When you are preparing or revising an employee handbook, this checklist may be helpful.
- Do employees sign a signature page, confirming they received the handbook?
- On the signature page, do employees agree to follow the policies in the handbook?
- Does the signature page state that this handbook replaces any previous versions?
- On the signature page, do employees agree that they will be “at-will” employees?
- Do employees agree that the employer may change its policies in the future?
Wage and hour issues
- Does the employer confirm that it will pay employees for all hours worked?
- Before employees work overtime, are they required to obtain a supervisor’s approval?
- During unpaid breaks, are employees completely relieved of all duties? (For example, while a receptionist takes an unpaid lunch break, this person shouldn’t be required to greet visitors or answer phone calls.)
- Are employees paid when they attend a business meeting during lunch?
- Are employees paid for attending in-service trainings?
- Are employees paid while they take short breaks?
Paid Time Off
- Has the employer considered combining vacation time, sick time, and personal time into one “bucket” of paid time off?
- Does the paid time off policy line up with the employer’s business objectives? (For example, does it provide incentives for employees to use paid time off during seasons when business is slower?)
- Does the handbook say what will happen to paid time off when employment ends? (In Pennsylvania, employers are not required to pay terminated employees for the value of their paid time off. Some employers choose to do this, as an incentive for employees to give at least two weeks’ notice.)
- If the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to the employer, does the handbook inform employees of their rights?
- Does the handbook list all types of leave that are available? (For example, does the employer offer bereavement leave? How about leave while an employee serves as a juror or witness? What about municipal laws that provide certain types of leave, such as paid sick leave?)
- How should employees request a reasonable accommodation?
- Does the employer permit employees with disabilities to bring service animals to work (Employers should avoid blanket policies that ban all animals.)
- May employees deviate from grooming and uniform requirements for a religious reason, or a medical reason? (For example, an employee may have a religious reason to wear a headscarf, even if the employer has a blanket policy that would otherwise prohibit this.)
Discrimination and retaliation
- Does the employer inform employees that they are protected against discrimination and retaliation?
- Is there an accurate list of protected categories? (Confirm all locations where the employer does business. Some states or municipalities may provide employees with greater protection than federal law. Are there any categories, such as sexual orientation, that the employer should add?)
- Do employees have a clear way to report discrimination and retaliation?
- Is there more than one way to report discrimination and retaliation? (In other words, employees shouldn’t be required to make a report to the same person who they believe is committing acts of discrimination.)
Restrictive covenants/trade secrets
- Are employees required to keep the employer’s information confidential?
- Do employees confirm they are not subject to any restrictive covenants (such as non-compete agreements) that would limit their ability to work for the employer?
- Are employees prohibited from giving the employer confidential information that belongs to a previous employer?
Labor law issues
- If employees belong to a union, does the employer state that it doesn’t intend for the handbook to conflict with any collective bargaining agreement?
- Does the employer have a content-neutral policy on soliciting and distributing materials in the workplace? (In general, if an employer wants to limit union-related communications, the employer must apply the same rules to solicitations which don’t involve a union.)
- Does the handbook accurately reflect whether employees may wear union-related apparel, such as hats, buttons, T-shirts and lanyards?
- Are employees permitted to discuss their wages with each other? (Some employers try to prohibit this, but the National Labor Relations Act entitles employees to discuss their wages with each other. This rule applies to all employers—whether or not they have a union.)
- If the employer has a progressive discipline policy, does the employer reserve the right to deviate from this policy?
- Does the employer reserve the right to inspect company computers and email accounts?
- Does the employer have a social media policy, or a medical marijuana policy?
- If the employer has other policies, how do they fit together with the handbook? (Does it make sense to incorporate the policies into the handbook? Or, should the handbook clarify which other policies will remain in effect?)
- Does the handbook contain any provisions that the employer is unlikely to enforce? (For example, does the handbook prohibit employees from using all social media? Does it prohibit employees from talking on the phone while driving?)
Brian D. Lipkin is an associate with the Pittsburgh law firm of Babst Calland. He advises employers on employment and labor law, and represents clients in commercial litigation. Contact him at 412-394-5456 or email@example.com.