WE REPRESENT AND ADVISE EMPLOYERS IN WORKPLACE DISPUTES
What is the purpose of an employment handbook?
What should be included in an employment handbook?
Are employment handbooks required by law?
Effective Employment Handbooks Prevent Employment Disputes
Developing employment handbooks has become a necessary task when running large and small companies in Los Angeles. The handbooks lay out the rights of the employee and the responsibilities of the employer. They further delineate the responsibilities of the employee and the rights reserved by the employer. The key in creating an effective handbook, is to keep it simple, direct, and to remember that under California law, any statement you make in your employee handbook can be used against you in a lawsuit. In other words, certain statements can imply entitlements that would be enforceable if the employee sued.
On the other hand, well-drafted employee handbooks can prevent most conflicts that arise from employee-employer disputes.
What is an Employee Handbook?
It is not a contract, but in California, it comes close. The employee handbook is legally binding, so employers want to be careful of their wording.
Essentially, an employee handbook gives the employer the chance to discuss their policies, culture, applicable California law, as well as the company’s expectations of their employees.
Why Bother Drafting an Employee Handbook?
Most companies think that they don’t need an employee handbook. However, once an employee/employer dispute arises, it often becomes clear that the dispute could have been avoided if only there were clearly defined policies in place provided to the employee who was well aware of the policy at the time they violated it. For that reason, having an effective employee handbook will prevent many disputes from arising in the first place. Other reasons for having an effective employee handbook in place include:
- Discussing federal, state, and even municipal anti-discrimination laws in your city
- Inform employees of their options concerning disputes with other employees or supervisors
- Ensures that employees are treated consistently without regard to race, gender, or other protected characteristics under federal and state civil rights legislation
- Avoid misunderstandings that result from employer and employee not being on the same page
- Acclimate new employees to your company’s culture, policies, and goals
- Establish legal protections from employee lawsuits that emerge as a result of implied covenants or contracts
What Size Companies Need an Employee Handbook?
While large companies generally have employee handbooks in place, many smaller companies had employee handbooks in place well before they became large. Small companies with five or more employees and midsize companies that are making the transition from double digits to triple digits need to be aware that employee handbooks are an effective means of getting everyone on the same page. Essentially, any company that is liable under California’s anti-discrimination rules should have a handbook in place. That includes any company with five or more employees.
Mandatory Employee Handbook Inclusions
California does not require employers to draft employee handbooks, but it does require employers to include information regarding California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) which restricts the types of decisions that employers can make. Without getting too technical, certain types of discrimination are considered illegal under California and federal law. Employers are required to either post this information in an accessible area or include the information in their employee handbook. If an employer has an employee handbook, the handbook is a great place to meet California’s FEHA requirements.
Employers must include information on compliance with FEHA policies as regards the prevention of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, and retaliation. Businesses that fail to outline these policies in writing are more susceptible to litigation, which can damage their reputation and cost them a lot of money.
The Structure of Your Average Employee Handbook
Employee handbooks need to be short, easy to change with circumstances, and direct. The structure of an average employee handbook looks something like this:
- Welcome – You should begin the handbook by welcoming the new employee and introducing the purpose of the handbook and the type of information to be found therein.
- Orientation – For companies that provide orientation for their employees, an overview of the orientation process.
- Employer-provided technology policies – Policies regarding company-issued laptops, cellphones, email, accounts access and more should be contained in this chapter. This should include considerations on social media. Employees should be reminded that their conduct can be held against them even when they are off the job. Making rude comments or persistently hitting on another employee is grounds for termination.
- Confidentiality policy – The company’s policy concerning intellectual property, trade secrets, and non-compete clauses should be contained here.
- Hours of operation – The employees should have the company’s business hours made known to them.
- Break policy – Company should outline break policy with regards to length of shift.
- Overtime policy – Company should outline overtime policy with regards to salaried employees, professional employees, or others. Beware here. A company may not enforce the illegal policy of rolling overtime into the next check or otherwise illegally avoiding California’s rules on overtime pay.
- Compensation – Procedures related to payroll, paid vacation time, sick leave, and holidays should be found in this section
- Rules of conduct – This is where you want to place your FEHA guidelines. Further, company policies with regards to filing complaints should be outlined here. The employee should be made aware of how to file a complaint against an employee or supervisor and remedies in place to ensure your company is following the law
- Termination – California, despite robust labor statutes, is an at-will state. The employee handbook should reify at-will employment as opposed to implying that an employee may only be terminated for cause. Such a statement in an employee handbook would be enforceable and trap an employer into a situation they’d prefer to exit.
Should I Write My Own Employee Handbook?
You should have a skilled Los Angeles employment attorney draft your employee handbook. While not having any employee handbook at all is dangerous, having a poorly written employee handbook is perhaps more dangerous. The purpose of the employee handbook is to get employees, supervisors, and executives all on the same page. An effectively drafted handbook written by an employment attorney can prevent damaging lawsuits that hurt your bottom line and your company’s reputation.