Friday, 08 January 2016 16:34

What's in a Handbook . . .?

Written by Kelly A. Schoening Holden

Kelly A Schoening Holden

Hopefully, the correct content! Small employers are often concerned about having the words in a handbook used against them and think it is better not to have one. If a handbook is properly drafted and reviewed by legal counsel, it can be vital for an employer’s defense of many claims. It is far worse not to have one. In fact, the law requires you to have certain policies in writing.

Having a harassment policy in writing that is distributed to employees is a defense otherwise lost in a harassment claim. Likewise, if the employer is subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act, the law requires a written policy that is disseminated to employees.

Social media and computers are valuable tools for companies but they can also be very problematic. Employee computer use should be monitored but it is best to advise employees that no privacy exists in their use of the computers to avoid any invasion of privacy type claims. It is also helpful to set forth in writing a discipline policy, attendance and tardiness policy as well as many other policies.

Handbooks are a necessity in defending claims including with unemployment, local civil rights commissions, EEOC and federal and state lawsuits. Without a handbook, you cannot prove that you had a written policy that was violated by the employee. Lack of a handbook leaves you defenseless in many cases and can create significant liability.

It is important to remember, that handbooks should be written for the benefit of the employer, not the employee. Certain disclaimers such as at-will language is necessary so that a handbook is not used as a weapon by an employee. A poorly drafted handbook can cause problems so it is best to do it correctly and reap the benefits of the language.

Finally, handbooks should be tailored to the size of the employer and should not be overly complicated. Proper drafting and legal review is the key.

Kelly Schoening Holden is a Partner at Dressman, Benzinger & LaVelle. She can be reached at kschoening@dbllaw.com.

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