Handbooks are a significant asset for communicating company policies and promoting fairness and consistency in the workplace. Evolving federal, state and local laws make routinely reviewing and updating handbooks critical for employers. When amending these policies, employers have to consider how the policies will affect their organization and its employees’ future performance.

Here are some of the key topics that employers should note when updating their handbooks:

Equal Employment Opportunity

Federal, state, and local laws prohibit employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of specific protected characteristics, such as age, race, sex, and religion. The list of protected characteristics continues to change as states pass new laws and government agencies and courts take new positions on existing laws. Recently, many jurisdictions prohibit employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Consider answering these questions when reviewing your EEO policy:

  • Are all of the characteristics that are protected under federal, state, and local laws included in the policy?
  • Who is covered by the policy, such as applicants, employees, interns, and contractors (if applicable)?
  • Is it stated in the policy that retaliation is prohibited against employees for filing a complaint or participating in an investigation?
  • Does the policy extend to all aspects of employment, including but not limited to hiring, selection, training, benefits, promotions, compensation, discipline, and termination?

Equal Pay and Wage Discrimination

States are aggressively pushing to pass pay-equity laws to achieve fair pay across the board. In 2018, four states amended pay-equity laws. With the cost of living increasing it is vital that organizations provide equally competitive wages for all employees.

Consider answering these questions when reviewing your wage policy:

  • Is it clearly stated that wage discrimination is prohibited on the basis of gender?
  • Are your hiring managers aware of asking job applicants and employees regarding salary history or otherwise seeking such information?
  • Are your employees educated about wage discussions among co-workers and why these conversations should be prohibited?

Sick Leave and Family Leave Policies

States and local jurisdictions continue to pass laws that require family leave and sick leave. Some state laws require employers to have written policies outlining sick and family leave policies. It is a best practice to have a clear policy outlining employee and employer rights and responsibilities of each party related to leave.

Consider asking these questions when reviewing your leave policies:

  • What are the requirements for eligibility, such as length of service and status as a full-time or part-time employee?
  • How much leave is available and how will it accrue?
  • Is leave paid or unpaid?
  • What types of absences are covered by the policy?

Your employee handbook is a necessary tool to communicate workplace policies. Also, it can be helpful to highlight where the updates or changes are in the handbook and explain how these policies are different from what was in place in the past. Making a point to communicate this can help support understanding among staff members. HR managers should also be sure to communicate when these changes are going into effect. It is recommended to have employees acknowledge the fact that they received the updated handbook material and that they took the time to read through and understand the changes.

References: SHRM, SBS HRS