Transcript: Episode 198 – Mitigating Risk with Employee Handbooks (with Ken Siepman)
July 1, 2024
Transcript: Episode 199 – How and Why Pay Transparency Works
July 15, 2024

Click here for a full transcript of the episode.

Employee handbooks set clear expectations, reduce uncertainty, and welcome new employees while affirming company values. Unfortunately, 60% of staff avoid reading their company’s employee handbook. To create a handbook your employees will actually use, keep your town positive and understandable, avoid legal jargon and confusion terminology, ensure access to the handbook is easy, and include contact information for those who can answer questions.

Some employers are choosing not to have handbooks, but not at the expense of having policies. Freestanding policies may offer more flexibility to adjust pieces as laws change. Whether you should have a handbook or freestanding policies depends on the structure and environment of the business. The format of your handbook may also depend on the business; in an environment like manufacturing, where many employees don’t have ready access to a company intranet while they’re at work, it might be best to distribute printed copies of the handbook rather than digital-only.

Many people believe that the National Labor Relations Act only applies in a unionized work environment, but it generally applies to all private sector employers, and it’s a very challenging area. Even if a rule looks okay on its face, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may find that it’s not compliant if it has a reasonable tendency to chill employees’ protected activity. To overcome a rule being unlawful, an employer might have to show that it has a substantial, legitimate business objective, and it could not be drafted more narrowly. To comply, make sure you are very detailed about what is covered in your rule. For example, rather than “confidential information,” specify things like trade secrets, intellectual property, or proprietary customer information.

Employers should also be specific in their social media policies. There are a variety of things you can include, like prohibiting employees from sharing certain types of information, not harassing or bullying coworkers, or including disclaimers that their postings do not represent the employer’s position. Again, though, you need to spell out exactly what you’re prohibiting, and it cannot include any prohibition of employees’ ability to discuss wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment on social media.

In the last year or two, Congress has passed a couple laws that may need to be included in handbooks. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy. The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, or PUMP Act, requires employers to provide break time to a woman to express breast milk and a separate, private space that is not a bathroom in which to do it.

If you have employees in many different states, there are a few things you can do. One is to give everybody whatever meets the requirements in the state with the strictest law. That may not be economical or functional, so you may also have a general handbook with state addendums that include additional information for employees who work in that state.

In this episode’s listener question, we’re asked a few different questions about how to proceed after being written up by a manager. In the news, 18.8% of EEOC charges for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2022, were for religious discrimination.

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Emily Miller
Emily Miller
Emily works behind the scenes at JoyPowered, helping to edit and publish the books, producing the podcast, and running the website and social media.

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