Employee handbooks can protect employers by giving employees plenty of notice of business policies. However, if the handbooks are poorly or improperly drafted, they could be used by the employee against the employer.
There are many issues that should be addressed before adopting a handbook for your business. First, how detailed does your handbook need to be? A broad handbook can outline the most important policies and provide some protection in the event of an employment lawsuit. However, a broad handbook may not be useful on a day-to-day basis. A more detailed handbook would provide daily personnel guidance for managers and employees, but would require regular updates as the workplace evolves.
Certain language should be included in any employee handbook, regardless of the level of detail. The handbook should be tailored depending on the location of the business. DC, Maryland, and Virginia each have slightly different laws and policies in the workplace. In the DMV, it is common for a business to have employees in all three locations. Maryland and Virginia are similar to federal law. DC, however, is more protective of employees and places more of the burden on employers. Local jurisdictions such as Montgomery County have their own specific nuances that should be followed. This solidifies the importance of addressing all jurisdictions in the handbook if necessary.
An employer must specifically set forth the anti-discrimination policy, and the at-will employment status of employees. Maryland and Virginia largely rely on the federally protected categories: race, color, sex, age (40 and older), disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and genetic information. In DC, anyone over the age of 18 years is protected, as is personal appearance, political affiliation, gender expression, family responsibilities, source of income, place of residence, matriculation, and more.
An employer should clearly layout a leave policy, and insure that it’s compliant with Maryland’ new paid sick leave laws. The policy should address issues including, but not limited to, the following: the procedure for requesting leave, how many days employees will be allowed, whether there is a vesting period, and if employees may carry leave to the next calendar year. If the employer clearly addresses each of these issues, both the employer and employee can rely on a standard policy, which should minimize internal conflict.
The Family and Medical Leave Act, a leave policy governed by federal law, may apply depending on the number of employees in the Company. This Act would be in addition to a company’s regular leave policy.
Employers should use the handbook as a place to clearly define the company’s alcohol and drug policy. However, issues including raises, bonuses, or insurance options may be overly detailed for an employee handbook, as they are subject to somewhat frequent change. If you do include these matters in a handbook, it is imperative that you update the handbook as often as necessary to address these issues.
If you are concerned that your handbook is not as effective as it could be, or if you are interested in having an employee handbook prepared for your company, please contact the attorneys at Alexander & Cleaver.