Handbooks: What You Need to Know
As an employer, one of the best ways to avoid employment issues is
to offer an employee handbook. California employers are not required
by law to offer an employee handbook, but it is highly recommended.
Offering an employee handbook provides a centralized location for company
policies, requirements, and expectations. In addition, an employee handbook
can actually prevent potential misunderstandings between employee and
employer, making it an employer’s best defense when dealing with employment
In addition to providing employer protection, other benefits arise from
maintaining an employee handbook. For example, offering a handbook tends
to minimize training periods that a new employee goes through upon hire.
Also, employees who have clear guidelines and written policies to follow
will often remain with their employer for a longer period of time. In
short, these benefits ultimately save an employer time, money, or resources.
Within the last decade, California has seen an increase in employment
lawsuits. Cases based on wrongful termination, discrimination, or sexual
harassment can result in a large financial burden for an employer. As
a result, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that California employers
can better protect themselves by offering a clear and concise employee
handbook that outlines employee rights and requirements.
Many new employers wonder what an employee handbook should contain. At
minimum, California businesses should address the following items within
an employee handbook: an explanation of “at-will” employment, the company
harassment policy, email, voicemail and Internet policies, as well as
leave under the Family Medial Leave Act (FMLA). For employers who require
a more detailed employee handbook, additional sections within may include:
- Introduction: Include items such as a welcoming
statement, company history, and the handbook’s purpose.
- At-Will Policy: Define “at-will" employment and
how it applies to California employees.
- Hiring: Provide an Equal Opportunity statement,
information on the recruitment process, orientation, training periods,
as well as employee referral programs as applicable.
- Employment Classification: Include definitions
for part-time, full-time, temporary, exempt, or non-exempt employment.
- Hours: Specify hour requirements, meal or rest
break mandates, overtime, and double-time opportunities for workers.
- Payroll: Specify pay schedules, advances, deductions,
and expense reimbursements as applicable.
- Employee Benefits: Explain benefits such as health
and life insurance, disability insurance, worker’s compensation, and
401(k) retirement savings plan options as applicable.
- Time Off: Explain policies for vacation, holidays,
paid time off (PTO), bereavement, jury duty, and time-off to vote.
- Leave: Explain company policies for sick leave,
maternity leave, leave for child school activities, military leave,
and leave as specified under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- Performance: Specify expectations regarding job
performance, and periodic performance reviews as applicable.
- Employee Conduct: Discuss insubordination, as well
as attendance, attire, and personal hygiene expectations.
- Company Property: Explain policy regarding company
property, including usage of equipment, computers, automobiles, telephones,
and property return at the time of termination.
- Workplace Safety: Specify what employees should
do in case of an accident or emergency, company policies on safety
and security, and company smoking policy.
- Employee Privacy: Outline privacy policies in the
workplace including telephone monitoring, cameras etc.
- Computers, Voicemail, Email, and Internet: Explain
company policies for computer, voicemail, email and Internet usage.
- Employee Records: Specify policies outlining personnel
or medical record maintenance, and confidentiality of records.
- Drugs and Alcohol: Provide policies against drug
and alcohol use, drug testing, or rehabilitation leave.
- Confidentiality: Discuss company policies on trade
secret confidentiality, and conflicts of interest.
- Discrimination and Harassment: Explain company
policies on anti-discrimination, and harassment.
- Communication Policy: Discuss company complaint
and “open-door” policies.
- Ending Employment: Specify company policies on
items such as resignation, termination, exit interviews, references,
final pay, severance (as applicable), unemployment benefits, or health
coverage extension opportunity under COBRA.
When issuing an employee handbook, it is critical to gain employee
acknowledgement and agreement for the contents within. Have acknowledgement
forms ready for a new employee to sign including: acknowledgement of
“at-will” employment and acceptance of the employee handbook, and acknowledgement
on the company’s email, voice-mail, and Internet policies. Many potential
conflicts are easily avoided when employment terms are acknowledged
and agreed upon at the time of hire.
Since there are no real negatives associated with offering an employee
handbook, it’s a no-brainer for most employers. Employee handbooks save
time and money, and also offer employers a shield of protection. As
a result, most employers recognize that the nominal investment required
for a well-written employee handbook, one drafted by a licensed employment
attorney, often pays off in dividends.
Remember to keep in mind that the laws and policies that govern California
businesses change over time. As an employer, it is a good idea to review
your employee handbook at-minimum annually, to ensure congruence with
current California legislation.
The article within should not be construed as legal
counsel. The laws that govern an employer’s duties and responsibilities
arising under an employee handbook are complex, and an attorney licensed
in employment law should be consulted in order to review individual