The Essential Management Tool is Useful to almost all Employers but is Commonly Absent from Workplaces or Drafted in Ways that Hinder rather than Help Managers
A company’s employee handbook is among the most basic management tools. It provides employers and employees alike with predictable, easily accessed rules that reduce conflicts and can lower lawsuit risks.
Still, many companies either don’t have a handbook or use one that does more harm than good. That’s often because creating an effective handbook takes time, effort and know-how. Proper drafting requires an employer to carefully think through its policies and find ways to communicate them effectively while protecting management prerogatives. For busy managers, handbooks present yet another burden they often can’t satisfy.
But there’s no doubt that there’s a big benefit for those who put in the effort. Every company with more than five workers probably needs from a handbook, which should define the business playing field in concise terms and provide for management flexibility. The employer’s business needs and size are central, as are the legalities of complex and often changing employment laws.
Effective drafting starts with the individual characteristics that affect day-to-day business operations. Workforce size, historical dealings with employees, internal management structures, and work site configurations are all relevant. Within this context, handbook language should address issues that may arise for the employer.
Always in the forefront is consideration of the extent to which a written rule might tie the employer’s hands. Seemingly innocent probation periods can grant unintended rights, for example, as can a discipline regimen that provides warnings. Clumsy vacation policies can lead to unnecessary payouts and large damage awards. And overlooking technology issues can cause problems when an employer needs or wants to review electronic mail or internet use on the job.
This doesn’t mean these issues shouldn’t be covered in a manual. On the contrary, these policies are important to any employee handbook, as are the following:
- Sexual harassment and other discrimination. Under state law, employers of six or more must have a sex harassment policy. The policy should also cover other forms of harassment and address the steps an employer will take when a complaint is received.
- Safety on the job. For many companies, this is an important issue. How workers conduct themselves and the consequences of unsafe behavior should be covered.
- Employment at will statement. This critical component of every handbook must describe the employment relationship, as provided by case law. It should be coupled with a signature requirement to ensure workers know their statuses.
- Overtime pay and wages. All employers need to understand state wage laws. Conveying them accurately helps minimize overtime pay transgressions by managers and workers alike.
By Attorney Jack K. Merrill – Framingham, MA Employment Lawyer
Attorney Jack K. Merrill is a Massachusetts employment lawyer and specializes in employment law and civil litigation. He counsels small businesses and individuals on discrimination cases and other employment related legal matters.
With law offices in Framingham, MA and Milford, MA, our employment law lawyers provide legal services to individuals and businesses throughout the Boston metro west and Worcester county region including Ashland, Dedham, Framingham, Franklin, Hopkinton, Maynard, Marlborough, Milford, Natick, Needham, Newton, Shrewsbury, Sudbury, Waltham, and Worcester, Massachusetts.