It’s a New Year! Is Your Handbook Ready?

January 19, 2018
MRA Edge
Read time: 4 mins

As you reflect on last year’s project list, you may still be staring at an unchecked item for the employee handbook. You are not alone! Keeping the handbook up-to-date haunts even the savviest HR professionals. As you set a new resolution to tackle the handbook, here’s a recap of updates to make:

Anti-Harassment: There may be no more important update this year than to make sure your anti-harassment policy is well drafted and consistently applied. Key elements of this critical policy include clearly defining what constitutes harassment, who it applies to, how and where concerns can be brought, consequences for policy violations, and a no-retaliation statement.

Paid Sick Leave: Some federal contractors, as well as some Minnesota and Illinois employers, must comply with paid sick leave regulations that became effective in 2017. These regulations require written notice to employees of their rights and remedies under the new laws. MRA has sample policy language and a comparison chart of the paid sick leave ordinances for the Cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago, and Cook County, Illinois.

In addition to these compliance updates, MRA experts often find the following items are missing or not up-to-date in handbooks. Now is the perfect time to make sure you have each of these covered:

EEO Statements: While most handbooks include this topic, it is not uncommon to find that the list of protected classes is incomplete or outdated. Offering a full list of protected characteristics in your handbook sets the right tone for your commitment to diversity and inclusion.

At-Will Statements: A key concept that offers employers great flexibility is the at-will statement. An at-will statement conveys that employees can end their employment at any time, with or without notice for any reason, and that the company has the same right to end the employment relationship without notice and for any reason not prohibited by law.

Disability Accommodation: In addition to declaring that your organization will not discriminate against disabled candidates or employees, it’s important to explain how employees can request an accommodation and what documentation, if any, might be required in the process.

Attendance: Attendance policies are a great place to reinforce your company’s expectation that attendance and punctuality are considered essential functions of every employee’s position.

Drug and Alcohol: Be sure your policy addresses the legal use of prescribed drugs, as well as the abuse of prescribed drugs in the workplace. If your organization conducts post-accident testing, your policy should state that testing will only occur if there is a reasonable basis to suspect that drug or alcohol use could have contributed to the accident, per OSHA’s recent guidelines.

Pay Transparency: Minnesota employers, as well as federal contractors, must include prescribed language regarding pay transparency in their employee handbooks.

Breaks for Nursing Mothers: Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are required to offer reasonable break time to nursing mothers for up to one year after the child’s birth. Meal and break time policies can be updated to include language on how these breaks will be handled and paid.

Leaves of Absence: In addition to federal leave of absence requirements, many states have their own leave requirements, which often vary based on an employer’s size and whether they are public or private sector. See below for a chart of items that are often overlooked. Your handbook is a great place to notify employees of their access to these types of leave and to explain how these leaves of absence will be administered.

Leaves of Absence
Leaves of Absence Chart

Recent NLRB Handbook Policy Guidance: It is important to note that before 2017 ended, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made headlines by reversing its position regarding handbook policies that could be interpreted as violating employee rights to engage in protected and concerted activity. Typically, the handbook policies most targeted by the NLRB were related to social media, confidentiality and standards of conduct.

As a result of this change, the NLRB will now evaluate handbook policies against the following two standards: (1) the nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights, and (2) legitimate justifications associated with the rule. Employers will welcome this change from the NLRB as it will likely offer a better balance between employee rights and business needs.

After reviewing these suggestions, if you determine your document needs more of an overhaul than an update, consider using MRA to serve as an extra set of hands to help you get this completed and off your to-do list in 2018!

Source: Peg Heinen, Manager, HR Handbooks, MRA - The Management Association

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