The key to avoiding legal issues with employee handbooks is by starting with a conversation with a business attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer will help to ensure that your company is compliant with applicable laws and regulations. This includes laws governing discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other workplace issues. By including clear and concise policies on these topics in your handbook, you can help to avoid lawsuits and other legal problems.
Provide an Avenue for Reporting Concerns
Employers who don’t provide a reasonable way for employees to report concerns are more likely to be sued. This could include an email address or phone number for the HR department, or a way to speak to management directly in smaller companies. If an employee has a concern, providing a convenient way for them to report it reduces the risk to the company.
Do Not Firmly Limit Leave Time
Creating harsh leave rules may violate the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious illnesses or conditions. The ADA’s “reasonable accommodation” policy may also require employers to provide adequate leave time to employees with disabilities.
When creating a leave policy, it is important to use language that is consistent with these laws. It is also a good idea to consult with an attorney to ensure that your policy meets all legal requirements.
Create a Disciplinary Policy That Allows for Flexibility
To avoid claims of unfair treatment, include a clause in your disciplinary policy that specifies which offenses warrant immediate termination. If your handbook only mentions a “three strikes” policy and makes no mention of offenses that qualify for immediate termination, an employee may be able to legally claim unfair treatment if they are fired for their first offense, regardless of how severe it was.
Include State-Specific Provisions
Federal employment discrimination laws may be less specific and inclusive than state or local laws. Therefore, it is important to stay up-to-date on state-specific provisions and include them in your employee handbook.
Consider a Drug Testing Policy
Employers should develop a drug testing policy that aligns with industry and insurance policy requirements, as well as federal and state laws. Some states have specific requirements for drug testing, such as retesting and limiting discipline for employees who have voluntarily sought substance abuse treatment. Employers who fail to comply with federal and state standards can face severe penalties, so it is important to clearly define a drug policy that meets all legal requirements.
Include Handbook Disclaimers & Require Employee Signatures
Employee handbooks should contain disclaimers stating that the handbook does not create a contract of employment or change the at-will employment relationship. All employees should sign an acknowledgment that they received and read the handbook.
Consult a Business Law Attorney to Ensure You are Protected
Business law can be complex, so it is important to have a qualified business law attorney on your side. This will ensure that your employee handbook, contracts, and other business documents are legally accurate and protect your business and interests.