Michael S. McGuire
March 6, 2019
Business Law

Michael S. McGuire is a business law and estate planning attorney for Gerbers Law, S.C. in Green Bay, WI.

 

The importance of an employee handbook is oftentimes overlooked by business owners. This is particularly true for small business owners. A well written employee handbook provides many benefits to both employers and employees alike. An employee handbook provides employees with insight into the company’s culture and values, a clear understanding of employee expectations, and a guideline for the company’s different policies and employee benefits.  It also helps employers ensure that they are complying with applicable state laws and federal laws, as well as helps the company defend against a number of different potential employee claims.

Regardless of the size of your business, you should have an employee handbook. Although employers may choose to include a number of different policies depending on the type of business they are engaged in, the following are 5 policies that should be in every employee handbook:

1. Equal Employment and Non-discrimination Policy.

It is important that every employee handbook include a policy regarding equal employment opportunity and non-discrimination. The policy should include that discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, disability, age (40 or older) or genetic information (including family medical history)  is illegal and will not be tolerated, in any fashion. The policy should include reasonable accommodations (changes to the way things are normally done at work) to applicants and employees who need them. The policy should also clearly spell out how employees are to report discrimination and to whom they are to report it to. It’s a good idea to designate more than one person to receive and respond to discrimination complaints or questions.  Finally, the policy should provide for prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of complaints, as well as provide for prompt and effective corrective and preventative action when necessary. This policy will help foster a positive culture free from harassment and discrimination.

2. Family Medical Leave Act Policy.

It is a very good idea to have a detailed policy regarding employees’ rights related to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (and the Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Act) (“FMLA”). The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers (employers with 50+ employees) to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons while maintaining company sponsored health insurance coverage under the same terms as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to 12 workweeks of leave within a 12 month period for: 1) the birth of a child and care for a newborn child within 1 year of birth; 2) placement with employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within 1 year of placement; 3) to care for employees spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition; 4) serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; 5) a qualified emergency situations arising out of the fact the employee’s spouse; child or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”; or 6) 26 work weeks of leave during a 12 month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).  

Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. They must also work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. Whether an employee has worked the minimum 1,250 hours of service is determined according to the Fair Labor Standards Act principles for determining compensable hours or work. It is also very important to comply with all posting requirements within the workplace.

3. Cyber Security Policy.  

It is becoming increasingly normal to hear about data breaches within companies of all sizes. It is very important to develop and maintain an updated cyber security policy to protect critical company data against theft or attacks. The policy should include guidelines on company password requirements including how to properly store passwords and how frequent they should be updated. Also included should be standards for email use such as opening attachments from trusted contacts and how to spot suspicious emails, and handling and/or destruction of sensitive digital data.

Oftentimes, employees have access to certain email accounts through their personal cell phone as well as access to company servers through company laptops and other computer hardware. It is important to clearly set out guidelines related to the use of such devices including how to store such devices while not in use and how to report the theft of a company device.

More increasingly, employers are implementing policies related to social media use and internet access standards, which cover what type of business information is appropriate to share on the different social media platforms as well as the guidelines on which websites are, and are not, appropriate to access while on the clock.

4. Employee Conduct.

A policy that details the expectations of employees’ conduct will communicate the employer’s expectations related to basic work and behavior standards. It is imperative employers clearly express to the employees the rules they are subject to and the related consequences.  The policy should include provisions detailing insubordination, fraud (including dishonesty and false statements), theft (including destruction and misuse of property), unlawful activities during and outside of work hours, as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use. In the event that an employee conduct issue arises, it is important for the employer to take necessary corrective action as well as make the appropriate notes in such employees personnel file, as such documentation can prove to be invaluable to an employer in the event of a wrongful termination or unemployment claim.

5. Employee Acknowledgement.

Although not necessarily a policy, an important aspect of employee handbooks that is often left out is an employee acknowledgment page. Requiring all employees to sign an acknowledgement that they have received, read and understand the employee handbook can save an employer a lot of headache in the future.

The purpose of the signed acknowledgment is to demonstrate that an employee has received a copy of the information included in the handbook, which can be critical in certain situations involving legal disputes. The acknowledgment should include that the employee understands the employee handbook in totality, a disclaimer that the employee handbook does not constitute a contract for employment, indication that the employee handbook is subject to change, and place for the employee to sign and date.  Employers should ensure that they receive signed handbook acknowledgements from all employees upon initial hiring and each time that the employee handbook is updated.

Whether you are starting a new business or growing your existing business, an Employee Handbook is a necessary document that every organization should have. Our Gerbers Law business attorneys will help tailor a handbook specifically to your unique business needs and ensure that all policies listed comply with federal, state and local laws. 

To schedule an appointment or phone conference with our Green Bay business law attorneys regarding your employee handbook, please call our office at 920-499-5700.

 

 

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