Is Your Company’s Employee Handbook Up to Date?

Anne W. Chapman - Blalock Walters Attorney

Anne W. Chapman Esq., Labor & Employment Law

Employee handbooks should be periodically reviewed to ensure accuracy and legal compliance.

Employee Handbooks can be a useful tool to assist employers in explaining policies and procedures to employees. However, in order to provide the maximum benefit to an employer, handbooks should be periodically reviewed to ensure accuracy and legal compliance.

Failing to follow written policies is often cited by employees as evidence in litigation. (e.g. the employer’s failure to follow a progressive discipline policy is evidence that the employer’s stated reason for the termination of employment is not truthful). Furthermore, having out-of-date policies can cause morale problems for the employer with employees being upset that written policies are not being followed. Below is a list of some of the considerations for assessing and updating your Employee Handbook.

Vacation/Sick/PTO Policy: Employers in Florida are not required to provide Vacation, Sick or PTO. However, if your Company has a Vacation, Sick and/or PTO Policy, it should be included in the Handbook. The Handbook should clearly identify when an employee is eligible for benefits, when the employee accrues benefits, the amount of benefits that the employee accrues, and what happens to employee’s vacation, sick and/or PTO benefits upon certain events (e.g. end of year, termination of employment.)

Non-Discrimination/Anti-Harassment Policy: The Handbook should include a statement that the Company prohibits discrimination and harassment based on any legally protected characteristic. State and Federal law protects employees of covered employers from discrimination and harassment based on several characteristics, including but not limited to, race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age and genetic condition. Some jurisdictions (e.g.  City of Sarasota, City of Tampa) have local ordinances that offer greater protections.

Complaint Procedure/Open Door Policy: The Handbook should include a complaint procedure related to complaints of discrimination and harassment. However, many employers also include a separate “Open Door” policy that invites employees to address any issues, complaints or concerns in accordance with a set procedure. This policy is a good way for employers to learn about and address issues in the workplace before they develop into bigger problems.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): In addition to the non-discrimination and anti-harassment, it is a good practice of employers to advise employees that it accommodates requests for reasonable accommodations by employees with disabilities, as required by the ADA.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Employers with 50 or more employees are covered by the federal leave statute, the FMLA. One requirement of the FMLA is that any covered employer has a comprehensive FMLA policy. Accordingly, this is a legally required policy for employers and legal liability can result if the Employee Handbook does not contain this policy.

Reference Policy:  A policy that identifies who can provide references and the type of reference that will be provided (e.g. neutral – limited to dates of employment and position held) is helpful to many employers.

Progressive Discipline:   A policy identifying the process for addressing performance issues can be beneficial to both employees and managers or supervisors.

The above list is simply a highlight of some of the most common issues for Employee Handbooks and far from comprehensive. Employers can, and often do, have policies on numerous other issues impacting the workplace.

If you have any questions or concerns about developing employment policies or ensuring legal compliance, feel free to contact labor and employment attorney Anne Chapman at 941.748.0100 or achapman@blalockwalters.com.