Top 10 Employee Handbook tips to promote good employee relations and avoid costly litigation

The importance of an up-to-date handbook cannot be stressed enough

Pm Employee Handbook

In today’s turbulent economic times, where it is difficult for people to find alternative employment if they’re terminated, or if people sense termination is imminent, employees will avail themselves of all employment rights available to them in order to protect their livelihoods. It is therefore imperative that your practice has a well-drafted and up-to-date handbook in order to promote and foster positive employee relations, and to place itself in the best position possible to avoid costly litigation. At a minimum, your handbook should address these 10 topics:

10. Employment at will: Make sure that the handbook includes language that says the “employee’s employment with your practice is ‘at will,’” which essentially means employment can be terminated for any reason, with or without cause or notice, at any time by the practice or the employee.

9. Equal Opportunity Employer: The handbook should confirm that your practice does not discriminate against applicants or employees because of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, or any other basis protected by federal, state, or local law.

8. Internal complaint procedure: It is important to provide employees with a mechanism by which they can report any claims of discrimination or harassment. The internal complaint procedure in the handbook should provide for a prompt and objective investigation of any claim of unlawful discrimination, appropriate disciplinary action if warranted, and appropriate remedies for any victim of discrimination.

7. Retaliation is prohibited: The handbook should make clear that your practice prohibits all retaliation for submitting a report of unlawful discrimination or for cooperating in an investigation, and that any supervisor or employee who retaliates against the accused or those involved in the investigation will be disciplined.

6. It’s not just about sex – all forms of unlawful harassment are prohibited: Your practice must prohibit harassment based on age, race, religion, gender, sex, national origin, and any other protected category. It is important that your handbook define what constitutes harassment under the law, as harassment can range anywhere from requiring sexual favors in exchange for continued employment, to something as seemingly benign as hanging up a swimsuit calendar or religious decoration.

5. Workplace violence: The handbook should have a policy against acts or threats of physical violence, and it applies to all persons involved in your practice, including doctors, staff, patients, vendors, and anyone else who may visit your practice.

4. Employment eligibility and verification: The handbook should contain a policy that your practice will comply with applicable immigration laws, and that as a condition of employment every employee must provide satisfactory evidence of his or her identity and legal authority to work in the United States.

3. Wage and hour provisions: The handbook must clearly delineate, among other things, employee classifications (i.e., full-time, part-time, exempt, non-exempt), applicable workweek including overtime policies, meal and break periods, and all wage policies including recording of time and frequency of pay.

2. Time-off policies: One of the biggest challenges for employers is managing employee days off and leaves of absence. The task of managing employee leaves is easier if the handbook has clear and concise policies regarding hours worked, holidays, sick leave, disability leave, personal leave, vacation, and family and medical leave. The laws governing leaves of absence are complex and perplexing. A handbook that clearly spells out your practice’s policies regarding employee leaves will be beneficial to both the practice and the employees.

1. Social media and Internet policy: Employee use of the Internet and social media websites both at work and away from work, whether it be through the office computer or smartphones, has come to the forefront of challenging issues for employers. It is essential for employers to define clearly and educate their employees about what is prohibited in social media and on the Internet.

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It is very difficult in this day and age for employers, particularly those in small to midsize medical or dental practices, to navigate the complex maze of employment laws. However, those practices that have thorough and up-to-date handbooks stand a much better chance of preserving positive employee relations and, at the same time, avoiding costly litigation.

Guy M. Allen is a shareholder in Littler Mendelson’s Long Island office. He has a broad range of experience representing employers in all types of employment matters, including complex employment litigation, trade secret and noncompetition litigation, class action avoidance and defense, and single and multi-plaintiff cases involving claims for wrongful termination, harassment, and discrimination. Guy also counsels clients on a variety of employment practices and issues, including employment contracts, reductions-in-force, employee handbooks, leave policies, and the interplay of federal and local state statutes including the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mr. Allen can be reached at gallen@littler.com.

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