January 21, 2016

“Update Your Employee Handbook,” Say All Experts, Everywhere

little man cartoon with big checklist of employee handbook and hr policy updatesEvery January I see the same thing: lists of “Employer Resolutions” popping up all over, advising that you review your employee handbook and HR practices to make sure they’re still legally compliant. Most of this deluge of helpful content is written by either employment lawyers or HR experts, who know just how hard it is to defend yourself, as an employer, if an employee or their attorney notices that ANY of the rules in your policy manual or ANY of your management practices are legally unenforceable or problematic…or that ANYTHING that ought to be there is missing or misworded.

Those of us who keep a close eye on HR and employment law welcome this recurring theme each year, because it’s such an important point. Employers need to be better protected and better prepared against employment lawsuits, and taking some simple policy and management steps can drastically lower your liability.

And in these lists, one point recurs over and over and, did I mention, over: the overwhelming importance of updating your employee handbook, and keeping it up-to-date.

Here are some of my favorite quotes in this year’s crop of “Employer Resolution” articles:

…from a piece titled, “Top Ten Labor & Employment New Year’s Resolutions for 2016,” by Fisher & Phillips LLP, on which “Update Your Company Handbook” was resolution number one:

Update Your Company Handbook

“This is always at the top of everyone’s list because you know it is so important. But it is often neglected because it seems like such a chore. Yes, it might be painful to open up your current policies and realize they haven’t been updated since the Bush administration…but the time to update your policies is now.”

“The law in your jurisdiction has no doubt recently evolved, even if you last updated your policies in early 2015. Resolve that you will review and revise your handbook as necessary this year, paying special attention to your policies addressing family and medical leave, social media, benefits, and use of electronic devices.”

…from a piece titled, “New Year’s Resolutions for Employers: Review Employee Handbooks and Agreements,” by Nexsen Pruet:

…at the start of a new year, employers should resolve to know what is in their employee handbooks, what their handbook disclaimers say, and what is in stand-alone policies and agreements with employees.”

“Employers should consider setting out arbitration agreements…and some other agreements, in separate documents that meet legal requirements so they can be enforced if necessary.”

…from a piece titled, “New Year’s Resolutions for Employers,” by Carter Law Firm, in which “Update Your Employee Handbook” was the third bullet point:

…avoiding lawsuits…should be on the top of your priority list.”

“Start the new year off with a clean legal slate by updating your employee handbook…make sure your policies fall within legal parameters.”

…and from an article titled, “New Year Resolutions: How Healthy are your HR Systems/Policies?” by Rudman Winchell:

As we begin a new year, the time is ripe for assessing your HR systems to ensure that your policies and procedures are legal, up-to-date, and relevant to your business.”

“The beginning of a new year is a good time for all employers to review workplace policies and handbooks for continued applicability to the workplace as well as ensuring that the policies reflect any updates or changes in the law. Posters and forms should be assessed for the same reason.”

The experts have spoken. And in this one instance, we’re all speaking in unison.

By the way, if you’d like CEDR’s own version of an HR “to do” list, just follow this link.

What outdated policies is your employee manual hiding?

All of the HR To-Dos we listed in the article linked above still hold true. And when it comes to updating your employee handbook, you really do need to have all of your policies scrutinized to make sure you aren’t missing any protections or including anything outdated or out-of-compliance. But if I had to pick just a few policy areas for medical and dental employers to be hyper-aware of as we begin 2017, it would be these.

  • PTO and sick leave. The federal government will NEVER pass a mandatory paid sick leave law. But states and municipalities have been passing them in droves! Statewide paid sick leave laws are now in effect in Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., with laws also scheduled to take effect in Arizona (July 2017) and Washington state (January 2018).Meanwhile, many other states, including New York, have passed laws at the municipal level. In New Jersey alone, as of January 2017, 13 municipalities have enacted their own paid sick leave laws, and additional cities and counties are popping up in states across the country—call us to check on whether your area has an applicable law yet.
  • NLRA compliance. Keeping your handbook compliant with the strict employer requirements imposed by the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, is a constant challenge to hit a moving target. You won’t believe which policies are now considered illegal. Here are just a few:
    • Employees may not divulge confidential information relating to the practice.
    • Employees must not act in a discourteous or insubordinate manner.
    • Employees may not conduct personal business during working hours.

    And…oh, endless others that sound like just plain common-sense attempts to regulate employees. So, what’s wrong with these policies?

    In recent years, the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the NLRA, has continually struck down policies like these for being too broad or too restrictive and thereby infringing upon employees’ legally protected rights to discuss and attempt to better their working conditions. Unless you just had your handbook checked for NLRA compliance, it’s probably hiding some dangerous surprises.

  • And much, much more. I could go on for pages (don’t tempt me!) about recently-changed policies, the most frequent lawsuit triggers, and critical areas of enforcement. But there’s simply no way to list them all here. If you are an independent healthcare employer and your last update was a couple of years ago, it’s time to make sure your book is a living, evolving document that’s capable of helping you manage better and more safely (in compliance with current laws!). We’d be happy to help, and by all means find experts you trust. On the other hand, if you aren’t sure if you really need an update, I recommend our Employee Handbook Evaluation HERE, for medical and dental practice owners and managers. It’s a no-risk, no-strings way to see where your handbook stands, and it’s currently free to readers of HR Base Camp. Most importantly, as an employer, this will help you find out stuff you NEED to know.

I wish you a happy, safe, and lawsuit-free 2017.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace counsel about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. This material is meant to provide information that is believed to be current as of the date of this post.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.


    • Paul EdwardsPaul Edwards says

      Dr. Reiter- We do have an update scheduled for a few weeks form now. We will notify everyone, who needs an update, very soon.

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Please note: CEDR Solutions specializes in providing expert HR support to owners and operators of independently owned medical and dental practices.