LCT’s legal expert offers advice on employment law
Q: Our organization employs between five and seven employees. With so few, why should I ever need an employee handbook?
A: An employee handbook is valuable in setting forth an organization’s non-discrimination policies and is required in many states.
Outlining non-discrimination policies is a good idea even for small companies since any employer can be sued for various types of discrimination.
Q: What is wrong with an employee handbook being a contract of employment?
A: Employees may claim that they are not “at-will” employees and that they can only be terminated pursuant to the policies in that handbook. In other words, they may claim there must be just cause to terminate them.
Moreover, the organization’s hands will be tied when wanting to change policies or benefits outlined in the handbook.
Q: How do I avoid the employee handbook becoming a contract of employment?
A: The best and simplest way is to have each employee sign an acknowledgment that he or she has received the handbook. That acknowledgement should include language stating that the handbook is not a contract of employment and reaffirming the “at-will” employment relationship.
Additionally, having everyone sign an employment application with “at-will” language when they are first seeking work will further solidify the “at-will” employment relationship.
Q: I have both exempt and non-exempt employees. Should I have separate handbooks for each category?
A: No. A properly drafted employee handbook can cover both exempt and non-exempt employees. Yet, having separate handbooks for each category of employees is fine.
Q: My organization does not provide such benefits as medical or pension plans. Do we really need an employee handbook?
A: Yes. Even though you may not provide those types of benefits, it is likely that you have policies concerning holidays, sick leave and other leaves of absences. These are all proper topics for a handbook.
Additionally, equal employment opportunity, work schedules, breaks, meal periods, work week and work day requirements, overtime pay, work safety rules and employee conduct in the workplace are all valid topics.
Other policies, such as those covering sexual harassment and prohibiting retaliation for complaining or assisting another in filing a complaint about unlawful workplace practices are required by law.
Q: Is there a complete list of the types of things that can or should be in an employee handbook?
A: No. It is important to tailor your handbook to the size of your workforce and the job classifications of your employees.
It is worthwhile to include policies on such subjects as orientation periods, performance evaluations, “open-door” policies, employment classifications, personnel records, punctuality and attendance, bulletin boards, jury duty, conflicts of interest, dress codes, trade secrets and confidentiality requirements, drugs/alcohol policies and bonus programs.
Also, employees should separately acknowledge and sign that they have received policy statements on such topics as sexual harassment, confidentiality and trade secrets, and arbitration outside the parameters of the handbook. Still, it is permissible to include these topics within the employee handbook.