Why and How to Update Your Employment Manual

Author: McMillan Metro Editor Date: 03/29/2013

Categories: Employment Law & Litigation

Your employment manual should be a living document that grows and changes as the company evolves. Both employees and management view the manual as a guide on how to resolve conflicts and problems that arise in the workplace. You need to be able to apply policies consistently to resolve employment issues and reduce the company’s potential liabilities, such as those from discrimination claims.

When we review existing manuals, we often find that they are out of date or even based on another state’s laws, which can easily happen if the manual was downloaded from the Internet or copied from another business. Such a manual can do more harm than good because it may not be legally correct or it may impose unnecessary burdens on your business. For example, employers do not need to give paid time off for jury duty. Yet, some businesses do just because the manual “came that way” and the employers thought it was legally required.

To be effective and stay effective, the manual should be reviewed and updated periodically with the help of your legal counsel to be sure it reflects current company policies and any changes in the law. It is also an ideal time to do an “employment audit” to ensure that your employment practices comply with the law. Short of a full-scale review, you should make interim updates to  anticipate any of these events:

Employees make disparaging comments on social media.

Whether or not a business has its own social media presence, more and more clients are lamenting the effect of social media on its employees and business. Social media can lead to problems, especially if an employee disparages customers or discloses confidential information. However, due to recent guidance from the National Labor Relations Board, businesses must tread carefully when trying to regulate an employee’s social media use. An employee’s free speech cannot be limited, but you can and should require that employees act professionally when using the name of the company, that they never identify themselves as speaking for the company, and that they not disclose confidential information. To prevent issues related to social media, your business should proactively draft a compliant policy and train employees on appropriate social media use.

An increase in the number of employees triggers a federal or state statute.

As your company grows, you may cross thresholds that cause certain laws to take effect due to the size of your workforce. For example, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies to every business that has fifty or more employees; the Americans with Disabilities Act affects employers with fifteen or more employees. You should make sure that you know when your business must begin to comply with these laws. By promptly revising your policies, you avoid employee confusion and assure that you and your managerial team can avoid compliance issues.

You open an office or operation in a new state jurisdiction.

In our region, growing companies frequently expand across jurisdictional lines by opening a new office or other facility. If your company plans such a move, it should trigger a review of the employment manual because every jurisdiction has distinct employment laws. Your company will have to comply with all the new laws and understand which employees are effected. For example, in the District of Columbia employers must grant employees a certain amount of paid sick days each year. In Maryland (at least at the moment) and Virginia, employers are not required to grant paid sick leave. Your manual needs to clearly reflect any and all of these variables.

Your business plans to provide a new service or enter into a new industry.

If a company decides to launch a new service or expand into a new industry, different laws or regulations may apply to employment policies that should be addressed in the manual. For example, a furniture store begins to offer delivery service to its customers and will hire new employees to drive the company’s trucks. This new service brings up new employment issues: Should there be a driving policy? Should the company require drug tests or background checks? Who should be responsible for insuring the employee while driving the company’s trucks? All these issues should be discussed and the resulting policies added to the employment manual. If your business is up against any of these new developments or concerns, we encourage you to talk to us. As legal counsel, we will be happy to propose an approach that clarifies any employment manual issues you may have, along with a strategy for addressing them.

Contact the attorneys at McMillan Metro at (301) 251-1180 for more information.