What essential tactical support should all businesses and organizations not only have in place but regularly review? Employee handbooks, says Human Resource Consultant Chelsea Jensen (SHRM-CP, HRCI, PHR).
“Handbooks serve as a communication tool and compliance component for organizations and employees,” said Chelsea. “They are truly part of the foundation of an exceptional workplace.”
Employers Council recommends members review their employee handbooks and policies annually—and have them professionally reviewed every two years. Yearly audits ensure handbooks comply with current laws and regulations. Solid, up-to-date handbooks not only protect employers from legal challenges but help keep everyone at an organization on the same page on everything from work hours to whistleblowing.
Chelsea has been helping businesses of all sizes create, update and maintain handbooks and policies since 2014. She teaches a variety of workshops on the topic, including the comprehensive—and popular—virtual class “Employee Handbooks: Revising or Developing.”
“We suggest that our members put reviewing their employee handbooks on the calendar every year,” says Chelsea, “and use us as a partner to make sure you’re compliant with whatever laws and regulations might have come up during the year.”
What should your annual review include?
1. Make sure you have the must-haves.
Chelsea refers to Employers Council’s extensive collection of resources for members, including its handbook checklist. If your handbook is missing any of the following essential sections, remedy immediately. (Call the Member Care Team for help accessing sample language for organizations of your size and location):
- Acknowledgement of Receipt (mirrors disclaimer)
- Constructive Discharge (in AZ, unless posted)
- Credible Problem Solving Guideline
- Date of Handbook
- Date of Paydays (in CO and AZ, unless posted)
- Disclaimers (bos, all caps, conspicuous)
- Equal Employment Opportunity / Sexual Harrassment
- Ethics/Whistleblower (if Sarbanes-Oxley applies)
- Family and Medical Leave (if covered under the Act)
- Hours of Work / Workweek
- Medical Leave (if not covered by FMLA)
- Smoking (check local ordinances, required in Denver, CO)
- Weapons (in AZ and UT)
2. Review key topics for compliance.
It’s important to go over critical handbook sections that could be subject to change, whether that’s because your business is growing or regulations are evolving. Annually reexamine:
- Equal Employment Opportunity / Sexual Harrassment
- Wage and Hour (including overtime)
- Conduct (including any changes in culture; mission, vision and values; or mergers and acquisitions)
- Leaves and Benefits
- Technology and Systems (if there have been updates)
- Safety (including guidelines for public health emergencies beyond COVID-19, emergency response, natural disasters and terrorism).
- You don’t need to include a business continuity plan in the handbook itself, but you should have an up-to-date plan that the handbook can reference.
3. Check on new multi-state laws and regulations.
Your handbook may need updating based on changes happening at the state, county and city level. Make sure you are up-to-date on laws in your area for:
- Equal Pay for Equal Work
- Sick Pay
- Minimum Wage (including county and city mandates)
4. Make necessary annual updates.
Some states have updates that need to be incorporated every year. For example, Colorado’s Overtime and Minimum Pay Standards (COMPS) and Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA) change annually. Employers Council’s handbook experts can help you stay on top of your location’s annual updates.
5. Consider updating evolving policies.
Chelsea highlights two areas for potential handbook updates: Telecommuting/remote work and data security. Employers Council members have had many questions about both in the past year.
- Remote work: As many organizations are transitioning to hybrid remote/in-office practices, handbook policies may need to be rewritten. Chelsea recommends having a separate remote/hybrid agreement for employees to sign that stands outside of the handbook’s policy description; contact the Member Care Team for samples your business can tailor for your situation.
- Data security: Colorado enacted a new data privacy law this past summer that should be reflected in employee handbooks. Check to make sure your handbook’s data security sections are in-line with local regulations.
6. Evaluate for inclusivity.
Does the language your handbook uses exclude anyone? Consider using “they” pronouns for gender inclusivity. Chelsea also suggests thinking about inclusivity factors that you may not have considered: “Ask how you can ensure equity for people who are working remotely versus in the office in your policies. Do they have access to the same information and opportunities?”
7. Ensure handbook policies match reality.
The best handbooks mirror what is actually happening in the workplace. “If it’s not what you do, don’t put it in there!” says Chelsea. “You want to be consistent and make sure your handbook is aligned with reality.”
8. Every other year, review your handbook with Employers Council.
Chelsea and Employers Council’s other handbook experts are steeped in the minutiae of policy updates and ready to help you review yours. Depending on your membership level and location, this review could be included in your consulting hours. Handbook creation and policy reviews are always available through Employers Council for-fee services. (California handbook services are only available as a for-fee service because of the state’s extensive employment laws.)
Ready to review your organization’s handbook?
EXPLORE members-only handbook resources. “A huge benefit of Employers Council membership is that we have hundreds of sample policies already in compliance and legally reviewed that organizations can copy, paste and build on,” explains Chelsea. Log into the member portal, then navigate to “Resources,” “Tools,” and “Employee Handbooks.” You can explore samples by organization size and state.
DOWNLOAD handbook tips.
SIGN-UP for an upcoming “Employee Handbooks: Revising or Developing” virtual session.
CONTACT Employers Council for assistance.