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Employee Handbook Updates: 5 Sections You Should Consider Adding

by Tim AustinFebruary 14, 2018 8:00 AM

Every year brings new opportunities. Unfortunately, time can usher in big changes that can leave businesses scrambling. Over time, new legislation can leave your company open to legal problems if you don’t take appropriate action. Fortunately, there is one key tool you can use to protect your business – a good employee handbook. 

There’s more to a handbook than just basic information for new hires. This document acts as an important compliance document for your business that shares you and your employees’ rights and obligations. Unfortunately, it can be easy to let your handbook become outdated – and an outdated handbook is a serious problem for any business. As time goes on, it’s important to make sure that your handbook evolves as new laws go into effect. Here are five parts of your handbook that you should update (or create if you don’t have one already)..

Image of a small business owner making handbook updates in 2018.

Sexual Harassment

Every handbook should cover sexual harassment, but you should look at ways that you can further enhance your anti-harassment policy to double down on how sexual harassment is unacceptable in the workplace. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offered up recommendations for updating your handbook’s anti-harassment policy. They suggest that your handbook includes definitions and examples of the two types of sexual harassment

  • Quid pro quo, in which someone demands sexual favors in exchange for certain benefits or to avoid negative outcomes
  • Hostile work environment, in which harassment is so severe and prevalent that it creates an environment that negatively impacts an employee

Not only should you include information on what is and isn’t acceptable, but you’ll also want to have a policy in place to let employees know multiple methods for reporting incidents. There may also be specific compliance requirements depending on your state, so make sure to evaluate your local sexual harassment training requirements to ensure that your policies are up to date with the latest regulations.

Social Media

According to SHRM, federal organizations like the Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) started making changes to limit workers’ rights when it comes to social media policies. According to SHRM, one big factor for this trend was that the NLRB “overruled a prior decision that placed limits on employer handbook policies that could be "reasonably construed" by workers to limit their right to engage in protected concerted activity.” 

While this trend is favorable for employers, it’s still very important to have a section on social media to make it clear where you stand for your employees (and for any instances where you need to act on your policy. This includes details on the following:

  • Confidentiality and privacy of company information
  • Your employees’ identities online
  • Limitations on online publications
  • Creating and managing content

Parental Leave

If your business doesn’t have a policy on parental leave, you may want to change that. Businesses with at least 50 employees are already affected by FMLA, which allows eligible employees to take parental leave. Even if you don’t hit the 50-employee threshold, more states have parental leave laws, such as New York, California, and New Jersey.

The other important factor to consider is that even if your business isn’t in a state that requires paid parental leave, it can be a very attractive benefit for both your current and potential employees. According to the Harvard Business Review, 42 percent of employees would consider choosing a job that offered paid parental leave over one with a higher salary or hourly rate. Of course, these policies need to be clearly laid out in your handbook. Make sure your policy is specific about your plan’s details, including:

  • Who is eligible for parental leave
  • How long the leave can or will last
  • How compensation works
  • When requests for leave must be made
  • Timelines for when leave can be taken
  • How termination affects parental leave

Medical Marijuana

For years, medical marijuana has been subject to ongoing legal discussions and reviews, which may mean that additional handbook updates are a part of your future. Legal shifts can put business leaders in a bind if they don’t have clear drug policies in their handbook about how to handle testing and medicinal use. This is also complicated by the fact that marijuana laws can differ greatly between states. It’s important to pay attention to any changes to your local marijuana laws so that you can adapt your company policy if necessary. In terms of your handbook, consider adding info on the following:

  • Instituting a drug-free workplace policy
  • Outline a drug testing policy pending local laws
  • Discipline standards

Update Your Employee Handbook to Prepare Your Business for the Future

If you think keeping your employee handbook up to date is a lot of work, you’re right. Creating and maintaining a comprehensive document of policies requires collaboration between business leadership and both legal and HR experts. As the owner of a small business, those responsibilities may fall to you if you don’t have help.

Want to talk to an expert about your handbook and other risk management strategies to help protect your business and save you time. Contact GMS today to learn more.

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