The following Q & A has been selected from Employment Law Answer Book, co-authored by Mark R. Filipp.
Q: 2:32 What are the benefits of an employee handbook?
For those employers that have never assembled an employee handbook, doing so is an educational experience. Employers have general policies for vacations, holiday pay, work rules, discipline, and the like. Putting those policies into writing leads to the creation of better policies and removes any ambiguities and inconsistencies. It also encourages an employer to think ahead to formulate policies for situations that have not yet occurred. In addition, the employer can use a well-drafted handbook as a defense in litigation. For example, most federal civil rights claims begin when similarly situated employees are not treated in the same way. Discrepancies in vacations and payment for holidays, for instance, provide a source for discrimination claims. One way to prevent those claims is to publish a written policy on accumulating and taking vacation time that the employer will apply consistently for similarly situated employees.
In addition, an employer can use an employee handbook proactively to reduce its risk to exposure and litigation. Proactive policies typically found in employee handbooks include those on sexual harassment, non-discrimination, medical examinations, drug and alcohol, e-mail, confidential information, conflict of interest, and employment at will. Employers that want to reduce their risk and exposure to litigation should strongly consider creating and publishing employee handbooks.
Employers that do not have handbooks generally create policies and procedures on an ad hoc basis when circumstances arise. As a practical matter, employee handbooks can also reduce the potential for legal exposure and the anxiety of dealing with situations as they occur. For example, an employer does not have a drug policy but suspects that one of its employees is using illegal drugs on the job. Having no policy to look to, the employer must decide how to deal with the situation. Should the employee be driven home? Should the employee be tested? What rights do the employee and employer each have? A drug and alcohol policy would provide a road map for dealing effectively with the situation. Without a handbook, the employer must create policy at a moment’s notice, a haphazard and ill-advised method of operation.
This text originally appeared in Employment Law Answer Book, Ninth Edition (Wolters Kluwer, 2016). Reprinted with permission. See also, Employment Law Answer Book Q & A