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What makes a good employee handbook?

1 Dec

Employee Training is Affordable Way to Improve ROEIIf written correctly, the employee handbook can be a terrific resource for the employer and the employee. There are several elements that should be included within that relate to the company’s history/mission, values, policies, procedures, and benefits. Make no mistake about it, the handbook is often viewed as a means of protecting the company against discrimination and unfair employment practice claims but will also provide an outline of the general expectation that the employer has for its employees. Don’t confuse the employee handbook with a policy and procedure book. The two are different. A policy is a written statement that reflects the employer’s standards and objectives relating to the various employee activities and employment related issues. You can see clearly there is a difference. It is advisable for you to include legal counsel input as you craft an employee handbook. The handbook should be generic enough for the employees to know what is expected of them but provide enough guidance leading them to where they can go for the actual written policies of the company (which may exist in other department specific documents and/or standard operating procedure guides). Including legal counsel will ensure your policies conform to updated federal and state guidelines.

Employers should ensure the handbook is distributed to every employee within the organization (regardless of specific levels or job titles) and secure a written acknowledgement of their employees who have received the handbook, thus ensuring that all employees have read and understood the contents. Once the employer receives the acknowledgment, it should be secured in each employee’s personnel file. This is a very important step. A checklist should be developed to ensure that every employee’s acknowledgment (complete with signature) has been received. Written returned employee handbook acknowledgments should be readily available for you but completely secured with limited access. Keep in mind that state laws vary on electronic record retention schedules. Again, partnering in with your legal counsel will ensure your company remains compliant.

Handbooks should never be construed as an employment agreement; which could affect the employer’s “at-will status” with the employee. Handbooks should always be reviewed by legal counsel before distribution to the employees. Consult professional legal guidance for clarity in defining the differences between state and federal laws.

What if an employee handbook already exists at a company?

If your job now includes responsibility for employee handbooks, all the employer’s policies and procedures should be reviewed again to ensure they contain all of the provisions that the employer wants contained within as well as ensuring all applicable state and/or federal provisions have been included.  No assumptions should be made. Begin the process from scratch and cross-reference with the handbook that already exists. If the policies in the current handbook don’t make sense to you, they more than likely won’t make sense to an employee once reissued (or may be misunderstood by current employees). Rewrite the policy and provide your draft to legal counsel for review. If a policy doesn’t exist, write one. Partner with the appropriate department leads to which any policy affects. Have them review it first and then partner with your legal counsel. Prepare as much of the draft as you can as this will save a lot of cost. Here’s an example. If it’s a policy that supports the payment of paid time off and the payroll eepartment within the organization will be the department that supports and ultimately administers the policy on a daily basis, have that department head review it to ensure it clearly conveys the intent of the policy and that it can actually be administered by that department in the manner in which it is written and intended to be administered. Again, the emphasis will be to ensure that your legal counsel has had the opportunity to review this prior to any policy issuance to the employees. This will also help ensure compliance.

What else should be in there?

Most employee handbooks include a message such as from the company owner, CEO, president, or other higher entity within the organization. It’s usually a welcome message that contains something about the company’s mission, purpose, or intent. It’s a great way to establish positive associate relations.

Of course, other important statements should be included such as, EEO, employment at-will, FMLA, COBRA, EEOC, anti-discrimination laws, ADA, and FLSA. Many other important considerations and legal mandates could apply in certain states. Again, it would be advantageous for you to have legal counsel review prior to issuance to the employees. Use all of the sources available to you; inclusive of any professional human resource organizations. If you’re not a member of any professional organization, join one that that is reputable and that you are comfortable with. Ask other professionals within your field. They will be able to help you select an organization that you can contact for introductory information. Professional human resource organizations will be able to assist you with tasks that are common to professionals within your industry. They may also be able to provide samples, templates, toolkits or checklists of items that you may have forgotten or for topics and/or items you weren’t even aware of because you are new to the field or performing this task.

Considerations for distribution to employees

Posting to your company intranet is a great way to communicate the handbook, however you need to be sure that there has been a mechanism created that can legally obtain the employee’s signed written acknowledgement. You’ll also need to consider how you will distribute the handbook to new employees.  Create a checklist to cross-reference the written acknowledgments you receive. You should receive an acknowledgement from every person of your organization, regardless of level or position within the company. Employee acknowledgements should be housed in a secure location, with access kept to a minimum.

Updating the handbook in between cycles

So, you’ve just finished updating your employee handbook and distributed it to the employees and you have now been made aware of a new major policy. Simple: create an addendum. Once you have had legal counsel review it, post the update to your intranet, recirculate the policy to the employees and be sure to include the addendum in your next major handbook update. Check with your legal counsel to inquire if you need to obtain any written acknowledgments from the employees. Be sure to clearly reference any previous policy that has been updated. Clearly convey that the new policy replaces any other versions that may have been previously circulated. Make sure the addendum contains a date or current revision schematic (if you use one). It should be extremely clear which policy governs and be easily cross-referenced with the new policy. Sometimes it’s helpful to provide a small paragraph that outlines exact changes to the policies. These help outline the differences between the policies.

Summary

Partner in with department heads who are responsible for administering a particular policy. Ensure you take their feedback into consideration and have them approve any and all final drafts of policies.

Review all drafts for clarity, consistency, and typos.

Use current revision schematics or calendar dates where necessary.

Ensure that a draft of the final employee handbook is provided to the executive that you directly report to so he or she has the opportunity to ask questions or provide feedback.

Obtain legal review; this is extremely important.

Obtain signed written employee handbook acknowledgements from every person and level within the organization.

File all signed written acknowledgements in a secure location; limiting access to only those who will absolutely need it.

Consult professional human Resource organizations for guidance in preparation or for best practices.

Visit www.sagehrms.com for solutions that can help you manage the total employment life cycle.

 

 

Need a big reason to get a time and attendance system in place? Read on . . .

13 Oct

The Mistakes of Dealing With MistakesOn 10/8/14, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case that involved time that may or may not be compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed a decision in which the Ninth Circuit court ruled that employers, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Portal-to-Portal Act, must compensate employees for the time spent in security screenings at the end of their shifts.

I won’t get into all of the details of the case, but this case proves that it is evident. Compliance with the FLSA continues to remain a top challenge for HR/payroll professionals. In a recent article, the Society for Human Resources (SHRM) reported that inquiries related to the FLSA exceed those of all other federal employment statues other than the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Until some of the rules of these acts are rewritten to make them clearer and easier to understand for everyone who has a stake in the process, it would be in any employer’s best interest to institute an automated time and attendance solution to properly capture and report time.

A time and attendance system allows you to collect, analyze, and take immediate control of your employees’ attendance and labor data. They are invaluable for ensuring compliance with labor regulations regarding proof of attendance. Plus, there are auditing functions contained within them to guarantee accuracy and compliance for payroll information.

While the outcome of this case is still pending, securing a great time and attendance system, instituting best practices, and keeping an eye on pending legislation should be at the top of every HR and payroll professional’s list.

Check out www.sagehrms.com today to gain control over time and labor data.

 

Top do’s and don’ts of video interviewing

30 May

Overcoming Workplace NegativityFor HR professionals to nail virtual interviewing, they need to be just as careful as job seekers.

Many HR professionals can’t do without their human resource information systems these days, preferring their software solutions to more traditional ways of keeping track of the recruiting process and employee data. One of the biggest types of technologies that is making an impact on HR is video interviewing. While not everyone is on board with the technology-Kevin Ryan, founder and CEO of Gilt Groupe, told Inc. magazine he doesn’t think CEOs should waste their time with the software-video conferencing with candidates can actually make it easier for HR professionals to get in touch with a wider range of candidates.

Prevalence of virtual meetings
There are dozens of web conferencing companies and programs on the market today. PC World even made a list of some of the best video interviewing platforms in 2013. The software has become so popular that, according to an infographic by web meeting tech firm PGi, six in ten hiring managers now turn to video interviewing to conduct face-to-face meetings with job candidates during the hiring process.

With web meeting platforms being cost-effective and easy to use for both hiring managers and job seekers, video interviewing has taken off among human resources professionals in recent years. In fact, the PGi infographic noted 74 percent of recruiters and 60 percent of hiring managers feel video interviews make it easier for them to do their jobs, and 90 percent of recruiters and 88 percent of hiring managers believe it speeds up the recruitment process.

HR professionals and hiring managers can get a better picture of who the candidate is during video conferencing because they can see the person’s body language. In a blog, VidCruiter, a video recruiting software company, advised job seekers to wear the same professional attire to a virtual conference as they would for an in-person interview, and also to ensure all of their surroundings are free of clutter and remain mindful about their facial expressions.

For HR professionals to nail virtual interviewing, they need to be just as careful as job seekers. While challenges can happen no matter how ready you are, HR professionals still should prepare as much for a video interview as for an in-person or phone meeting.

Here are some do’s and don’ts recruiters need to follow when conducting video interviews:

Do: Check first to see if the candidate has access to web conferencing technology
Don’t: Assume all candidates have webcams or video communication
Even though many people use the Internet and various types of web-enabled devices, not everyone may have a webcam on their computer or have access to video conferencing technology. If you wish to conduct web meetings with candidates, speak to them beforehand to ensure they have an Internet connection and have technology compatible with your video conferencing software. Also, ensure there are no issues with your company’s Internet connection and your web meeting software to avoid confusion and issues arising during the interview, according to Accountemps.

Do: Use a private space
Don’t: Conduct the interview in public company areas

Just as how job seekers need to be aware of their surroundings, so too should recruiters. Don’t conduct a video interview in an open part of the office or in a public space. Reduce the level of distractions in the area by holding the interview in a private conference room or walled-in workspace. This way, you and your interviewee aren’t disturbed, and the job seeker feels respected.

Do: Ask questions that showcase the person’s actual experience
Don’t: Quiz about information that can be easily faked with a google search
Be careful of the types of questions you ask candidates during video interviews. According to a Q&A on online recruiter resource ERE.net, the site recommended HR professionals and hiring managers not to change their questions too much, but to be careful about questions that have answers that can be searched online. Textbook questions can be easily aced during a video interview, so ask open-ended questions about the person’s professional experience or problem-solving ability to prevent candidates from looking up notes online.

Do: Ensure the camera is centered and quality is good
Don’t: Adjust the webcam or screen during the interview
Nothing may be more distracting or irritating than having to stop a video meeting or postponing one because the other person didn’t check his or her equipment beforehand. It can be a red flag to recruiters for job seekers to disturb their webcam because it isn’t positioned properly, and it can throw the interviewee off if the HR professional or hiring manager does the same. Technical issues can happen, but if you adjusted your equipment and something still seems off when you start speaking to the interviewee, try not to let it distract you. ERE.net suggested not focusing on the quality of the video, camera framing, or lighting, but on the person you are talking to.

Video conferencing may continue to take off, and recruiters need to ensure they follow some best practices to ensure they are using the technology correctly.

Strategies on how to have tough conversations with your employees

15 Apr

InterviewWhen it comes to strategic human resource management, at some point, every manager or HR professional has to sit down a worker to have a hard conversation. Many leaders hold off speaking with employees about difficult issues because they are unsure of how to handle these types of situations. Should they apologize to show empathy? Is it acceptable to just email the worker? Whether it is a termination or a performance review, HR professionals and company management must walk a fine line. Supervisors who know how to handle tough conversations and employ effective employee management are able to ensure positive outcomes to difficult meetings.

Here are four strategies for having tough conversations with employees:

Hold Conversations in Private to Keep Confidentiality
Every time managers need to have a meeting with workers about sensitive topics, they need to do so in private. This keeps the situation between the supervisor and the employee. Co-workers shouldn’t know if an employee is not doing well unless the manager feels it is in the person’s best interest to let others know, and even then there may be legal consequences for not maintaining confidentiality. Having conversations where other people can listen into the meeting can cause the employee to feel as if he or she is not being respected. Being compassionate and empathetic can go a long way to the worker understanding the points his or her boss or HR professional is making during their meeting.

Stay Brief and to the Point
Managers don’t want to beat around the bush when they enter a difficult meeting. According to a review of an HR management book in Forbes, being truthful right from the get-go can prevent any miscommunication and let the worker know exactly what the issue is. The article suggests leaders follow a simple, three-step process: facts, feelings and identity. Stating the facts right from the beginning gets everyone on the same page.

However, managers need to be careful how they plunge ahead with the conversation. Being overly critical can cause only further issues. According to Forbes, HR consultants advise supervisors should always try to achieve “clean, clear, lucid truth.”

According to an article in Inc. magazine, compassion is a key trait of effective leaders. Professionals who show they are empathetic to their workers’ needs and feelings are more likely to receive loyalty from those employees and enhanced productivity. In an article for Harvard Business Review, leadership consultant Peter Bregman wrote managers need to approach difficult situations from the employees’ point of view.

For example, the Forbes article explained how one manager would use the phrase “I’m not loving that” to get right to the point of an issue without being too harsh.

Seek Guidance of Legal Counsel Where Necessary
Leaders shouldn’t hesitate to receive advice from legal counsel when appropriate. Some types of difficult conversations, like terminating an employee, can have legal consequences if supervisors don’t handle the situation correctly. Speaking to lawyers or legal experts can prevent professionals from inadvertently sticking their feet in their mouths.

Keep HR in the Loop
Perhaps most importantly, managers should take advantage of HR professionals’ knowledge and experience with speaking to workers. HR should role play the conversation so the appropriate adjustments to leaders’ delivery can be made. According to Forbes, everything from body language to tone of voice is important during sensitive meetings. HR professionals can ensure managers understand what they can and cannot say, as well as how to correctly get to the point without sacrificing empathy.

Managers shouldn’t hesitate to speak to workers about issues that need to be addressed, but they need to do so carefully and make sure they are not creating further problems.

Challenges facing HR and Payroll Managers in 2014

24 Mar

Woman Working Using Flex HoursHuman Resources is an ever-changing industry, and HR professionals know they need to remaining constantly alert for new regulations and issues to arise. This year has already shaped up to be a challenging one for many HR departments across the U.S. From keeping key workers at the company to implementing effective payroll management, HR professionals and payroll managers are facing numerous challenges during 2014.

Here are the top three issues HR departments are coming up against this year:

Compliance with the ACA and Its Results
Much has been said about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within the past few years-especially within the last couple months. This is because the ACA is not only going to impact how companies provide healthcare to employees, but there will be legal compliance standards that will occur as a result. These include employee litigation and audits from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the ADP Research Institute, the ACA presents one of the most complex HR compliance challenges of all time. The lack of preparations on the part of employers has escalated the impact the ACA is having on the business community as a whole. For example, ADP wrote one-fifth to one-third of companies did not even have a clue how much of an effect the ACA’s health insurance exchanges would have on their businesses this past January. In addition, more ACA regulations are coming, and employers are just as unprepared for potential penalties and the Excise Tax Assessment as they have been for other aspects of the healthcare reform law. Even though the healthcare landscape continues to shift and evolve, HR and payroll professionals need to get on steady ground when it comes to understanding their compliance requirements and mitigating their own legal risks.

Retaining Top Talent
The recession remains in many people’s minds, but employees are beginning to feel more confident about their employment options. As the labor market shows signs of improvement, many employees who have waited on the sidelines for better career opportunities may decide to jump ship before the year is out. While this is a good sign for the job market, HR professionals are looking to lose some of their best performers this year if they don’t implement new employee engagement ideas.

According to a late 2013 poll by Right Management, 83 percent of 871 surveyed U.S. and Canadian employees said they will look for a new job this year. In 2009, only 6 in 10 employees said they intended to “actively seek a new position” in the coming year, but that number jumped to 84 percent the following year and has stayed about the same ever since. More top workers used to network to feel out their employment opportunities, but now the majority are becoming active job seekers instead. Twenty-one percent of employees said they were networking to keep their options open in 2009, but that number remained at 8 or 9 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Being able to provide competitive compensation is going to be an essential employee engagement strategy for not only 2014 but into the long term, as Right Management’s numbers suggests retaining top talent is going to be a struggle for a while. Human resource planning will be a go-to solution for many in the industry because of this, and more HR professionals will need to seek out additional employee engagement techniques if they want to acquire and keep key performers.

According to Human Resource Executive (HRE) Online, employee engagement may be its own challenge throughout 2014. Offering employees growth opportunities through effective talent management, tracking worker satisfaction, and maintaining collaboration in the workplace are all going to be important strategies to keep employees engaged this year, HRE Online suggested. According to Forbes, it is going to take recognizing where dissatisfaction comes from for HR professionals to entice workers to remain at the company.

Complying with the OFCCP Mandate
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ (OFCCP) mandate pertaining to the hiring and employment of individuals with disabilities will be another key challenge this year, specifically Section 503. According to Business and Legal Resource, hiring managers must now reference Section 503 rules that require contractors to invite job seekers to voluntarily self-identify as disabled at the preoffer and postoffer phases of the hiring process.

BLR states “OFCCP’s final regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503), require that employers invite job applicants and employees to self-identify as being an individual with a disability. On Jan. 22, 2014, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the final Voluntary Self-Identification of Disability form for use by covered federal contractors, beginning with contractors’ new plan year following the effective date of the final Section 503 regulation on March 24, 2014.”

The OFCCP does have training materials available on its website to help recruiters and HR professionals comply with the mandate.

 

E-Cigarette and Medicinal Cannabis Use by Employees: Gray Area Matters

20 Jan

Every year brings new challenges for employers, yet few are probably prepared for never-before-seen issues, such as e-cigarettes and medicinal cannabis use at the workplace. Not surprisingly, employers in states that abide by the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988, such as Colorado and Washington, may be especially hesitant when it comes to understanding the law’s full legal implications. It’s understandable that many HR policies in states where these laws are active may be a bit hazy, as the legal rhetoric outlining the rules are less than clear.

Guidance on E-Cigarettes at Work
Twenty-nine states have laws that strictly prohibit ”inhaling, exhaling, burning, or carrying any lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, or other lighted smoking device for burning tobacco or any other plant” in the workplace. However, electronic cigarettes don’t actually burn anything, but rather contains a heating feature which releases nicotine vapor, according to Ohio lawyer Jon Hyman’s blog on Workforce’s website. This distinction will surely challenge workplace anti-smoking rules, as e-cigareets technically fall outside the lines of what a traditional cigarette consists of and how it is smoked. E-cigarettes are currently allowed in public places that restrict traditional smoking.

In the past, anti-smoking laws in the workplace were implemented to help reduce employees’ exposure to second-hand smoke and lower health-related risks of nicotine addiction among employees who smoke, wrote HR Hero. However, most employers still allowed workers to take intermittent breaks throughout the day to smoke in designated areas. Yet today,’s proponents of e-cigarettes in the workplace say allowing indoor use on the job boosts productivity because the need for outdoor breaks is eliminated. These advocates also say there is no evidence that proves people’s exposure to electronic smoking increases their health risks”, Hyman explained.

To cope with the changing landscape of workplace smoking laws, employers and HR departments must make sure to specifically prohibit e-cigarettes while on the job, as current laws technically allow their use.

Smoke on the Water Cooler: Clarity Needed on Medicinal Cannabis Users
Although employers must be sure to pay attention to their smoking policies in the workplace, there is even more work to be done to negotiate proper guidance on employees who legally use medicinal cannabis outside of work or after hours. Not only are the stratification of laws across America unequal in their level of legality (as in decriminalization, medicinal use, recreational use and total prohibition), the laws regarding their application for employees and employers alike are muddled.

“It’s throwing employers for a loop because many have policies in place where testing positive for THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol (the active ingredient in pot) requires the employee to be terminated or to participate in some sort of treatment program even if it’s not necessary,” Alison Holcomb, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told CNBC when asked how employers with anti-drug policies should enforce rules against legal users of medicinal cannabis.

The only clear guidance issued so far comes to HR departments of businesses that receive federal grants and contracts as these businesses must adhere to the Drug-Free Workplace law, which would require the termination of employees who test positive for THC regardless of any medical uses. Similarly, the Department of Transportation also prohibits any use of illegal substances by its drivers.

Some states, such as Montana, New Jersey, Michigan, Hawaii, Colorado, Vermont and New Mexico all have specific employee protection clauses built into their legislation which only allow termination for on-the-job use or impairment.

Yet, not all states have issued statues that explicitly state what is allowable or legal for workers or HR departments, so it’s vital employers advise legal counsel before implementing any specific policies or enforcing workplace drug rules. Employers must also bear in mind that medicinal cannabis users have been approved by a doctor, usually for compassionate use due to terminal diseases or serious illnesses, and should compare medicinal use to workers taking a Vicodin for pain management once off work premises and after hours.

Now is the time for HR Departments to consult with their legal counsel, review and update the employee handbooks and stay in front of the changes in the legislation.

Stop Talking and Listen For a Change

13 Jan

Positive and Constructive CriticismWhat do you look for in a good candidate?  That’s the magic question.  There is an easy answer.  It’s the candidate who is the best qualified candidate to do the job, right?  Well, yes in that respect but, there are other factors to consider.  Aside from the legal-type considerations, and believe me there are plenty, there is something called behavioral interviewing that you should really consider.

So, what is behavioral interviewing?  Long story short, it’s getting the candidate to talk about their previous (work related) experiences and describe past projects, success stories, failures, reflections and how they may have handled their failures differently with a more favorable outcome.  What does all this mean to the interviewer?  It means you need to SHUSHHHHHHH…listen to the candidate talk.  One of the most interesting things that occur during interviews is that the interviewers talk more than the candidates do.

Stop for a minute and think back to every job you’ve ever interviewed for.  How many times has that happened to you?  My guess is that it’s happened a lot of time throughout your career.  Why does this phenomenon occur?  Well, the easy answer is that most people don’t like long gaps of silence. It falls outside of their conversational comfort zone.  They like to “fill up” the dead air space.  Additionally, listening is not the same as hearing.  You can hear a lot of things but, are you really listening?  Have you really honed the skill of being able to filter out all external stimuli thus being able to focus on only one thing solely?  Most people would probably not admit to being able to do that though.  Let’s face it, we are told continuously by our teachers, peers, mentors and supervisors that being able to multi-task adds great value to our job and works well for meeting overall objectives.  In the interview though, not only could your multi-tasking be mis-interpreted by the candidate as being rude (for example looking at your email, sending a quick text or answering a call), you are also missing out on actually listening to the candidate talk about their experiences.

Bottom line, ask your question.  Hopefully, its open ended and behavioral based.  Then, listen to the candidate’s response.  Process their response, and then ask another probing question to their response.  Do this until you are satisfied that you have a good feel for the fit in matching the candidate’s professional experiences to your company’s mission and where you want that candidate to add the most value for you.

After all, you want to feel extremely comfortable that you know this person will grow to be your star top performer!

How Far Do You Reach in Your Outreach Programs?

6 Jan

Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s all cannon-150x150about the journey, not the destination”?  Sure you have.

If you’ve never heard the term “outreach program”, it’s all about seeking to hire qualified women, minorities and veterans into your open positions.  Mostly, government contractors and others doing business with the Federal Government are required to create Affirmative Action Plans as part of their ongoing recruitment efforts.  As part of those plans, there are some components that deal with outreach.  As part of their compliance efforts, that’s how some companies try to fill positions with qualified candidates from specific sectors within the labor market.  So, how does that saying fit into a company’s outreach program?  It’s all about setting out to do what you say you are going to do with respect to informing segmented groups about your company and “reaching out” to them with your job opportunities.  It’s as simple as that.  If you create and follow a comprehensive plan or program that branches out to these specific sectors and you aren’t successful (through no fault of your own) on attaining your goals it may go a long way in assisting you during an audit by demonstrating to the auditor that you put forth your best effort in trying or at the very least, demonstrate how far you were willing to “reach out” to the various groups in your program.  But, how far do you reach?  That’s what’s up for debate currently in the legislation.

If you earnestly go about creating a solid outreach plan, attend diversity job fairs, volunteer to speak at various diversity group meetings and/or training sessions, partner with your local department of labor office and take the time to meet the reps at your local veteran’s office, you should be on track to a great plan.

For more information on how you can track your progress in support of your goals, check out www.sagehrms.com and see how the Sage HRMS system can generate the reports you need to get the job done!

Elements of a Good Employee Handbook

4 Nov

HR Technology Can Help Maximize Your Return on Employee InvestmentThe employee handbook can be a terrific resource for the employer and the employee. There are several elements that should be contained within that relate to the company’s history/mission, values, policies, procedures and benefits. The handbook is often viewed as a means of protecting the company against discrimination and unfair employment practice claims and will provide an outline of the general expectation that the employer has for its employees.

The handbook is not a policy and procedure book. A policy is a written statement that reflects the employer’s standards and objectives relating to the various employee activities and employment related issues. There is clearly a difference. Using legal counsel will help you craft an employee handbook that is generic enough for the employees to know what is expected of them but, provide enough guidance leading them to where they can go for the actual written policies of the company (which may exist in other department specific documents and/or Standard Operating Procedure guides).

Employers should ensure the handbook is distributed to every employee within the organization (regardless of specific levels or job titles). You should always secure a written acknowledgement of the employees receiving the handbook, thus ensuring that they have read and understood the contents contained within. Once the employer receives the acknowledgment, it should be secured in each employee’s personnel file. This is a very important step. A checklist should be developed and cross-referenced to ensure that every employee’s acknowledgment (complete with signature) is received. Written returned employee handbook acknowledgments should be readily available for you but, completely secured in a location with limited access.

Handbooks should never be construed as an employment agreement; which could affect the employer’s at-will status with the employee. Handbooks should always be reviewed by legal counsel before distribution to the employees. Consult professional legal guidance for clarity in defining the differences between state and federal laws.

What if an Employee Handbook Already Exists at a Company?

If your job now includes responsibility for employee handbooks, all the employer’s policies and procedures should be re-reviewed to ensure they contain all of the provisions that the employer wants contained within as well as ensuring all applicable state and/or federal provisions have been included (or updated to comply with applicable laws). No assumptions should be made. Begin your review from scratch and cross-reference the handbook that already exists. If the policies in the current handbook don’t make sense to you, they more than likely won’t make sense to an employee once re-issued (or may be misunderstood by your current employees). Re-write the policy and provide your draft to legal counsel for review. If a policy doesn’t exist, write one; partner up with the department head to which any policy affects, have them review it first, and then partner in your legal counsel. Prepare as much of the draft as you can as this will save cost. Example: If it’s a policy that supports the payment of Paid Time Off and the Payroll Department within the organization will be the department that supports and ultimately administers the policy on a daily basis, have that department head review it to ensure it clearly conveys the intent of the policy and that it can be administered by that department in the manner in which it is written and intended to be administered. Again, the emphasis will be to ensure that your legal counsel has had the opportunity to review prior to any policy issuance to the employees.

What Else Should Be in There?

Most employee handbooks include a message from the owner of the business and/or CEO/President etc. It’s usually a welcome message and contains something about the company’s mission, purpose or intent. It’s also a great way to set and establish positive associate relations.
Of course, other important statements should be in there as well which may include, EEO, Employment At-will, FMLA, COBRA, EEOC, Anti-discrimination laws, ADA, FLSA etc. There are many other important considerations and legal mandates that could apply in certain states so it would be advantageous for you to have legal counsel review the entire handbook draft prior to issuance. Use all of the sources available to you; inclusive of any professional Human Resources organizations. If you’re not a member of any professional organization, join one that you are comfortable with. Ask other professionals within your field, they will be able to help you select an organization that you can contact for introductory information. Professional Human Resource organizations will be able to assist you with tasks that are common to professionals within your field or industry. They may also be able to provide samples, templates, toolkits or checklists of items that you may have forgotten or recommend topics and/or items you weren’t even aware of because you are new to the field or performing this particular task.

Considerations for Distribution to Employees

Posting to your company intranet is a great way to communicate the handbook however, you need to be sure that there has been a mechanism created to obtain the employee signed written acknowledgement. You’ll also need to consider how you will distribute the handbook to new employees. Create a checklist to cross reference the written acknowledgments you receive. You should receive an acknowledgement from every person (within all levels) of your organization. These should be easily accessible if you need them at a future point in time but, secured with very limited access.

Updating the Handbook in Between Cycles

So, you’ve just finished updating your employee handbook, distributed it to the employees and you have now been made aware of a new major policy—simple, create an addendum. Once you have had legal counsel review it, post the update to your intranet, re-circulate the policy to the employees and be sure to include the addendum in your next major handbook update. Check with your legal counsel to inquire if you need to obtain any written acknowledgments from the employees. Be sure to clearly reference any previous policy that is being updated; clearly conveying that the new policy replaces any other versions that may be in circulation. Make sure the addendum contains a date or current revision schematic (if you use one). It should be extremely clear which policy governs and be easily cross-referenced with the new policy.

Summary

-Partner in with department heads that are responsible for administering a particular policy. Ensure you take their feedback into consideration and have them approve any and all final drafts of policies.
-Review any and all drafts for clarity, consistency and typos.
-Use current revision schematics or calendar dates where necessary.
-Ensure a draft of the final employee handbook is provided to the Executive that you report to so they have the opportunity to ask questions or provide their feedback.
-Obtain signed written employee handbook acknowledgements from every person and level within the organization.
-File all signed written acknowledgements in a secure area; limiting access to only those who will absolutely need it.
-Consult Professional Human Resource Organizations for guidance in preparation or for best practices.
-Always obtain legal review; this is extremely important.

Top 5 Tips to Avoid an Employment Lawsuit

19 Aug

No one wants to be involved in a lawsuit—they can be timely and expensive and can negatively impact an organization’s reputation. Despite employers’ making efforts to avoid litigation, employment lawsuits are on the rise. According to Human Resource Executive Online, federal wage-and-hour lawsuits jumped to a record high between April 2012 and April 2013. During this 12-month period, 7,764 Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits were filed, with no clear explanation for the spike.

With such large increases in employment lawsuits, it is important for employers to take precautions to protect a company against litigation. Keep reading to find five tips on how to avoid an employment lawsuit:

1. Mind the FLSA
In order to avoid employment lawsuits, it’s important to keep an eye on any changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, misclassifying employees as exempt or nonexempt from overtime payments, as well as violations for off-the-clock work, are common mistakes that put employers at risk.

Placing an employee in the wrong category can result in missed overtime hours, incorrect salary payments, and other FLSA violations. The fallout from these violations can greatly cost a company.

2. Hire and Let Go With Care
Firing someone is one of the easiest ways to bring about a lawsuit. Experts agree that if a company wants to fire an employee, it must be done with care. If an incident has taken place, rather than firing someone on the spot, managers should send the individual home first or place him or her on administrative leave until an investigation has been carried out. Companies should also be sure to document the decision every step of the way to reduce the chance of legal action.

3. Be Smart With Severance Policies
Severance packages can be thought of as insurance against lawsuits. In exchange for the extension of a severance payment, employees should consent to signing a release waiving any claims against the organization. Employers may not be excited to offer severance to a departing employee, but being generous with these packages can encourage employees to walk away with payment rather than raising a lawsuit against a company.

Some companies are wary of severance packages and worry that doling out severance implies some level of guilt or wrongdoing on their part. On the contrary, courts understand that severance packages are part of a responsible employee management scheme that can help a company steer clear of wrongful litigation.

4. Train and Monitor Staff 
Many workers have trouble recognizing what qualifies as inappropriate workplace behavior, which is why it’s crucial to draft airtight company policies regarding harassment and discrimination. In addition to creating solid policy, training is also essential in order to avoid harassment lawsuits. Many states require harassment training—if a company does not comply with these laws and a harassment suit is lodged against the organization, the outcome can be costly.

Even in states where antiharassment training is not required, companies would still be wise to educate staff on harassment policies. This will reduce the likelihood of a suit, which will save a company money and its reputation. Training sessions should focus on all forms of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, age discrimination, disability, and racial harassment.

Company management should be careful with staff, even after training. Supervisors should be present at the workplace and look for any warning signs of inappropriate behavior. If a manager witnesses harassment or other workplace transgressions, he or she should correct it immediately by addressing the situation directly with the employees.

5. Open the Lines of Communication
If a company wants to get ahead of a legal problem before it begins, supervisors should invite employees to be open and honest with them about company concerns. Workers should feel comfortable going to a supervisor when they have questions about their wages or encounter harassment or discrimination at the office.

When employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns, managers will be informed of problems before they get out of control and result in litigation.

Litigation is no joke, but employers don’t have to be in constant fear of a lawsuit either. By following these tips, a company can stay out of trouble and create a work environment where staff feels safe and comfortable.

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