by Michael Hadeed
Many employers underestimate the value of an employee handbook. A well-drafted employee handbook provides written documentation of a company’s policies and procedures. For a reasonable cost, the benefits provided by an employee handbook as a cost-saving device is immense, by terminating problem employees quickly and effectively, as an example to other employees to follow the rules, and by saving money in time and legal defense of frivolous employee claims.
The value that a well-drafted employee handbook contributes is significant. First, an employee handbook helps hold employees accountable for their conduct. The handbook sets forth the employers expectations and the consequences for employees that fail to comply. Second, a well-drafted handbook consistently applied and enforced sets the stage for defending an employer from potential liability. One example is where an employee is terminated for cause, yet seeks to make a claim for payment of wage benefits through the Virginia Employment Commission. Defending unemployment cases when an employee has been terminated for misconduct requires specific employer proofs. The evidence necessary includes a showing that the employee violated a company policy, the employee knew of the policy, and knew that violating the policy could result in discipline up to and including termination. In many cases, the employer must also demonstrate that the employee received prior verbal or written warnings based on policy violations
Another example is where an employer’s anti-discrimination policy requires an employee to file any complaint of discrimination or harassment internally. Filing an internal complaint gives the employer the opportunity to investigate, address, and eliminate any discrimination and/or harassment that may be confirmed. If an employee fails to follow the employer’s policy, the employer may use the employee’s failure to do so as an affirmative defense in a subsequent discrimination and/or harassment lawsuit.
There are several important areas to cover in writing a handbook, and a well-drafted employee handbook must be tailored to the needs and procedures of the company for whom it is drafted in order to truly reflect how the company operates. An employee handbook should also include certain provisions, such as a contractual disclaimer, an employment at-will statement for those employees not subject to just cause termination, and an anti-discrimination/harassment policy. The handbook should be distributed to all employees. An employer must ensure that every employee has received a copy of the employee handbook. In addition, every employee must sign and return a written acknowledgement of receipt to document that an employee has received a copy of the policies, or is aware that the company’s policies exist. The acknowledgement should also confirm that the employee understands their obligation to comply with the company’s policies and procedures and the consequences for failing to do so.
The following is a sample listing of content categories, not intended to be all inclusive or company specific, of areas typically covered in an employee handbook:
1. Employment Status & Records: Employment at will, equal employment opportunity, immigration law compliance, employment categories, access to personnel files, reference checks, employment applications, and performance evaluations.
2. Timekeeping/Payroll: Timekeeping, paydays, direct deposit, pay advance policy, pay corrections and deductions.
3. Work Conditions and Hours: Work schedules, rest and meal periods, overtime, use of phone and mail systems, smoking, safety, company equipment and supplies, computer and email usage, workplace monitoring and violence prevention.
4. Employee Conduct and Disciplinary Action: Work rules, drug and alcohol use and testing, sexual harassment, attendance and punctuality, personal appearance, confidentiality, disciplinary action, termination and resignation.
5. Employee Benefit Programs: Vacations, holidays, worker’s compensation insurance, jury/witness duty, health insurance, retirement plan, and COBRA.
Your company needs an employee handbook. Employees like and need to know what is expected of them. Employees want to know they are being treated the same way as other employees. Having the same rules for all employees makes running the business easier. Written policies and procedures also demonstrates fairness to employees, which improves morale. Finally, written policies and procedures can help the company prevent and win lawsuits.
(Disclaimer: the foregoing is not intended as legal advice but for informational purposes only.) (By: Michael Hadeed Jr., Esq., Hadeed Law Group, P.C.)