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Six Reasons to Update Your Employee Handbook in the New Year

SPRINGFIELD — According to Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., one of the best ways employers can improve business operations is by updating or creating an employee handbook. Just as a company grows and changes, so do federal and state laws, and employee handbooks should be updated annually to reflect these changes.

Each company is unique, and one of the biggest mistakes employers make is to print a generic employee handbook from the Internet. Businesses should consider developing a handbook that includes policies specifically tailored to the company’s industry. A company handbook also needs to carefully outline policies that will help decrease the risk of both litigation and liability. Properly drafted, an employee handbook can be a valuable document in the workplace, for both employers and employees.

Companies that already have an employee handbook must be sure that the handbook is completely up to date. Employers creating a handbook for the first time should carefully consider the structure and policies to incorporate into the handbook. Here are six reasons why your handbook needs an update in 2016:

• Changes to Massachusetts law. Paid sick time and domestic-violence leave are two of the major changes to Massachusetts law that have resulted in revisions to company handbooks. If your handbook does not include these policies, it’s out of date.

• E-mail, social-media, and technology policies. In this day and age, it is important for an employer to outline social media and technology expectations. Employers should properly delineate how to use electronic communications, and employees should be notified if the company plans on monitoring computers and phones. Although it is important for employers to outline best practices for social media, companies should not be overly restrictive, as this could potentially violate employee rights in the workplace.

• Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Companies with 50 or more employees must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the birth and care of a newborn child of the employee, for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition. If a company is covered by the FMLA, it is important to properly outline employee eligibility requirements, procedures, and guidelines for when the employee returns to the workplace to make the transition well-organized for both the employer and employee. FMLA regulations changed in 2010. If your handbook has not been revised since then, your FMLA policy is out of date.

• At-will statements. All employment in Massachusetts is ‘at will,’ which means that either the employee or the employer can choose to end the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause or notice. But if the employee handbook doesn’t clearly indicate this important status at the beginning of the handbook, it can create problems down the road. Outlining at-will employment expectations in your handbook will help clear up any confusion about the nature of employment and potentially prevent costly litigation.

• Overtime, vacation, and sick time. It is also important for employers to clearly outline attendance policies in the workplace. The employee handbook should address which employees are eligible for overtime pay and also the internal process for approval of overtime. It is also important to stipulate that excessive absences are grounds for termination to avoid any ambiguity with the employee.

• Anti-harassment and discrimination policies. Not only is it vital that employers make it clear that no unlawful harassment will be tolerated in the workplace environment, but they should also clearly outline avenues for employees to report complaints of harassment or misconduct. Employees who have witnessed or experienced harassment should know there will be no retaliation for reporting complaints in good faith. Employers should specifically address this in employee handbooks to prevent being held vicariously liable.

“If your employee’s handbooks are collecting dust, updating them for 2016 is a perfect way to review policies new and old,” said attorney Marylou Fabbo, an active partner in the firm. “Not only does an updated employee handbook serve as an outline for managing employment conflicts, it can also serve as legal evidence that company policies are up to date.”

For more information and news about employment law, visit skoler-abbott.com.

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