Employee handbooks are critical tools for employers and workers. They define policies, inform parties about their rights and provide guidance to help resolve disputes. Considering how effective handbooks can be in preventing legal conflicts, employers should be sure theirs contain certain elements.
What they should include
Whether you are an employer creating your handbook or an employee reviewing yours after a recent hire or conflict, you should be able to find these elements in a standard handbook:
- Anti-discrimination policies
- Sexual harassment policies
- Guidance on types of leave (e.g., Family Medical Leave Act)
- Pay and promotion policies
- Rules for workplace conduct
- Acceptable use policies for technology
- General information on the business
- Disciplinary policies
- Guidance for responding to and resolving workplace conflicts
Further, employee handbooks should reflect current federal and New York laws. Thus, reviewing and updating them on an annual basis is crucial. For example, this year, handbooks should include updated information on:
- COVID-19 vaccination requirements
- Remote work guidelines
- New wage and hour rules
- Use of electronic monitoring practices
A handbook that includes all this information can be a valuable tool in employment relationships.
What to leave out
There is a lot of information to put in a handbook, but there is no need to overdo it. The handbook may not be the place to include:
- Promises you cannot or do not need to fulfill
- Vague language
- Statements that something is permanent
- Illegal clauses
Including these components in an official handbook could create avoidable confusion and conflicts, so it is generally wise to exclude them.
Using a handbook during times of conflict
Should a situation arise involving a dispute between employees and employers, a handbook can be the first place to look for guidance.
A comprehensive handbook can tell parties where to file reports, how to respond to specific situations and the rights and obligations parties must observe. Should further guidance or clarification be necessary, parties can consult an attorney.
However, in many cases, a properly developed handbook is sufficient in helping parties avoid disputes and resolve conflicts as smoothly as possible.