The start of a new year is an excellent time to pull your employee handbook off the shelf and make sure the policies are up to date legally, and that they accurately reflect your practices in the workplace.
Potential problems include:
- Policies that violate state or federal law (like a rule against bringing firearms on company property that runs afoul of Florida’s 2008 Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act, a smoking policy that violates the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, or a rule that violates the Fair Labor Standards Act by declaring that employees don’t receive overtime pay unless the extra work hours were approved in advance);
- Policies that are rarely enforced (lack of uniformity in enforcement can lead to claims that you discriminated or retaliated against a particular employee by selectively enforcing a rule);
- Policies that are outdated (does your handbook include a dress code that looks like it was written in 1980?);
- Policies that are ambiguous (leading to misunderstandings, morale issues, and disgruntled former employees who are more likely to file a legal action against the company); and
- Policies that are simply missing (often-overlooked policies include legal rights of reservists and employees returning from active duty in the military, job protection during jury duty, and mandatory reporting procedures to be followed if an employee witnesses the sexual harassment of another employee or observes an illegal practice).
Make sure all employees have signed an acknowledgment that they have read, understand, and agree to follow the rules in your employee handbook. And make sure any third parties dealing with employee issues have been given instructions that are consistent with the policies in your handbook (for example, if you use an outside payroll company, make sure they know if any portion of PTO should be carried over from last year, or if all balances are cleared effective January 1).
Don’t wait until a problem arises. Take time now to review your employee handbook. It’s your best defense against misunderstandings and claims of unfair treatment that often lead to costly litigation.