Updating your employee manual (Proceedings)


An employee handbook provides guidelines for employees including rules of the practice, employee conduct, safety information and benefits offered.

An employee handbook provides guidelines for employees including rules of the practice, employee conduct, safety information and benefits offered. It communicates a consistent message to all employees.

Failure to update and keep up-to-date the employee manual is the top mistake employers make with their employee manual. Federal laws change, state laws change, technology progresses and employee benefit options change. You should be reviewing everything in your manual annually

Following are some topics you should consider including in your employee manual if they are not there already. Some of these topics may need to be updated because of more current amendments (such as the ADA and FMLA).

1. Sexual Harassment Policy – create a policy that defines prohibited conduct and describe the procedures for employees to report sexual harassment.

2. Equal Employment Opportunity Law – prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, disability, etc. Do you have anything in your manual that states you are an EEOC employer? Do employees know what to do if they believe they have been discriminated against?

3. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) - (federal for employers with 50 or more employees; state family leave laws vary regarding what size practice fall under the laws). This was updated to take affect 1/18/09.

4. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – the ADA was amended as of 1/1/09 and affects all employers with 15 or more employees. Some states have requirements that affect smaller employers.

There are many types of leave besides FMLA.

1. Civic Leave: Many states have specific Civic leave requirements that cover employees who are off work because of jury duty or who must take time off of work in order to vote or for military leave.

2. Parental leave, Pregnancy, Maternity and Paternity Leave details as they apply for your state need to be included as applicable.

Review your benefits section including:

1. Are you still using vacation leave? Have you considered moving up to Paid-Time-Off benefits?

2. Include clear information about what happens to earned but unused vacation or paid-time-off benefits at the end of the year or end of employment.

3. Which employees are eligible for Health Insurance? Do you mention COBRA?

4. Have you considered offering Dental, Disability, Flexible Spending Accounts or other types of employee paid benefits?

5. Is the information for your Simple IRA or 401K correct?

6. Include the details of your employee incentive program.

7. What is your Continuing Education reimbursement policy?

8. Are you following your written policy on employee pet benefits or does this need to be updated?

9. Employee uniforms-how are you handling the purchase or reimbursement of uniforms? Many states do not allow the employer to make employees paid for uniforms that are a requirement of the job.

Behavior – many of the updates in the employee manual relate to expected behavior of employees caused by changes in state laws or the changes in use of electronic equipment by team members and employers.

1. Many cities and /or states no longer allow smoking in the workplace. Double check your current written policy to make sure it complies with the laws.

2. Computers, email and the internet have become the main source of communicating for many team members. Practices need to create a policy to protect their files and computers and set standards for email usage.

3. Blogging as become a popular pass time at home computers. Employees should not disclose personal information about employees or clients or proprietary clinic information. What does your policy say?

4. Progressive Discipline – if you follow progressive discipline consider the difference in wording from "will" to "may". It is suggested that clinics say that when possible they 'may' follow progressive discipline. This protects you from the one time that you chose not to follow it.

5. Consider adding a policy on your lack of tolerance for violence in the workplace.

6. Two related policies are providing notice to employees that you may check for drug and/or alcohol abuse and a Drug Free Workplace Policy. Employers who chose to follow the more stringent Drug Free Workplace Policy often receive a reduction in their workers compensation insurance costs. If you are considering this additional policy, contact your work comp carrier who may have suggestions for implementing it.

7. Provide clear information to your employees about handling inclement weather or emergency closing.

Other employee handbook issues:

1. Deductions from checks - Double check your state laws regarding what may be deducted and the procedures to follow in order to make deductions for anything other than taxes, garnishments and insurance. This includes what procedures need to be followed to deduct veterinary services provided, deductions from the final paycheck, etc.

2. Handling of hazardous materials – Include your hazardous materials policy; ensure that team members know where the MSDS sheets are stored.

3. What are your policies in case of employee injury, fire or other emergency?

4. Include a disclaimer that the handbook is not a contract and nothing in it should be construed as a contract and that the employment is not guaranteed for any definite period of time

5. Include a note that the policies (except for employment-at-will) can be changed by the owner.

6. Include the wording of the Employment-at-will doctrine that is appropriate for your state. Montana is the only state where employees are under employment-at-will only during the initial employment period. After that, employers in Montana must have "good cause" to discharge employee.

It is important that you ensure that the policies reflected in your manual are being followed and that your manual reflects all the current changes in state and federal laws. The final step in updating your employee handbook is to always have it reviewed by your practice lawyer. Even better is to ask for a reference to a lawyer that specializes in employment law in your state.

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