaps your company only allows employees to conduct personal business while they are on their breaks or meal periods. This should be made clear in your employee handbook.
Do you allow your employees to have part-time jobs outside of their employment with you? Do you allow them to do side jobs that would be the same type of work that your company performs? All of this should be addressed in your Company Manual.
Many employees may come into contact with things like customer lists and so on. This is information that most companies would not want to be disclosed. A Non-Disclosure policy will list all of the topics that the employer would like to be kept private.
Requirements for Work
Things that would be listed here would be things like a valid driver’s license and so on. That way should an employee lose their valid driver’s license the company will be notified by the employee, and if they are not notified by the employee, the company will be free to take what actions if feels necessary
The main two categories are Exempt and Non-Exempt. Next, comes the following:
- Regular Full time
- Regular Part-time
These categories are all self-explanatory, so we will not spend any time here.
This policy will help employees to understand how they will be made aware should their job duties change.
Access to Personnel Files
Every employee has the right to inspect their personnel files. This policy will explain to the employee what the process for the employee to ask for to look at their personnel files and then how the company will make them available to the employee.
Personnel Data Changes
Companies have the right to know if an employee moves, or if their phone number has changed. This policy will help the employer to know that the company expects to be notified in the event of a change of important contact information.
The introductory period is a period of time before an employee will be able to take part in certain company benefits, such as paid vacations, holiday pay, and so on.
If your company does do performance evaluations, the employee has a right to know when and how these evaluations will be conducted.
This is where you list all of your company’s benefits. Company benefits can even be benefits that the employee might have to pay for themselves. For example, if your business provides medical benefits for the employee but not for the spouse of the employee this would still be considered a company benefit.
California Paid Sick Leave
In this policy, you should explain how the company is providing this benefit to its employees. For example, are you using the accrual method or are you doing the banking method?
Sick Time Off
This would be in addition to the California Paid Sick Leave, or if your company provide 24 hours or more than this policy would suffice for the California Paid Sick Leave policy.
Time off to Vote
This policy causes employer’s confusion sometimes. The purpose of the policy is to provide employees who work 24 hours on and 24 hours off. If this employee is on duty on election day, then the employer needs to provide them with 2 hours of paid time so that they can go and vote.
Family Medical Leave Act
This is only necessary if you have 50 or more employees
Paid Family Leave Law
This policy is for any employee who is required to take time off from work because of a family member illness. This would include a child, a spouse, parent, or domestic partner.
This benefit does not have to be paid, although the employer may want to make it a paid benefit. This allows the employee to take time off in the event of a death in the family. Each employer can choose to allow this or not. Each employer can determine how long the bereavement leave will be for.
This is a leave program that allows employees to take time off for various personal reasons. If you as a company us PTO Paid Time Off, then you will not need a Personal Leave Policy since PTO can be used for personal time.
This allows employees to take time off from work for the purpose of serving their country. When the employee comes back to work, they will be given either the job that they had when they left or one that is equal.
Pregnancy Disability Leave
This law applies to employees with five or more employees and explains that pregnant women are to be shown reasonable accommodation. Unless that accommodation will be an undue hardship on the company.
Jury Duty Policy
This one is pretty self-explanatory.
This policy should explain that you expect your employees to punch in and out after their lunch period, as well as any other requirement that you might have as a company. FYI whenever you have to alter an employee’s time card both the employee and management should initial the time card.
According to California Labor Laws employees have the right to know when and how they will be paid. Side note: Paydays are something that should not be moved around a lot. Once you pick a payday and or method and timeline to pay your employees, you should be sticking with it.
Reporting Time Pay
Whenever an employee is required to report for work, but there is no work for the employee to do. The employee must be paid equal to ½ of his or her normal days’ pay.
Mandatory Payroll Deductions That Comply with California Labor Laws.
Mandatory State and Federal law require employers to withhold certain taxes. This should all be spelled out in this policy.
Health and Safety to Comply with all of Cal-OSHA’S Standards
Even though every employer is required to have an Illness and Injury Prevention Program, every employee handbook should still have a general statement about safety in the workplace. I would make sure that you mention that your company is Cal-OSHA Compliant, and we expect our employees to help us stay that way by reporting unsafe conditions in the workplace.
Telephone and Cell Phone Policy
This policy should include what an employee should do if they are driving and receive a phone call. This policy should be very well spelled out. If you have employees that drive this is a major policy, and you may want to have a Cal-OSHA Consulting Service take a look at it to make sure that it is safe. Either that or make sure you run this by your company attorney or your HR Consulting Firm.
Smoking and Tobacco Use
Smoking is no longer permitted in the workplace in accordance with the new California Labor Laws.
Rest and Meal Periods
This policy should include that employees are entitled to a second lunch period after 10 hours of work.
An employee is eligible for a 10-minute break once they have worked 3.5 hours.
Do you require your employees to work over time, or do you allow them the choice to work the overtime or go home? Whatever you do should be stated in your employee handbook.
Use of Equipment and Vehicles
Whatever you require of your employees while using the company’s equipment and vehicles needs to be spelled out in this policy.
Company Property, Security, Privacy, and Searches.
This is an extremely important policy. If this policy is not written correctly, you have no right to search either the lockers of employees nor can you go through their desks. The key to making sure this policy will work in your favor is to make sure that the policy clearly says that the employee has no right to expect privacy.
Visitors in the Workplace
This is another policy that is self-explanatory.
Computer and E-mail Usage
This policy is very important, and once again you want to make sure that all emails and computer and anything on them is the property of the company. The employee should not expect the right to privacy here either.
Make sure employee know that they are not to visit any questionable sites. I would encourage employers to have a strong policy that is against downloading anything that may be considered pornographic in nature. This would include jokes, pictures, or articles or stories.
This is a very important policy today. You want to make sure that you spell out what your employees can do while they are on any form of social media. For example, can they speak or make posts on behalf of the company? Can they discuss work in any way while they are on social media?
Over fifty percent of employees have experienced bullying in the workplace. So this has become a major deal.
Workplace Violence Monitoring
The purpose of this policy is to ensure the safety of your company’s employees while at work.
Workplace Violence Prevention
This policy will explain what steps you are taking to make sure that violence will not break out in the workplace, either by a vendor, or a customer, or a passerby.
Employee Conduct and Work Rules
This one is self-explanatory.
Drug and Alcohol Use
This is a basic policy if you are doing either random drug testing or pre-employment drug testing you will need a different policy.
Drug and Alcohol Policy
If you are going to be doing drug testing this is the kind of policy; you will want. You will want to make sure that you address the chain of custody of the specimen.
- Drug and Alcohol Use Prohibited
- Employee Assistance Programs
- Use, Possession or Sale of Drugs or Alcohol
- Drug and Alcohol Testing
- Chain of Custody Procedures
Attendance and Punctuality
How many times can an employee be tardy before they are disciplined? This is the kind of material that will be covered in this policy.
Dress Code and Personal Appearance
If you need your employees to wear a particular style or color of clothes, this is where you would make mention of it.
Return of property
Many employers ask me can they withhold employees paychecks until they return their uniforms or other company property. The answer to that question is no.
This is for employees to give you advance notice before they quit.
We have made this article available so that you can see and know what should be included in a good employee handbook.
While knowing what topics should be in a good employee handbook, that alone does not make a good Company Manual. California Labor Laws and Cal-OSHA compliance is not something that any employer can take lightly.
At C.E.S Today we understand what a good Policy Handbook is and we take great pride in providing the best that is available to all our members.
We are the only HR Consulting Company that I know of that includes our members with an Attorney written Policy Book and a customized Safety Program as part of our basic membership.
Should you have any questions, we would love to hear from you.