Employee handbooks are also referred to as policy manuals or employee booklets. Employers like handbooks to spell out expectations of the employees and to use it as a tool to cover their assets in the event of a lawsuit. Employees typically view manuals as job security as it relates to a belief that they will be treated fairly. When an employment dispute arises, often the focus of the dispute turns on the binding nature of the handbook as well as the content.
What to Include in your Handbook:
Welcome: There should be a welcome letter from the Owner(s) and/or President. This letter should spell out a brief history of the company, what’s important to the company, and goals the company may have.
Mission Statement: The mission statement should spell out commitments from the company to the employees, commitments to the customers, and the overall objectives relating to these commitments.
Expectations: This is an important section as this will spell out the company’s position on matters relating to employment. This is the section that should spell out the drug policy, social media policy, probation period, right to inspect clauses, conflict of interest clauses, firearm policy, dress code, discipline policies and so on Having all these issues spelled out can help give employees piece of mind that they will be treated fairly.
Compensation and Benefits: This section deals with pay structures, pay periods, insurance, paid holidays, vacation pay, sick pay, bereavement pay, overtime pay… Be careful with this section. For example, although no Tennessee law requires private sector employers to provide employees withvacation pay, if promised, they may be legally bound to provide it. Employers are free to provide their own system for vacation accrual and these must be stated clearly. If the policy is intended for the employee to work the entire period for vacation to accrue, it should state that employees will Not be entitled to pro rata payment for partial performance. Ambiguity will likely be construed against the employer. Tennessee Code 50-2-103, states that the final wages of an employee who quits or is discharged shall include any vacation pay or other compensatory time that is owned to the employee by virtue of company policy or labor agreement. State policy clearly and follow consistently. A violation could result in a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by fine up to $1000 for each violation.
Federal Policies: The Family Medical Leave Act requires employers of certain size must provide employees with up to 12 weeks unpaid leave during any 12 month period for the birth or care of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or if the employee has a serious health condition. Equal employment and non-discrimination policies have to be followed to comply with the U.S, Department of Labor standards. Worker’s compensation policies should be listed so that employees are informed of their work place injury rights.
It’s important to remember that Tennessee is an employment at will state. Many employment at will employees work under an oral agreement. In those situations, the handbook may be the only source of contractual terms. In order to prove a breach of contract case in Tennessee, the plaintiff must prove an enforceable contract existed between the parties. Because of this there are certain disclaimers that all employee handbooks must contain.
- Not a contract: Point out that the handbook is just a handbook and is not a contract, express or implied. The handbook does not guarantee employment for any specific length of time. Either the Company or the employee can end the relationship at any time, with or without notice. Furthermore, it should be noted that the policies in the handbook may be subject to change as the Company deems appropriate.
- Handbook trumps previous policy documents: The handbook should be clear that it is the authority on company policies. ” This employee handbook supersedes and replaces all previous policies and procedures including, but not limited to, all memoranda or written policies which may have been issued on the subjects covered in the handbook.”
- Employee acknowledgement page: In order to protect your business and as proof that your employees have been made aware of company policies, it is important to include an acknowledgment page. The acknowledgement page should state that the employee understands it is their responsibility to read and follow the policies. The acknowledgement page should be printed and signed by the employee and detachable from the handbook for the employer’s files.
For more information on employee handbooks, please contact Will Cartwright with Cartwright Law. Ask about the small business package.