An employee handbook goes a long way to putting employers and employees on the same page. A handbook can be a compilation of the employer’s policies, conditions of work, as well as its core principles.
A good handbook protects both employers and employees by laying out their respective legal rights and responsibilities.* It can also make employees feel like they are part of the team that executes the company’s mission. This can lead to better productivity, not only because employees feel like they are part of a good, legitimate company, but also because clearly stated policies eliminate confusion and allow employees to focus on their jobs. Employees should be able to refer to these handbooks when they have questions related to work conditions as well as if they experience acts wrongdoing.
Typical provisions of an employee handbook include:
A mission statement: The company’s core values, goals and purpose. This statement should make employees visualize how they fit into this vision so that they will want to contribute to its execution. This should also make employees feel like they are part of a strong team that knows where it is going.
A statement regarding at-will employment: A statement that employment is at-will, that the employee handbook does not constitute a contract, and modifications to at-will employment must be made in writing signed by employer and employee.
A statement that the employee handbook and its policies can be revised or modified at any time. It is a good idea to include revised dates on each policy page.
Information That Must Be Distributed That Can Be Included In Handbooks
Anti-Harassment: Information similar to that contained on the Department of Fair Employment and Housing's (DFEH) pamphlet or the DFEH pamphlet itself must be distributed to employees. There are also posting requirements. This policy should be provided at hire or in an Employee Handbook at hire. It should provide basic examples of what constitutes harassment, which can be elaborated on during trainings. The policy should provide a solid reporting procedure, including a statement as to whom an employee should report harassment if the supervisor is the harasser, and the prompt investigation and reasonable steps to prevent harassment that the employer will take in response to a complaint of harassment.
Pregnancy Leave Rights Under California Law (Fair Employment and Housing Act) Information: If a company has 5 or more employees, it should include a statement regarding employees’ pregnancy leave rights.
California Family Rights Act: Information regarding this Act for employers with 50 or more employees should be distributed.
Mandatory Sick Leave: Employers must provide at least 24 hours of paid sick leave in each 12 months of employment to employees who work in California for 30 days or more. Employees need to be informed of the method of requesting such leave and reasonable advance notice. Employees should be advised of the uses of such leave, and whether it is paid upon separation. Remember that there are posting and notification requirements.
Other Typical Employee Handbook Provisions
Family Medical Leave: a good handbook sets forth the criteria, time that can be taken (up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12 month period to eligible employees who need time off because of a “serious health condition” that they or someone in their family is experiencing), as well as request, documentation and notice requirements.
Equal Opportunity Employer statement: This is a good area to address an employer’s anti-discrimination policy. This also shows the employer values diversity and equality. This provision should reiterate that discrimination on the basis of a protected status is prohibited, explain what the protected statuses are, and provide a solid complaint/reporting procedure. The signing of the Fair Pay Act in California that will strengthen the state's equal pay laws makes this even more important and can inform employers about the specific showings it must make for any pay differentials for substantially similar work.
Anti-Bullying Statement: To accompany an anti-harassment policy, and similar to the requirements of harassment training for employers of 50 or more employees, an employer can include a statement regarding its policy against "abusive conduct" in the workplace.
Reasonable Accommodation Request: This relates to disabled employees who may need accommodations of work schedule or duties due to a disability. Provisions lay out what documentation or information is needed, what criteria is used prior to granting a request for reasonable accommodation, what action is required (good faith interactive process) or not required of the employer, and under what circumstances an employer can deny a reasonable accommodation request.
Performance Reviews: Some handbooks clearly lay out when reviews are given, what ratings are provided, and what employees may be entitled to if certain ratings are achieved.
Discipline: Some employers have a policy for progressive discipline. If employers decide to include this policy in a handbook, they should explain the policy clearly and apply it equally among all employees. Enforcement of all policies equally across the board helps negate perceptions of discrimination or unintended discrimination. It also bolsters a company’s image as one that cares about its employees, its compliance with employer laws and fairness.
Work days, work weeks, pay days and overtime: Handbooks usually include specifics of what constitutes a work day (i.e. 8 am to 5 pm, 7 am to 4 pm, etc.) and workweek (i.e. Monday to Friday, Saturday to Thursday, etc.). Pay periods, pay days, methods of payment (commission, piece rate, hourly, etc.) and location of payment are usually set forth in well-written and clear handbooks as well. If there are different types of employees, such as exempt and non-exempt, this is a good place to explain the differences. A policy for overtime (generally over 8 hours in one day and 40 hours in one week, etc.) should be clearly laid out as well. For example, is overtime expected on a regular basis? Does the employer prefer that overtime be approved prior to being worked? Of course, employers cannot escape paying worked overtime simply by having a policy through which it can claim it did not authorize work.
Meal Breaks: Employees should be informed about meal break policies and rights. For example, to the extent possible, do they need to be staggered to account for customers or patients? Generally, meal breaks must commence before the 5th hour of work in an 8-hour work day. Employees must be able to leave the premises and be relieved of all duty unless the nature of work prevents this. A 30 minute minimum meal period is required if a shift is over 5 hours. Policies such as whether employees need to punch out and back in can be set forth here as well. Keeping records regarding meal periods is important. If there is a waiver of a meal period for a work period of not more than 6 hours, it must signed by both the employer and employee, and the worked time must be paid.
Rest Breaks: Employees should be informed about their rights as to rest breaks as well. Generally, they are entitled to two 10-minute breaks for each 4-hour work period. The breaks are typically taken In the middle of the period as much as possible. As with meal periods, employees must be relieved of duty.
Vacation and Time Off: A provision for vacation and time off in an employee handbook should inform employees about how this time is accrued, who is eligible, the method of requesting and approval, and any notice requirement.
Other Types of Leave: Right to Vote, Bereavement and Jury Duty policies can be laid out here.
Benefits: 401K profit sharing, and other types of benefits can be explained to employees. An example of such a benefit is reimbursements for use of personal devices to work offsite.
Code of Conduct: Clearly stated expectations of employees on the job would be useful for both the employees and employers. Statements regarding interactions with clients and interactions with co-workers could be set forth here. Prohibited alcohol or drug use on the job is also a typical provision.
Confidential and Proprietary Information: Such a provision could provide examples of what constitutes each. Typically, customer information is deemed confidential, such as social security numbers. Proprietary Information belongs to the company and could jeopardize competition with competitors if revealed. Usually, there is a prohibition against removal of either.
Email and Social Media: More and more, employers are instituting a policy that communications regarding work or made on work technology are subject to employer review. This is usually accomplished by a statement that the technology on the worksite belongs to the employer. Employers are also adopting policies of complete prohibition of personal use of email and social media while on duty.
Employee Acknowledgment: Employees should sign and date an acknowledgment of the Handbook and its policies. This should be included in the employee’s personnel file. A new acknowledgement should be completed whenever there is a revised policy. Revised or new policies should be created as new laws emerge.
*Another critical protection for a business is EPLI, or employment practices liability insurance. Knowledgeable insurance brokers can provide you with options for policy(ies) based on your business.