8 Critical Policies to Include in an Employee Handbook
Whether an employer realizes it or not, employee handbooks are important. But why are they important? Employee handbooks, also called employee manuals, are important because they set out clear expectations for employees regarding company policies, procedures, and benefits.
Importantly, clear employee handbooks may also help protect an employer when defending against employee lawsuits and complaints, such as discrimination and harassment claims, among others. In other words, employers should view the employee handbook as a potential exhibit in an employment-related action showing commitment and compliance with the law.
In this blog post, we will discuss several employment policies that should be included in any Florida employee handbook. These suggested policies are by no means a comprehensive list of all policies and procedures to include in an employee handbook.
Florida employers drafting or updating employee handbooks should seek legal counsel to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
What is an Employee Handbook?
Often overlooked by employers, an employee handbook is ideal for communicating and introducing an employer’s mission, culture, and values to new and existing employees.
Why is this important? The introduction sets the tone of what is to come in the handbook and may provide some guidance as to how employees may best use the handbook during employment. Further, an effective introduction reminds employees of their critical role and contributions to company operations.
Additionally, a compelling introduction may elicit “buy-in” from employees to comply with and help to enforce employer policies and procedures for the good of the company. While not required, the introduction can be a powerful tool.
What to Include in an Employee Handbook
An employee handbook serves as a comprehensive guide for a new hire. It should outline the expectations, rights, and responsibilities of both the employer and employees. It is a vital tool for maintaining a productive and compliant work environment.
When creating an employee handbook, it is crucial to cover a range of topics, including HR policies, company policies, and a code of conduct. The handbook should also include information on at-will employment, policies and procedures, overtime, family and medical leave, and termination procedures.
The handbook should also provide information on equal employment opportunity, company culture, and laws and regulations that govern the workplace. Topics such as parental leave, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and other applicable employment laws should be addressed.
By including these components in your employee handbook, you can ensure that new employees are well-informed and existing employees are kept up to date with any changes in policies and procedures. This will help foster a compliant, transparent, and efficient work environment.
1. Equal Employment Opportunity, Non-Discrimination, and Anti-Harassment Policies
Florida employers should strongly consider including Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace.
When drafting EEO policies, employers should consider including language such as:
- The company provides equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants;
- The company prohibits any form of unlawful discrimination or harassment based on any protected characteristic of an individual under federal, state, and local law;
- Examples of discriminatory and harassing conduct that will not be tolerated in the workplace;
- Employees should report unlawful discrimination and harassment, and employees who make any such report, or participate in any such investigation, will not be retaliated against in any way; and
- Employees found violating the company’s EEO policies may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.
Why is this important? First, it clarifies exactly what type of employer (and employee) conduct is unlawful and prohibited in the workplace.
Additionally, it encourages employees to report unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace free from fear of retaliation, such as unlawful termination, demotion, denial of promotion, and denial of benefits, among others. Finally, it warns employees that they will be subject to discipline if found violating the policies.
2. Reasonable Accommodations
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), certain employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees and applicants with disabilities (or perceived disabilities) to enable them to perform the essential functions of their job. Likewise, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), certain employers may be required to provide reasonable accommodations based on an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs. Covered employers who fail to provide reasonable accommodations risk potential litigation under the ADA and Title VII, as well as potential discrimination claims under the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”).
Therefore, it is often helpful for employers to include a reasonable accommodation policy in any employee handbook. Employers should also ensure that managers and Human Resources employees are properly trained in carrying out their duties under the policy.
We recommend that a reasonable accommodation policy address:
- For what reason may a reasonable request be granted (e.g., disability, religious belief, etc.);
- Procedures for requesting a reasonable accommodation (including the interactive process and provision of medical documentation if appropriate);
- Confidentiality of information related to a medical condition; and
- Policy against discrimination and retaliation for employees who request reasonable accommodation.
3. Internal Complaint Procedures
Internal complaint procedures are important for several reasons. First, they provide a clear process for employees to report inappropriate behavior, including, but not limited to, unlawful discrimination and harassment, and to whom the employees should report any such complaint.
Where an employee fails to use internal complaint procedures to notify an employer of offending or unlawful conduct, the employer may be able to assert defenses against certain claims. Additionally, internal complaint procedures set out a clear system that managers and Human Resources employees are expected to follow in addressing and investigating complaints and the confidentiality of any complaints.
Although internal complaint procedures may be included within an employer’s EEO, non-discrimination, and anti-harassment policies, employers should ensure that any complaint process is clear and that it applies to all complaints of inappropriate behavior, including behavior that may be inappropriate but not unlawful. As with EEO policies, employers should reiterate that no retaliation will be taken against any employee who makes a complaint or who participates in an investigation into a complaint.
4. Code of Conduct
Although employers may assume that employees will conduct themselves professionally in the workplace, this is not always the case. A thorough code of conduct policy sets clear expectations for employee behavior while on the job. Additionally, it puts the employee on notice that a failure to abide by the code of conduct may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
Employers should consider addressing the following topics, among others, in a code of conduct:
- Hours of work, attendance, and tardiness
- Job performance
- Dress code and grooming
- Use of employer equipment, including computers, desk, and cell phones, printers, etc.
- Internet and intranet use
- Communications and social media use
- Telecommuting and remote work
- Tobacco, drug, and alcohol use and abuse (including any drug testing policy)
- Confidentiality and privacy
- Workplace safety and violence
Employers should seek legal review of a code of conduct to ensure the code does not interfere with employee’s rights, such as an employee’s right to discuss the terms and conditions of employment under the National Labor Relations Act.
5. Disciplinary Procedures
Effective disciplinary procedures give employees fair warning of what may happen if an employee fails to meet the employer’s standards of behavior or performance. Clearly stating disciplinary procedures in an employee handbook (and consistently applying them) may also provide an employer defense against an employee claiming they were unfairly disciplined.
Employers should consider the following in drafting or reviewing their discipline policies:
- Progressive discipline policy (e.g., informal warning, verbal counseling, written warning, suspension, termination, etc.);
- Corrective actions and performance improvement plans; and
- Disclaimer that the employer retains the right to take appropriate disciplinary action for serious offenses up to and including immediate termination.
6. Payment and Timekeeping Policies
These policies set clear employee expectations regarding pay and recordkeeping for time worked. With more employees working remotely, employers should have a clear timekeeping policy. A timekeeping policy informs employees how they should record and track time worked and the importance of accurate timekeeping.
Additionally, timekeeping policies should address how employees should record meal and rest breaks, how they may correct timekeeping errors, and whether or not an employee needs explicit permission before working over 40 hours per week.
Additionally, employer payment and payroll policies inform employees how and when they will be paid, including correcting payroll errors and how final payment will be made when the employment relationship ends. Clear payroll and timekeeping policies (and good practices) may also help employers defend against employee claims related to unpaid wages.
This may also be a good place to clearly define employment classifications, such as part- and full-time employees and exempt or nonexempt employees.
7. Leave and Time Off Benefits
Employers understand that leave and time off/vacation benefits can be significant factors in keeping employees productive and happy. Additionally, while Florida does not require employers to provide paid time off (“PTO”), certain employers are legally required to provide unpaid leave under certain circumstances.
A thorough leave and PTO policy (that is consistently applied) may help defend against employee claims related to leave and time off.
Therefore, employers should consider the following in crafting leave and PTO policies:
- What types of leave are offered? (e.g., PTO, holidays, sick leave, parental leave, FMLA, ADA, military service, jury duty, domestic violence, etc.)
- Is the leave paid or unpaid?
- How is leave accrued?
- How much leave may be used?
- How should employees request leave?
- What happens if an employee does not use all available leave (e.g., “use it or lose it” v. carryover)?
- What happens to the leave if an employee is terminated?
Florida employers should seek legal counsel to ensure that leave policies comply with federal, state, and local laws.
8. Statement of Employee Acknowledgement of Receipt
Generally found at the end of an employee handbook, this is a short statement signed by the employee, acknowledging that they have received, reviewed, understood, and agreed to comply with the employer’s policies and procedures outlined in the handbook. Employers should retain a copy of the signed acknowledgment in the employee’s personnel file.
Creating an employee handbook or updating an existing one can be a tedious process for employers. However, having a thorough and clear employee handbook may protect the employer, inform employees what is expected of them, and lead to positive employee-employer relations.
As mentioned above, the above-discussed policies and procedures are by no means a complete list of policies that should be included in an employee handbook. Florida employers should work with a Florida employment lawyer in drafting, reviewing, and updating employee handbooks.
BT Law Group has extensive experience working with Florida employers to create, review, and update employee handbooks to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws.
Contact us today for a consultation.