During a recent webinar, Katie Busbee discussed the essential elements of maintaining your workplace’s employee handbooks. In this blog post, Katie will delve into key employee handbook components and best practices and explore recent employment law updates.

While not legally required, having an employee handbook is in every company’s best interest. It serves as a tool to communicate policies, procedures, and company values, providing protection for employers when they are consistently followed.

What policies should an employee handbook include?
Crafting a comprehensive employee handbook involves covering essential policies such as equal opportunity employment, discrimination and harassment, accommodations, wage and hour policies, standards of conduct, drug and alcohol policies, complaint and reporting procedures, paid and unpaid leave, FMLA (if applicable), and workers’ compensation. Employee handbooks are not one-size-fits-all and should be tailored to your industry, company size and unique practices.

Does an employee handbook need an at-will disclaimer?
In South Carolina, an at-will disclaimer is crucial to safeguard against the unintentional creation of an employment contract. The at-will disclaimer must be in all capital letters, underlined, bolded, and placed prominently on the first page of your employee handbook and signed by the employee. This disclaimer protects a company’s right to terminate an employee at any time.

How often should an employee handbook be updated?
Reviewing and updating your employee handbook annually is important to reflect any changes in the law and your company’s practices. Ensure that your handbook serves its purpose to communicate policies and procedures, embody company values, and provide essential protection—while remembering that your company’s unique practices may necessitate customization.

Addressing Discrimination and Harassment
Discrimination and harassment have no place in the workplace, and employers must foster an environment free from such behaviors. Clearly outline your company’s prohibition of discrimination and harassment in your employee handbook and provide legal definitions, examples, and reporting procedures. Highlight the importance of immediate reporting, confidentiality (on a need-to-know basis), and the non-retaliation provision. Include an Equal Opportunity Employer statement to set the tone for a workplace free from discrimination and harassment.

FLSA Safe Harbor Statute
Understanding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Safe Harbor Statute is vital for proper employee classification and payroll practices. Ensure your handbook addresses employee classifications, recording time, overtime approval processes, and payroll procedures. Implement a clearly communicated policy to avoid improper pay deductions, including a complaint mechanism for exempt workers to qualify for the FLSA Safe Harbor.

Drug Policies and Testing
Comprehensive drug policies and testing procedures are essential for a safe and productive workplace. Stay informed about the legalities surrounding marijuana use, especially considering varying state laws.

If drug testing is part of your policy, be consistent in its application and consider the specific requirements for different positions. Clearly define your company’s drug testing policy, including procedures for random testing, post-accident testing and obtaining employee consent.

Disciplinary Policies
Establishing clear expectations for employee conduct is essential. Communicate standards of conduct, what constitutes misconduct, provide specific conduct examples and outline the disciplinary procedures—train managers to enforce policies and document incidents appropriately. Strive for consistency in applying discipline, balancing progressive measures with the flexibility needed for unique situations.

NLRB Updates
Recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions emphasize the importance of employee handbook language. Be mindful of policies that could be interpreted as restricting employees’ rights under Section 7 of the NLRA, and ensure your handbook includes a clear statement that it is not meant to chill employees’ rights.

Pregnancy Laws
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and PUMP Act mandate reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions (absent undue hardship under the PWFA, and absent undue hardship for employers with fewer than 50 employees under the PUMP Act). These laws and related regulations should be incorporated into your existing policies. We provide an in-depth outline of those laws here: Navigating Pregnancy and Postpartum Employment Laws in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers.

New Technology & Post-Pandemic Considerations
With the rise of remote work, hybrid work policies, and increased reliance on virtual tools, be sure your employee handbook addresses any new workplace realities that pertain to your company. As technology evolves, evaluate and adapt existing policies to apply to virtual meeting platforms, employee portals and social media.

Staying informed about the latest employment law updates, addressing key workplace policies and procedures, and embracing best practices are essential to maintaining an up-to-date employee handbook. Remember, it is vital to review your employee handbook at least annually and consult with legal counsel to help ensure your policies comply with the law and contribute to a respectful workplace.

To learn more about these employee handbook essentials, watch the complimentary webinar recording here.
For questions related to employee handbooks or other employment law matters, please contact Katie or a member of the HSB Employment Law practice team.