Caution: Employee Handbooks

Caution: Employee Handbooks

Tom Stilp JD, MBA/MM, LLM, MSC
If it has been a while since you last reviewed your employee handbook, you may be inviting problems. You should establish a regular revision schedule and update your handbook once a year, or at least whenever significant changes occur.

You don’t want your employees relying on outdated or even illegal policies. Plus, you may be able to obtain lower rates on your employment practices liability insurance, which protects businesses from various kinds of employee lawsuits.

Handbooks must change to keep up with the times. Outdated handbooks may be more dangerous than no handbook at all. Your company manual may unknowingly reinforce corporate cultural norms at odds with current discrimination laws. Language from a bygone era may come back to haunt your company and provide ammunition for lawsuits.

Exhibit “A”: A female employee quit after 25 years because a male co-worker earned more than she did. She filed an Equal Pay Act (EPA) lawsuit.  Because the EPA allows employees to win double damages and an additional year’s back pay if the employee can prove the violation was “willful,” the former employee claimed the company handbook proved intent to discriminate and won.

The former employee pointed to a policy that addressed scheduling problems for “ladies with children going to school . . . ”  The employer’s policies, she said, reinforced a corporate attitude that men are more valuable employees than their female counterparts. Simpson v. Merchant and Planters Bank, No. 04-3972 (8th Cir.)

When you prepare the company handbook, plan ahead for later versions by stating that the company reserves the right to make changes to any of the handbook’s provisions.  And remember, what you exclude from your handbook can be as important as what you include.

Having prepared handled hundreds of employment matters for businesses over the years, legal counsel can minimize potential issues.

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