Do You Have These 10 Things in Your Employee Handbook?

No matter how small your business having an employee handbook is crucial, and the new year is a perfect time to review this resource. Here are ten must-have items that you need to include in your employee handbook.

You may think because you have less than 25 employees you don’t need an employee handbook, but the truth is that you need one as much as a large firm employing hundreds or thousands of people. It is essential for every business, no matter how small, to have this crucial company resource. And, as we are entering a new year, it is the perfect time to update your employee handbook.

Why do I need an employee handbook for my small business?

The purpose of an employee handbook is not only to inform your employees of your company’s policies, but also to help provide you with protection against potential employee lawsuits and other complaints. An up-to-date employee handbook specific to your company provides a compelling line of defense to minimize both litigation and liability. The ideal handbook should be detailed, containing specific information on everything from payroll, drugs and alcohol policies, attendance and vacation. Also feature other policies including any federal, state or industry regulations your business needs to comply with. 

Equally as important is that you make sure your employees are aware of your policies and that you review your policies every year. Give employees a copy of your handbook upon hiring them and have them sign an acknowledgement that it was received. Make sure you follow your policies consistently. 

• RELATED: The start of 2019 is also a good time to review your hiring toolkit. Be sure to include these five things.

Here are 10 things that should be included in every employee handbook:

Must-have no 1: At-will information. Employees should be advised that their employment is at-will and can be terminated at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. Not including this information may lead an employee to believe that they can only be terminated for cause.

Must-have no. 2: Government laws. Your employee handbook should specifically state that your policies comply with all legislation, federal, state and local government laws, including any protected classes like “sexual orientation” and all other classes protected by law.  

Must-have no. 3: Harassment policies. Your handbook should state that you will not tolerate sexual and other types of harassment or bullying. Also include your processes for an employee to report complaints of harassment and misconduct and let employees know that there will be no retaliation for a complaint unless it is filed maliciously and is without merit.

Must-have no. 4: Technology expectations. Make sure you include policies covering your rules on electronic communication, including emails, phone calls, social media, etc. Employees should also be told that company-supplied technology such as laptops and cell phones could be monitored.

• RELATED: Should you allow your employees to use their own technological devices

Must-have no. 5: Subject-to-change clause. An employee handbook is a document that allows employees to learn your company policies and procedures and should contain a statement that says “This handbook is not a contract and is subject to change and modification at any time.” Add this in the introduction section and where appropriate throughout the handbook.

Must-have no. 6: FMLA information. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies with 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius to grant employees unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks a year for certain medical or family care reasons. If your company is covered by the FMLA, make sure you properly state the terms under which leave will be granted, including eligibility requirements, leave request procedures and guidelines for when employees return to work.

Must-have no. 7: Attendance policies. Your handbook should state your attendance and overtime policies, procedures for approving overtime work, absence policies, vacation policies, etc.

Must-have no. 8: Rules on drug and alcohol use. Your handbook must also include a drug and alcohol abuse policy that covers both work hours and any use outside of work that impacts your workplace. A prevention policy should clearly prohibit the use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace and company events, as well as have a clause to prevent employees who are impaired from entering the workplace.

Must have no. 9: Workplace violence policy. As unfortunate as it is, in this day and age having a workplace violence policy is essential. You need a policy that states that you do not tolerate violence or threats of violence under any circumstances. The policy must clearly identify what is considered inappropriate behavior in the workplace and at company events. You may also include a weapons policy that defines weapons and includes a clause such as “no weapons allowed on premises, in the parking lot, etc.”

Must-have no. 10: Disciplinary actions. Lastly, you must also include a progressive disciplinary policy in your employee handbook to protect your company from claims of discrimination by employees who try to claim discriminatory or uneven disciplinary rules. This policy should not limit your ability to apply appropriate disciplinary measures as most disciplinary issues are not identical. You should reserve the right to administer any level of appropriate discipline when an employee’s conduct merits it.

• RELATED: Read more from Tim Dimoff.

Employee handbooks are for companies of all sizes. State and federal laws apply to your business whether you have one employee or thousands of employees. A handbook addresses potential issues and outlines your company’s procedures to resolve them. And, anytime you review or revise your employee handbook, be sure to have legal counsel review your policies to make sure your company is protected.
 
President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security ExpertTimothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at info@sacsconsulting.com.

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  • Next up: Drafting and Navigating Your Workplace Sexual Harassment Policy
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  • Drafting and Navigating Your Workplace Sexual Harassment Policy

    Learn what comprises an effective sexual harassment policy and click the link at the bottom of this article for a free sample policy to use at your workplace.

    It appears new cases of sexual harassment have been uncovered weekly—or daily—during the past few months. This trend testifies to a revolution in reporting workplace misconduct, which is itself part of a larger narrative of empowerment in American culture.

    We see the high-profile cases capturing headlines, but it is important to realize that sexual misconduct in the workplace occurs outside the limelight of the national media as well. Often, victims of sexual harassment in more private work communities are less compelled to come forward. Businesses need to be cognizant of this dynamic and work to craft a sexual harassment policy that empowers victims and promotes the safety and well-being of all workers.

    Below, we discuss the fundamentals of an effective sexual harassment policy.

    Introduce the Policy

    Set the Goals. You should begin by stating the goals of the policy: a safe and inviting work environment, a strong company culture; you should make these goals reflect your company identity. If your workers understand the purpose behind the policy, they are more likely to respect the process.

    Set the Tone. It should be clear that all reports of sexual harassment will be treated seriously and confidentially, involve prompt investigation and that findings of misconduct will be met with zero tolerance.

    Set the Scope. Sexual harassment isn’t limited to the office, nor is it only male-on-female or one co-worker against another; your company’s sexual harassment policy shouldn’t be so limited either. Make it clear that the policy extends to social events and electronic interactions, same-sex and female-on-male misconduct, and misconduct involving not just co-workers but clients, customers, contractors, and visitors as well.

    Lean on the Law

    Prohibitions against sexual harassment have a strong basis in federal and state law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972. You should include mention of these and applicable state laws in your company policy.

    Define Sexual Harassment

    A clear picture of what constitutes sexual harassment will put everyone on notice and set expectations for workplace behavior. Define the interactions that are prohibited—not only the physical, but the verbal and non-verbal as well.

    You can, and should, provide examples: use of job-related threats, unwanted solicitations, sexual jokes, gender- or sexual orientation-based insults, sexually explicit electronic communications, suggestive gestures, sounds, and looks.

    Set Complaint Procedures

    Have a Dedicated Team and Channel. Channels for handling sexual harassment complaints should be self-contained and separate from the standard channels for other types of complaints. There is a need here for privacy and timely investigation that demands dedicated resources. The team handling complaints is typically part of the human resources department, but smaller companies without HR will need to designate individuals. It is important to have a gender-balanced team for sexual harassment reporting. Those individuals should undergo sexual harassment management training.

    They should also, where possible, be isolated from professional influences of the regular workplace hierarchy, as sexual harassment is commonly initiated by those in positions of power.

    Outline the Process

    A typical complaint procedure follows these steps:

    • Record dates, times, and facts of the incident
    • Ascertain victim’s desired outcome
    • Discuss resolution process with victim
    • Educate victim on his or her ability to file a complaint outside of the company through the legal system
    • Allow alleged harasser an opportunity to respond to the complaint
    • Discuss resolution process with alleged harasser
    • If resolution process is informal, facilitate a discussion between management and the parties
    • If resolution process is formal, conduct an internal or external investigation which should include interviewing knowledgeable individuals, collection of relevant materials, and creation of a report detailing findings and recommendations
    • Decide an appropriate resolution
    • Follow up after resolution has been handed down
    • Maintain records during each step of the process

    If an investigation reveals misconduct, the company should identify a remedy that is appropriate for both the victim and the harasser. In the victim’s case, an apology may suffice, or a change in work arrangement may be necessary if the victim and the harasser work closely with one another. It is important that the victim has options and a voice in the resolution process. Appropriate punishment for a harasser may be sexual harassment training, wage cut or demotion, suspension, or termination.

    If, on the other hand, an investigation reveals no misconduct, appropriate steps should be taken to prevent future false reporting. This is a delicate situation, as legitimate victims already face strong deterrents to reporting without the fear of being punished for speaking up. However, it is important to acknowledge that even a false accusation of sexual harassment can severely damage an innocent person’s reputation. 

    Execution is Key

    Once you’ve drafted a comprehensive policy, your team needs to execute it accordingly. Procedures should be followed without exception; those designated individuals should not pick and choose which procedures to follow, as inconsistent execution is the best way to undermine a well-written rule.

    Set the tone from day one. It is best practice to require workers to review and sign the sexual harassment policy upon entering employment. This will provide notice and set expectations for day-to-day behavior as well as for what happens should an issue arise. Another great way to ensure that workers remain cognizant of sexual harassment in the workplace is to have periodic training on the subject.

    Remember that it is the company’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment. Establishing effective sexual harassment policies goes a long way toward achieving that goal.

    Mark Turner is senior counsel at The Gertsburg Law Firm. The Gertsburg Law Firm is providing a sample zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy at to use for your business, as an early holiday gift. Please feel free to modify and adapt it to protect your business and your employees. From all of us at The Gertsburg Law Firm, we wish you a safe and pleasant holiday season.

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  • Next up: Employee Motivation: 5 Things to Know
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  • Employee Motivation: 5 Things to Know

    It goes without saying a motivated workforce is a more creative and productive one, and that can go a long way to setting the tone for your company’s culture and engagement efforts. Here are five ways to energize your workforce, as provided via small business owners.

    It goes without saying a motivated workforce is a more creative and productive one, and that can go a long way to setting the tone for your company’s culture and engagement efforts. Here are five ways to energize your workforce, as provided via small business owners.

    Walk the walk: Genuine leadership is key to creating a productive work environment.  If you demonstrate the same drive, passion, and commitment to the goals and vision of the company that you expect from your employees on a daily basis, you will inspire the same from your team. 

    Encourage dialogue: Make yourself available to your staff and keep lines of communication open.  Employees want to be able to speak their minds. By presenting opportunities to share ideas and voice concerns, you help establish trust and respect. On the flip side, be sure to communicate with your team as openly and honestly as possible. 

    Recognize achievements: Consistent recognition of a job well done, whether as a casual mention or as part of a formal employee recognition program, is a great no-cost way to acknowledge an employee's efforts. According to the 2015 Employee Recognition Report by the Society for Human Resource Management, values-based employee recognition programs are helping employers create a stronger culture and more human workplace.

    Offer self-improvement opportunities : Expanding and improving an employees’ skills and knowledge through professional development can benefit your company greatly while enhancing job satisfaction.  Professional development can encompass various learning opportunities, including formal training, certifications and topical seminars and conferences. 

    Incentivize your team: Whether through cash or non-cash rewards, incentivizing your team can boost employee morale and the overall corporate culture.  If pay increases or bonuses aren’t in the budget, consider offering paid time off, flexible work hours, remote work opportunities, employee celebrations, and goal-oriented contests with fun prizes.  

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  • Next up: What Small Businesses Need to Know About Employee Screenings
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  • What Small Businesses Need to Know About Employee Screenings

    When hiring, don’t just rely on a resume or cursory social media search. Find out how to effectively conduct background checks to better help you find that perfect fit for your team.


    Small businesses are growing and evolving and employees are often called upon to wear many hats and do jobs that include several areas of responsibility. Hiring the right employee is challenging. And it is even more challenging when you need to consider if the person has issues in their history. 

    Small business owners might think that because they are a small business, they don’t need to conduct screenings or background checks on employees. They may mistakenly believe that it is not necessary, or that it is too time consuming or too costly. It is vitally important that small business owners understand that it is a necessary business practice in order to help mitigate risk and improve the quality and safety of their employees. 

    You cannot just depend on a resume, an interview, a LinkedIn profile with recommendations and maybe a quick social media search to help your hiring decisions. Online searches may not be accurate. Therefore, every business, no matter how small, must conduct accurate background screenings before hiring any employee. 

    RELATED: Are you aware of these five smart hiring practices?

    Here are five tips to help you successfully conduct background screenings.

    Background Screening Tip No. 1: Put it in Writing. Every business, no matter the size, needs a written policy manual that includes a written screening policy. Screening policies can help protect your business in the event of a discrimination claim or regulatory audit. The policy should also set clear background screening procedures that will be followed for all employees, detailing the types of screening procedures you may conduct, including but not limited to drug screenings, background and prior employment checks, credit checks, criminal record checks, motor vehicle records, etc. You might want to specify which types of checks will be conducted for specific types of jobs. For example, any job where they handle money or accounting should have a criminal check and a credit check conducted prior to hiring an employee. 

    Background Screening Tip No. 2: Mitigate Risk. It’s easy to make a bad hire. While there are national criminal databases that can be checked, the best practice is to hire an outside firm to conduct a more comprehensive check of criminal records. I also recommend that all businesses use both pre-employment background checks and ongoing criminal record checks for both regular workers and contingent workers.

    Negligent hiring claims are filed against an employer when they fail to perform due diligence on an employee who has caused harm or when the employee failed to prevent the damage given the authority of the employee's position. 

    The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulates the use of consumer reports by employers. The FCRA also dictates the way an applicant is to be notified about obtaining a background check or credit report and how they can dispute the findings. This regulation helps to ensure the accuracy of background screening reports. 
    Pre-Adverse Action and Adverse Action are terms referred to in the FCRA and are used to inform a candidate or employee that their background check yielded negative results. If a business does not adhere to these rules, they can be taken to court by the employee. 

    RELATED: Why background checks are so important.

    Background Screening Tip No. 3: Beware the Lies. Job applicants often lie when applying for a job. Common lies include work experience, education and the ability to perform specific job functions. It is crucial that you verify an applicant’s employment and education history, motor vehicle records and credit history, substance abuse history and more. This is one of the best ways to improve workplace safety and reduce your liability risks.

    Background Screening Tip No. 4: It’s Not One and Done 
    Once you hire an employee, your work is not done. You still need to assess and re-evaluate your screening standards. You should also continue to monitor any changes in your industry regulations and any changes to worker laws in your state. Always put any changes in writing in your policy manual and give new copies to all employees when changes are made. 

    Even small businesses need to comply with ever-changing industry, state and federal regulations to help mitigate risks and improve the overall quality of hires.

    RELATED: Check out more columns from Tim Dimoff by clicking here.

    Background Screening Tip No. 5: Use the Experts. Your best practice is to use a firm with the knowledge and expertise to ensure accuracy. They can help you write your policy manual, conduct screenings and help in many other ways. An outside firm understands EEOC and other regulations. And most importantly, the costs of not properly screening job candidates will be much higher if you face negligent hiring claims and litigation.

    President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security ExpertTimothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at info@sacsconsulting.com



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  • Next up: FMLA Warning: Employees Can be Held Personally Liable for Family and Medical Leave Act Violations
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  • FMLA Warning: Employees Can be Held Personally Liable for Family and Medical Leave Act Violations

    Too often, companies wait until they get sued before taking note of how the Family and Medical Leave Act might impact their business. Don’t be that company. Read on below for an overview of the FMLA and what your liability is under the act.

    Do you own or work at a company with 50 or more employees? If so, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) likely is applicable. Violations of the FMLA have serious legal consequences. A successful plaintiff might be entitled to the recovery of lost back pay, lost front pay, emotional distress/punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.  Even if you prevail in the lawsuit, the average cost of defending an FMLA lawsuit is approximately $80,000.

    For the individual manager or owner of the company, this law can be especially frightening. In addition to exposing the company to these penalties, the FMLA could impose personal liability upon employees, or owners who commit violations and meet the definition of an “employer” under the FMLA. Let’s take a closer look at the FMLA and what it means for your business.

    Overview of the FMLA

    The FMLA only applies to “covered employer,” or an employer who falls into one of the following categories:

    • private-sector employer, with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer;
    • public agency, including a local, state, or Federal government agency, regardless of the number of employees it employs; or
    • public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees it employs.

     

    Only “eligible employees” are entitled to take leave under the FMLA. The following are requirements to constitute an “eligible employee” under the FMLA:

    • works for a covered employer;
    • has worked for the employer for at least 12 months;
    • has at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12-month period immediately preceding the leave (there are special hours of service eligibility requirements apply to airline flight crew employees); and
    • works at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles (this only applies to private sector employers).

    Eligible employees are entitled to a maximum of 12 weeks of leave. The leave may be unpaid, but it may be combined with accrued paid leave (such as vacation or sick leave).

    An eligible employee may take leave:

    • for the birth, adoption, or placement of a child;
    • to care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition;
    • for a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job (e.g. hospital care, treatment for a chronic condition, etc.); or
    • for any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status.

    Employees might be required to provide medical certification of their condition or their family member's condition to be eligible for FMLA leave. The employee may also be required to recertify with their employer, especially if they are seeking intermittent FMLA leave.

    Personal liability under the FMLA

    While it is no surprise that the company who violates the FMLA can be found liable for violations, the definition of “employer” under the FMLA is more expansive. The FMLA defines “employer” as “any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer …” 

    Numerous courts have held that the definition of an “employer” includes individual employees within a company (e.g. supervisors and managers). Some courts have ruled that the FMLA’s definition of “employer” is similar to the definition of an “employer” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Accordingly, those courts have relied upon the standards used to evaluate an “employer” under the FLSA and utilized the following four-factor test to determine whether an employee should be held individually liable under the FMLA:

    • whether the supervising employee had the power to fire and hire plaintiff;
    • whether the supervising employee controlled the plaintiff’s work schedules or conditions of employment;
    • whether the supervising employee determined the rate and method of payment for the plaintiff; and
    • whether the supervising employee maintained employment records.

    Court have held that only some of the foregoing factors need to be satisfied for a supervising employee to constitute an “employer” for purposes of the FMLA (and the FLSA).  If an employee is held that he/she constitutes an “employer” and violated the FMLA, that employee is subject to all the same potential penalties as the company (payment of the plaintiff’s lost back pay, lost front pay, emotional distress/punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and costs).

    These rulings highlight some important points. To minimize potential FMLA claims, a company should:

    • consult with a professional to understand the legal requirements set forth by the FMLA;
    • maintain written FMLA policies and procedures (both employee-facing and management-facing) and provide on-going training;
    • ensure that decision-makers have all of the relevant information and are properly trained before they terminate or otherwise discipline employees who have exercised their FMLA rights;
    • periodically review their FMLA policies to ensure that they comply with any changes in the law that may have occurred.

    Unfortunately, companies typically wait to get sued before taking any action. They fix their problems after a plaintiff's lawyer runs them through the ringer, and then only address the problems for which they were sued. The best and most cost-effective solution is a proactive approach—minimize your legal exposure before a problem arises and conduct an internal compliance audit. A preemptive strategy of identifying and fixing issues before a lawsuit occurs saves time and money and limit a company’s exposure under not only the FLMA, but other potential legal pitfalls.

    This article is meant to be utilized as a general guideline for FMLA violations. Nothing in this blog is intended to create an attorney-client relationship or to provide legal advice on which you should rely without talking to your own retained attorney first. If you have questions about your particular legal situation, you should contact a legal professional.

    Mark Turner can be reached by phone at (440) 571-7773 or by email at mt@gertsburglaw.com.

    An audit of your policies can help you avoid the pain of lawsuits. The Gertsburg Law Firm now offers CoverMySix, a one-stop legal audit for your business, led by award-winning litigators and in-house counsel. CM6 minimizes your exposure to lawsuits, investigations, disgruntled employees and customers, and all the damage that comes with them. Schedule a confidential, no-cost CM6 Vulnerability Check with Gertsburg Law Firm’s CEO, who will walk you through the minefields in your documents and key processes and tell you how to fix them yourself. Call 440-571-7774 or e-mail mc@gertsburglaw.com to schedule your CM6 Vulnerability Check
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  • Next up: Employers Sitting on Over $10.8M of Uncashed BWC Rebate Checks
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  • Employers Sitting on Over $10.8M of Uncashed BWC Rebate Checks

    Did you receive any rebate checks from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation this summer? You better get them cashed!

    More than 5,500 Ohio employers are sitting on $10.8 million in uncashed checks, according to the BWC. They were were distributed as part of a $1.5-billion rebate. The checks have a 90-day life and began expiring Oct. 3. 

    Checks that expire can be reissued, "but that will further delay employers' access to their rebates," said Barbara Ingram, its chief of fiscal and planning, in the release.

    The first checks went out on June 28 and those expired Oct. 3. The BWC said 44 checks from that batch, totaling $143,241.38, remain outstanding. In total, there are 5,547 checks that have not been cashed, representing $10,88,116.60 in rebates.

    The BWC will credit an employer's account the amount of their rebate if check isn’t cashed. Credits will apply to any outstanding balances owed by the employer and a new check will be issued for any remaining credit on the account.


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