Most companies have employee handbooks, but are they necessary? There are definite advantages to having a handbook, such as promoting equal and consistent treatment of all employees.
Once rules and procedures are written down, it makes training new employees a breeze. It can also help you maintain a safe, legally compliant business. Below are some suggestions for what to include in your handbook.
Important Issues to Cover
In California every business is required to provide employees with certain written policies, such as a sexual harassment policy, safety policy, and paid family leave policy, as well as the required information that must be provided with respect to the Earned Income Tax Credit Information Act, state disability insurance, workers compensation benefits, and unemployment compensation.
In addition, there are some important policies you'll want to include even though they aren't legally required -- starting with an at-will policy.
The "At-Will" Policy
Even though California law presumes that all employment is at will, there are exceptions. The employee handbook should address the "implied contract" exception. Under an implied contract theory, if an employee has been with the company for a long time, has performed well, and is promised a future at the company, the employee could claim, upon termination, that the employer breached an implied contract that the employee would be terminated only for "cause." It basically becomes a “he said/she said” situation. However, if the employee has signed an acknowledgment of the employee handbook, which clearly states that employment is at will, the acknowledgment supersedes any argument to the contrary. In the handbooks that we draft, the company's status as an at-will employer is referenced in a number of places, in addition to the at-will policy itself.
The employee handbook should include a detailed section explaining the legal definition of harassment, the remedies for the victim, and the consequences for the perpetrator. California employers are required to provide this information in writing.
It is crucial to discuss whether the company considers voice mails, emails and other electronic communications that uses company property/equipment) to be private. By law, employees are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy. If you want to reserve the right to read or monitor employee communications, you should put employees on notice in the employee handbook. You should also consider asking employees to sign a separate acknowledgment of these policies and your right to monitor. These precautions will ensure that employees don't expect these communications to be private.
Many employers have become lax in including the required policy statements regarding workplace safety. For example, all California employers must have a separate Injury and Illness Prevention Program manual.
Leaves of Absence
As you know, numerous laws give employees the right to take medical and other leaves of absences -- and the way these laws interact can be confusing. Having leave policies written in plain English is helpful for everyone. Moreover, California law requires employers to provide information on the relatively new Paid Family Leave Act, and information about pregnancy leave rights.
By having a complete but straightforward employee handbook, an employer can promote fairness and consistency in the workplace and minimize the risk of arbitrary conduct that could easily lead to lawsuits.