Is It Time to Update Your Employee Handbook?

Employee handbooks are meant to be tools that ensure employers and employees are on the same page about what’s expected at work. If the document is outdated, it will cause confusion and resentment — and could put your business at risk. So when is it time to update it? This checklist will help you keep track.

Once a Year

Experts say you should review your handbook once a year at the very least to ensure it’s compliant with new laws or requirements. If it was last updated in 2014, for example, it’s outdated under the Americans With Disabilities Act, says Mindy Flanigan, owner of Inspiring HR.

Some states tend to pass a lot of employment laws every year, and businesses in those states should pay careful attention to their handbooks every year, Flanigan says. States such as Virginia tend not to update state laws very often, while states such as California and New York are more likely to make changes in state employment laws every year.

In addition, once a year is a good time to check on company information such as main contacts, addresses and important phone numbers to verify they haven’t changed, says Charina Flores, vice president of HR for the Barbelo Group. These are changes that may be overlooked during a merger or move.

Finally, company policies not governed by laws may have changed over the past year, as well. “By now, everyone hopefully has a social media and email policy,” says Craig Broome, president of Highflyer, an HR tech company. “But does the one you have apply to today’s standards and cultures?”

If You’re Growing Quickly

As your organization grows, it may hit employee counts that mean it’s now regulated differently. If you have fewer than 15 full-time employees who work at least 20 calendar weeks in a year, for example, then the business is not subject to Americans With Disabilities Act hiring requirements under Title I. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to those with 20 full-time employees. Different employee counts may trigger different requirements, so as you grow, change the information in your handbook to reflect those milestones.

If your growth takes you into different states, you’ll need to address that in the handbook, as well, Broome says. Mandatory sick leave and medical or legal marijuana are local issues that may run up against company policies if an organization grows into jurisdictions where those laws apply.

When People Aren’t Happy

Sometimes the sign that it’s time to change the handbook is a little more subtle. When you hear people say words such as “unfair,” “not my job” or “I was not aware of that,” immediately review and update your employee handbook to clarify expectations, procedures and processes, Flores says. Practices such as work hours, job duties or disciplinary actions that contradict policies can affect employee morale, cause confusion and leave an employer vulnerable to claims of discrimination.

Businesses should strive to make their handbooks reflect company culture accurately, Broome says. He says he often works with startup or tech firms whose leaders believe they have a good handbook — and they do, because it was written by an attorney. However, the tone is all wrong, he says. “It’ll be full of things like demanding a doctor’s note for a two-day sick absence. That just shows the company doesn’t trust people, and it’s not what they’re aiming for.”


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