Avoiding Legal Trouble with an Employee Handbook

A comprehensive employee handbook is an integral part of protecting business owners from legal trouble. However, In order for a handbook to be effective, you must ensure it contains several key components. Here, the business law attorneys at The Law Offices of James A. List detail some of the key components an employee handbook should contain.

Provide an Avenue for Reporting Concerns

An employer will increase their risk of liability if they do not provide a reasonable avenue for employees to report concerns. This may include an email or telephone number for the human resources department, or a way of speaking to management directly within smaller companies. Should a concern arise for an employee, the danger to the company will be mitigated by providing an accommodating way for the employee to report the issue.

Do Not Firmly Limit Leave Time

Creating harsh rules that limit leave time may run afoul of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The FMLA, for example, allows for up to 12 weeks of leave for serious illnesses or conditions, and the ADA’s “reasonable accommodation” policy may be met by providing adequate leave time. Be cognizant of the language you use when creating a leave policy—definitively barring leave beyond a set number of days or weeks may incur legal consequences.

Create a Disciplinary Policy That Allows for Flexibility

Ensure that your disciplinary policy does not leave you vulnerable to a claim of unfair treatment by inserting a clause that specifies which offenses are egregious enough for immediate termination. An employee may be able to make a legally valid claim of unfair treatment if their first offense results in their termination—regardless of how egregious the offense was—if your handbook only mentions a “three strikes” policy, for example, and makes no mention of offenses that qualify for immediate termination.

Include State-Specific Provisions

Federal laws—especially those regarding employment discrimination—may be more vague, general or un-inclusive than state or local laws. As such, it is important to stay aware of and include state-specific provisions within your employee handbook.

Establish a Drug Testing Policy

Employers should establish a drug testing policy that coincides with the limits provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). State variants of OSHA can be more burdensome, requiring retests and limiting discipline in situations where the employee has voluntarily undergone substance abuse treatment, among other variations to policy. Penalties for failing to comply with OSHA standards can be severe, so it is critical to clearly spell out a conforming drug policy.

Include Handbook Disclaimers

As a general practice rule, an effective and legally-protective employee handbook should contain disclaimers stating that any language within the handbook does not establish a contract, and does not alter the at-will relationship between employer and employee in any way.

Consult a Business Law Attorney to Ensure Your Employee Handbook Leaves You Protected

Business law can be convoluted and complicated, and as such it is critical to have a qualified business law attorney on your side. This will ensure your employee handbook, contracts and other business documents are all legally accurate and protective, keeping your business and interests safeguarded. The attorneys at The Law Offices of James A. List are ready and available to answer any business law questions, or assist with any business-related concerns. For more information, contact us today.

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