There are very few written policies that are required by law to be provided to employees, but there are certain policies companies can adopt to protect themselves and reduce their liability exposures. This can either be done though a company handbook or by distributing individual policies to employees.
“Courts have said that by advising employees of certain information, the burden shifts from the employer proving something didn’t happen to the employee proving something did. That can be a significant difference in an employer’s ability to defend itself both in terms of success and cost,” says Jeffrey Dinkin, a shareholder at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth.
Smart Business spoke with Dinkin about key policies that should be included in employee handbooks and what other options exist.
What are some required policies suitable for an employee handbook?
All employers are required to have sexual harassment policies that clearly state to whom employees should report complaints. More than one person should be designated, but if that’s not possible, there are outside resources to which you could direct them.
For companies with five or more employees, if the company has leave policies, policies regarding pregnancy disability leave must be included. As a note, under recently enacted legislation there must be continued employer health insurance contributions during the period of pregnancy disability leave for up to four months. The California Family Rights Act also allows 12 weeks of baby bonding leave, with continued employer health insurance contributions now also being required.
Employers with 50 or more employees are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which must be honored when you learn an employee is eligible for family medical leave, and requires a related employer policy.
Also, a new law dictates that employees paid in commissions need to be provided a clearly written commission agreement that describes how commission is calculated, earned and paid. It needs to be signed by, and a copy given to, the employee.
What else could an employer include in an employee handbook?
Employers should have a policy that requires employees to accurately record all time worked (the start and stop times), as well as the start and stop time for meal periods. The policy should clearly prohibit off-the-clock work. It is important to also address meals and rest periods provided by the company.
Technology and communications policies are increasingly necessary. It’s important that an employer indicate that the materials stored and communicated on devices owned by the employer belong to the employer, and it has the right to review and monitor those communications at its discretion.
There’s a lot of attention on bring-your-own-device workplaces. Employers need to communicate that work-related mobile activity is not private and information can be retrieved from a personal device including when the employee exits the company.
Is an employee handbook required?
Companies don’t need to have a handbook, but having one allows them to set forth some essential policies and employee rights and obligations that should be observed. Handbooks enable everyone to have a reference to their rights and obligations.
What will suffice as notice in place of a handbook?
You can provide individual policies. Employers often provide new hires with the policy regarding sexual harassment, or there can be a separate meal and rest period policy. There is other information that must be provided to employees through permanent postings at the workplace or handouts.
Who should assemble the handbook?
An employment attorney is a good resource. He or she will typically have a model handbook that can provide a starting point that’s then customized to suit the employer’s needs. The chamber of commerce or an HR consultant have similar resources.
However, a big part of employers preparing a handbook is for them to become aware of their obligations and rights so they might better order their employment policies to protect themselves. It’s a good education tool and a chance for an employer to order its thoughts on how it wants to treat its workforce. ●
Jeffrey Dinkin is a shareholder at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach him at (949) 725-4000 or [email protected]
Website: Find Jeffrey Dinkin’s profile at www.sycr.com/Jeffrey-Dinkin.
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