Adopting & Revising Employee Handbooks


Many employers have chosen to compile their human resources policies into an Employee Handbook which is provided to all employees at the start of employment. Employee Handbooks, if properly drafted, followed, and updated, provide significant benefits to employers. While some employers choose not to utilize Employee Handbooks, other employers adopt Employee Handbooks that provide them little to no protection or actually create greater risk for the employer. More important than having an Employee Handbook is having one that is accurate and provides the most protection. We encourage all employers to consider utilizing an Employee Handbook.

The first step in creating and maintaining and Employee Handbook is understanding the purpose of the document. While some employers simply compile policies, other employers wish to use the Employee Handbook as a tool to convey the culture of the employer, or to shape the relationships and attitudes between employees. The well-drafted Employee Handbook can serve each of these objectives. Making a conscientious and deliberate decision about the purpose of your Employee Handbook is an important step to ensure effectiveness.

Second, an employer needs to decide what topics to cover in the Employee Handbook. Most Employee Handbooks should include several essential topics which represent the areas of greatest exposure for liability. These key areas include: at-will employment, equal opportunity, anti-harassment, anti-retaliation, use of company property, confidentiality, ethics/conflicts of interest, immigration compliance, work hours and overtime, timekeeping, meal periods and rest breaks, leaves of absence, sick leave, vacation, safety, and prevention of violence in the workplace. There are several topics which, based on the employer’s circumstances, may or may not make sense to include. Our attorneys can work with you to create policies that meet your needs.

Once the topics for the Employee Handbook are selected, employers need to work with counsel to draft policies that comply with the law, clearly and accurately set expectations for the employer and the employee, and communicate the specific policy to the employees. The policies are compiled together to create the Employee Handbook.

The Employee Handbook should then be distributed to all employees. Employers should require that all employees acknowledge in writing that they have received the Employee Handbook.

All companies should review and update their Employee Handbooks periodically, preferably every 12 to 18 months. Some policies (such as those relating to meal periods and rest breaks, discrimination and harassment, and arbitration) must be revised or updated in 2013 to comply with changes in the law that have occurred over the past year, and others should be refined so that they remain state-of-the-art. Specifically, last year’s California Supreme Court decision in Brinker establishes rules for meal periods and rest breaks that probably are not incorporated in older Employee Handbooks. Also, with the continued stream of developments regarding social media, employers who do not already have one may want to consider adoption of a social media policy. This would be a good year for most employers to update their Employee Handbooks.

Hopkins & Carley’s Employment Department will present a seminar on Developing Effective Employee Handbooks on March 12, 2013. This free seminar will assist employers in creating or updating an Employee Handbook to aid them in complying with applicable laws and minimizing the risk of claims from employees.

If you have any questions regarding reviewing or updating your Employee Handbook, or any other employment law issues, we invite you to contact one of our attorneys:

Daniel F. Pyne III
Richard M. Noack
Ernest M. Malaspina
Karen Reinhold
Erik P. Khoobyarian
Shirley Jackson

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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