A very important step for employers in managing employment law risk is having and following appropriate human resources (HR) policies and procedures. Often these are embodied in an employee handbook or manual.
Bad Policies Yield Bad Results
Improperly done, HR policy development and employee handbook preparation may make things worse, not better. Employment policies that are unlawful, impractical, not actually applied as written, or out of date can be worse than no policies at all.
- A Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policy in an employee manual may not have been updated to reflect amendments to the Act and related regulations in recent years. If management relies exclusively on the written HR policies, without consulting an attorney or HR specialist, it may unlawfully deny leave rights granted by these changes.
- A disciplinary rule in an employee manual may often be ignored or applied inconsistently. If it is then applied harshly to an employee who complains of discrimination, the disparate pattern of enforcement may be strong evidence supporting the employee’s claim.
- An HR policy may be silent or ambiguous on important, recurring issues, such as calculation of vacation pay upon termination, potentially leading to inconsistent treatment of employees and disputes.
Developing Appropriate HR Policies and Employee Handbooks
The HR policies that are appropriate will vary considerably from one employer to another, based on numerous factors, including the industry, employee job duties, working conditions, management structure, company culture, and management philosophy.
Cookie cutter, template-style do-it-yourself options are commercially available. Many actual handbooks, typically those of public employers, are available on the Internet. Many were prepared by legal and HR experts. To the extent this is true, such standardized employee handbooks may be unlikely to cause major legal problems. But to be truly useful and effective, as opposed to simply legally benign, a good employee handbook needs to reflect the existing practices, preferences, and needs of the particular workplace.
An employee manual should communicate more than just the nuts and bolts of policies, rules, and wages and benefits. A good employee handbook serves as an introduction to the company’s unique history, culture, goals, values, and organizational structure. This is another reason why preparing a good employee handbook requires considerable customization. Also, an employee manual must take into account state and local law variations.
How We Can Help
The attorneys of Harris Dowell Fisher & Harris, L.C., regularly work with clients to develop employee manuals and other HR policies. We often review existing handbooks and policies for legal compliance, make required updates, and provide practical suggestions based on the client’s needs and our experience with the application and enforcement of HR policies.
Our HR policy and employee manual work benefits from years of knowledge and experience, not only with employment law and litigation, but also with issues and problems that often creep up in the workplace.
Contact us to discuss how we may best assist you in this regard.