If you don’t have HR services (or maybe even an HR department), you may not have updated your employee handbook in a while. In fact, you may be unsure why it’s ever important to update your staff handbook. A comprehensive staff handbook that’s updated on a yearly basis is an important tool for an employer, though– especially right now during the pandemic. The best employee handbook has true ROI. It helps protect the company from costly compliance violation fees and lawsuits, improves onboarding and training processes, assists management in navigating tricky employment decisions, and sets expectations and guides employees towards better performance. During the pandemic, your updated employee handbook can help your workplace as it moves forward in a completely remote or hybrid telework plan. Read the article for how to build an employee manual that serves your team and its business goals, even through the pandemic.
How employee handbooks protect from lawsuits and fees for compliance violations
It’s important to update employee handbooks about once a year because federal, state, and local laws change. Just in 2020, several states (including California and New York) modified their compliance requirements around sexual harassment, which affected numerous workplaces directly. In the Supreme court, protected classes were expanded to include gender identity and sexual orientation at the federal level. These are important items that a good staff handbook would include. If a business is based in multiple states, this means their employee handbook needs to be compliant with all applicable laws for these locations. Among the latest HR updates surrounding COVID, there’s another interesting layer to this problem: if employees will be permanently working primarily or completely remotely, their home states and cities now matter more than ever. In some cases, if staff originally commuted to a workplace in a different state, the company may now be subject to laws that pertain to their employees’ home states, cities, etc. Employers should seek advice from an HR consulting group like MP if they have questions about this topic.
Beyond external changes like new laws, companies change internally, too. If a company grows or shrinks, as many have during the pandemic, different laws and regulations apply to them. When a company expands over 50 employees, for example, they may eventually need to comply with certain laws, like the FMLA and the ACA.
An employee handbook should be updated frequently. Being proactive is key, especially when it comes to matters of compliance. If a company gets ahead of new legal requirements, it severely mitigates risks of costly fines, lawsuits, and just the general cost of a reputation as a bad employer. It’s also worth noting that if an employee handbook is full of outdated information and policies, it’s not likely to stand up in a legal battle—even if the subject matter in question has been updated. If the rest of the book is not accurate, lawyers will argue that none of it can be enforceable.
How an employee handbook improves onboarding and training
The best employee onboarding is done uniformly. There should be no questions, no differences in information or policies. A good employee manual is a tool that can help ensure that the onboarding process is optimized and standardized. It can also help ensure that expectations are set clearly for new hires or for employees that are promoted or moved to new roles. When a staff handbook clearly lays out expectations and can be referred to easily, workers have a better chance of performing to the level that managers expect and that the company requires to meet its larger business goals. A clear and updated employee handbook can support a great workplace culture where teamwork, high productivity, creativity, and proactive employees are rewarded. (Additionally, in a worst-case scenario, if workers don’t meet standards, having the employee manual can make giving feedback, disciplinary, or even firing process easier and smoother.) To help ensure the manual’s efficacy, employees should be required to read and sign it after receiving it on their first day with the company (and generally after every update).
Improving the onboarding process is especially important now, as many companies hire and onboard their employees in a remote environment. Having an excellent, updated, digital employee handbook that’s accessible anytime, anywhere, will make onboarding easier for new hires who may never step foot in the office. The rules that employees in the office will learn by watching others may, in addition to extra management, need to be read and referred to in the handbook by new hires who work entirely remotely.
Lastly, during this time, employers operating remotely should consider updating their staff handbook with a telework policy. Particularly if a company doesn’t have an existing telework policy, the pandemic may have changed a company’s operations dramatically. Suddenly, there are no standards for communication, collaboration, how work is shared or submitted, and how responsive staff needs to be. A telework policy can also address time and attendance procedures, which are very important when it comes to non-exempt staff. Since any employer is responsible for paying a non-exempt staffer for all time worked, a good telework policy will be deeply necessary. There must be agreement on how many hours employees will work, how they will clock in and out, and how they will request and get approval for overtime. Without an updated remote work policy, employers might be on the hook later for unpaid time (or, more expensive, unpaid overtime)!
Key tips for creating or updating an employee handbook
Whether a workplace already has an employee manual, or it simply hasn’t been updated for years, below is a checklist of important considerations. If the handbook is missing items on this list, an HR department may want to create and/or include them in their handbook. Some of these items listed below may have become more significant since COVID, especially a remote work policy. For high quality, professional help with this process, reach out to MP’s HR consulting team.
Checklist: Does your staff handbook include:
- Company policies
- Information about benefits, including who is eligible and where an employee can go for more information
- Terms of employment
- An ‘at-will’ employment clause
- An equal employment and anti-harassment clause
- Anti-retaliation statements
- Leave policies
- Health and safety policies
- Information about payroll, including frequency, deductions, and how to start or change direct deposits
- Final paycheck and unused PTO payout policies
- COBRA policy
- Disciplinary procedures
- Paid time off allotments and use policies
- Procedures for business travel
- Expectations for overtime, including who can receive it and how it gets approved and documented
- Nondiscrimination policies
- Rules surrounding conflicts of interest and working for competitors
- Protections for intellectual property
- A telecommuting policy
- Code of conduct
- Time and attendance expectations
- Dress code
- Code of ethics
- Safety procedures
- Rules for mobile devices and social media
- A policy for cannabis, alcohol, and other drug use
- Reasonable accommodation policies
How to share an employee handbook
Once an employer has created or updated their staff handbook, how they share it can be just as important. While many businesses used to physically print their handbook, the ideal way to share this document now is electronically. When distributed digitally, it is easy to update whenever there’s a new law or policy. It’s also simple for workers to refer back whenever they have a question, or for a manager to highlight for an employee if they’re having a performance issue. MP customers can upload their handbooks to iSolved, so all employees have access and are able to acknowledge electronically.
One of the best HR strategies is not just to share the employee handbook, but to have new hires sign (or DocuSign) once they have received and read it. This procedure ensures that all parties have comprehensive guidance, that managers are applying policies consistently with their direct reports, and that everyone is responsible for following all rules and policies. Additionally, this may come in handy should a manager need to give feedback (or perhaps some legal backup if, in a worst-case scenario, an employee complains or sues).
Now that your employee handbook is updated, do you need to update your employee policies for COVID?
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- COVID Vaccine Mandates: A Roadmap for Employers
- 6 Best Practices for Encouraging COVID Vaccination and Maintaining HR Compliance: Part 2
- Reducing Risk for COVID Lawsuits: The Essential Checklist
- COVID Vaccine Mandates: 6 Considerations When Employees Can’t or Won’t Get Vaccinated
- 6 Best Practices for Encouraging COVID Vaccination and Maintaining HR Legal Compliance: Part 1
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