Handbook Policies and Pitfalls


By the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast

Is your company handbook in need of a checkup? While handbooks vary in scope and detail, below are five policy areas employers should review.

Sexual harassment. With the rise in social awareness about sexual-harassment and workplace respect in general comes the need for companies to review the scope and depth of their policies, not only to ensure their policies are current regarding the process and procedures for handling complaints, but also in the messaging being communicated by leadership.

Equal opportunity. With additional protected classes coming into effect into 2018 in some jurisdictions (such as state initiatives designed to expand pregnant workers), employers should ensure their EEO policies cover these new protected groups.

Pregnancy accommodation. Some states, including Massachusetts, have enacted pregnancy-accommodation laws that will provide expanded communications and policies to inform employees about their rights to pregnancy accommodations and what those might entail.

Standards of conduct or employee conduct. With a new composition of board members at the National Labor Relations Board come new interpretations on a variety of subjects like civility, social media, and confidentiality.

Leaves of absence. As states continue to adopt sick-leave legislation and/or paid family-leave legislation, companies will either need to add leave policies to comport with the new requirements or update their existing policies to ensure that they are properly aligned.

In addition to these hot topics, here are five more handbook pitfalls to avoid:

Gender-identifying pronouns. Avoid using language like ‘he’ and ‘he/she’ in policies. Rather use language like ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘employee,’ or ‘employees’ where possible.

Contract language. Avoid language or phrases such as ‘terms or conditions of employment,’ ‘in consideration,’ and ‘employer and employee agree’ that could potentially leave the door open for a court to construe the document as a contract.

Handbook versions and revisions. Failure to maintain revision dates, execute and maintain signed acknowledgement forms confirming receipt of the current handbook revision, or identify in the handbook that the current handbook supersedes prior editions all can raise questions of which policies apply..

Avoid legal and ambiguous terminology where possible. Your employees are not lawyers. Use easy-to-understand, objective language in policies, particularly in discipline and related matters. Provide clear examples of behavior to provide a better understanding of employer expectations.

Avoid automatic termination or ‘cliff’ language in leave-of-absence policies. Leave policies that dictate that termination will automatically result after a certain amount of time could be construed as unlawful by a court or agency because it disregards the employer’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to engage in a “good-faith, interactive process” and fails to consider whether an extended leave of absence would be an undue hardship on the employer.


Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast

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