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Tips for Handbook Review

November 5, 2018

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Tips for Handbook Review

November 5, 2018

Authored by: Christy Phanthavong

It’s that time of year when human resources departments turn their attention to reviewing and updating their employee handbooks for the upcoming year.  Below are some things to consider when updating your handbook:

  • Updates to federal laws – Have any applicable federal laws or regulations been changed, or any court or agency opinions issued that impact your policies?
  • Updates to state or local laws – Similarly, have any applicable state laws or regulations been changed?
  • State law addenda – Does a “one-size fits all” handbook work for your company, or does your company footprint require state law addenda? Has your company recently expanded into new locations?
  • Keeping up with the times – Unfortunately, policies relating to safety, security, emergency plans, emergency contact information, etc. are becoming increasingly necessary and important.
  • Introduction – Does your statement describing your company, its history and philosophy, etc. need refreshing or updating?
  • Policies v. Practices – Is your handbook keeping up with your actual practices?
  • Cross-references – Are there new and separate company policies (e.g., Code of Conduct; global policies) that should be cross-referenced in the handbook?
  • Consistency with separate policies – Do you have separate policies (such as a stand-alone reaffirmation of a policy against harassment, or local facility policies that are separate from a corporate handbook) that are similar or related to policies in the handbook, and if so, is the language consistent?
  • Phone numbers, names, titles, third party administrators – If specific information regarding these and similar subjects is provided in

Hands-Free Laws: Practical Considerations for Employers

As of July 1, 2018, Georgia is now one of 16 states that have banned the use of a hand-held cell phone while driving.  Under the new Hands-Free Georgia Act (House Bill 673), drivers in Georgia may not:

  • Physically hold or support a wireless communication device or stand-alone electronic device with any part of the body;
  • Write, send, or read any text based communications on such devices;
  • Watch a video or movie on such devices; or
  • Record or broadcast a video on such devices.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act does allow drivers to use a single button on a wireless device to make a voice phone call.  Under the new law, drivers may also use a wireless device for voice-to-text communications and for navigation purposes.   Drivers may use a wireless device in a lawfully parked vehicle, but not while the vehicle is at a stop light or in stopped traffic.

Violations of the Hand-Free Georgia Act carry a fine of up to $50 for a first conviction, $100 for a second conviction, and  $150 for a third conviction.  First-time offenders can avoid a fine by appearing in court with a device or receipt for a device that allows for hand-free calls.

Similar hands-free laws have also been enacted in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

With the growing use

Tips For Drafting Employee Handbooks – Tip #6: Requiring Acknowledgement Forms

This article is the last part of a six-part series.   The purpose of this series is to provide tips and identify potential pitfalls associated with the drafting of an employee handbook.

While an employee handbook serves many functions, its primary purpose from a legal standpoint is to reduce potential liability with respect to claims brought by current and former employees.  Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling to commit the time and bear the expense of implementing an employee handbook (or updating an existing handbook) until after they have been sued and the absence (or poor draftsmanship) of a particular written policy has crippled their defense to an employment claim.  The purpose of this series is to provide tips and identify potential pitfalls associated with the drafting of an employee handbook.  Tip #6 discusses why it is helpful for an employer to require its employees to sign employee handbook acknowledgement forms.

Tip #6: Acknowledgment Forms

In addition to disseminating the employee handbook to all employees, employers should require each employee to sign a form acknowledging receipt of the employee handbook and the responsibility to review the same.  Signed acknowledgment forms should be maintained in employee personnel files.  Once this has been done, employees cannot credibly disclaim having received notice of all policies in the employee handbook.  It also is a good idea to specifically reference important policies (e.g., a harassment policy with a complaint reporting procedure) in the acknowledgment form so that an employee cannot later claim that he/she did not realize

Tips For Drafting Employee Handbooks – Tip #5: Updating Handbooks to Address Changes in the Legal Landscape

This article is part five in a six-part series.  The purpose of this series is to provide tips and identify potential pitfalls associated with the drafting of an employee handbook.

While an employee handbook serves many functions, its primary purpose from a legal standpoint is to reduce potential liability with respect to claims brought by current and former employees.  Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling to commit the time and bear the expense of implementing an employee handbook (or updating an existing handbook) until after they have been sued and the absence (or poor draftsmanship) of a particular written policy has crippled their defense to an employment claim.  The purpose of this series is to provide tips and identify potential pitfalls associated with the drafting of an employee handbook.  Tip #5 focuses on the importance of consistently updating employee handbooks.

Tip #5: Updating Handbooks to Address Changes in the Legal Landscape

An employee handbook can only reduce potential liability if the policies therein are legally compliant.  Accordingly, it pays to review your handbook periodically to ensure that your policies are up to date.

For example, multi-state employers need to be vigilant about ever-changing state-specific (and even city-specific) obligations.  Current hot topics include leave rights (e.g., paid sick leave), drug testing (e.g., protection for medical marijuana use), and pregnancy accommodation.  Rarely will a “one size fits all” policy on any of these or similar subjects be compliant in all jurisdictions.  Accordingly, employers should consider state-specific addenda and update them regularly.

At a

Tips For Drafting Employee Handbooks – Tip #4: Avoiding Invasion of Privacy Claims

This article is part four in a six-part series.  The purpose of this series is to provide tips and identify potential pitfalls associated with the drafting of an employee handbook.

While an employee handbook serves many functions, its primary purpose from a legal standpoint is to reduce potential liability with respect to claims brought by current and former employees.  Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling to commit the time and bear the expense of implementing an employee handbook (or updating an existing handbook) until after they have been sued and the absence (or poor draftsmanship) of a particular written policy has crippled their defense to an employment claim.  Tip #4 addresses how including certain information in an employee handbook may help an employer defend against invasion of privacy claims.

Tip #4: Avoiding Invasion of Privacy Claims

An employer’s investigation of an employee’s potential misconduct can give rise to various claims relating to invasion of privacy.  Employer investigations can take many forms, from physically searching an employee’s desk, locker, or automobile following a complaint of stolen property, to retrieving an alleged harasser’s emails and voicemails while investigating a sexual harassment complaint, to drug and alcohol testing following a workplace accident.  Privacy laws differ quite a bit from state to state.  Accordingly, it is important to consult with local counsel regarding state law requirements, especially with respect to drug and alcohol testing which is one of the more heavily regulated areas of employment law.  With that disclaimer, there are certain measures that all

Tips For Drafting Employee Handbooks – Tip #3: Avoiding Breach of Contract Claims

This article is part three in a six-part series.  The purpose of this series is to provide tips and identify potential pitfalls associated with the drafting of an employee handbook.

While an employee handbook serves many functions, its primary purpose from a legal standpoint is to reduce potential liability with respect to claims brought by current and former employees.  Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling to commit the time and bear the expense of implementing an employee handbook (or updating an existing handbook) until after they have been sued and the absence (or poor draftsmanship) of a particular written policy has crippled their defense to an employment claim.  Tip #3 explains how including certain language in an employee handbook may help an employer to defend breach of contract claims.

Tip #3: Avoiding Breach of Contract Claims

It is not difficult to form a common law contract.  Typically, all that is needed is an offer, an acceptance, and consideration.  In most jurisdictions, an employee’s acceptance of employment or continued employment following receipt of an employee handbook can satisfy both the acceptance and the consideration elements of contract formation.  This leaves only the offer prong to be satisfied, and employees and the plaintiffs’ bar have long argued that policies in employee handbooks stating what an employer will (or will not) do in certain circumstances constitute contractual offers or promises, the breach of which can support a breach of contract claim.

For example, an employee may bring a breach of contract claim based on

Tips For Drafting Employee Handbooks – Tip #2: The Importance of Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment Policies

This article is part two in a six-part series.  The purpose of this series is to provide tips and identify potential pitfalls associated with the drafting of an employee handbook.

While an employee handbook serves many functions, its primary purpose from a legal standpoint is to reduce potential liability with respect to claims brought by current and former employees.  Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling to commit the time and bear the expense of implementing an employee handbook (or updating an existing handbook) until after they have been sued and the absence (or poor draftsmanship) of a particular written policy has crippled their defense to an employment claim.  Tip #2 addresses how equal employment opportunity and harassment policies are especially beneficial to include in an employee handbook.

Tip #2: The Importance of Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment Policies

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that an employer’s implementation of an anti-discrimination/anti-retaliation policy can be raised as an affirmative defense to a claim for punitive damages.[1]  The U.S. Supreme Court also has ruled that an employer’s written anti-harassment policy with an effective complaint reporting procedure can support an affirmative defense to certain types of harassment claims.[2]  Thus, employers should include these types of policies in their employee handbooks.

Bryan Cave LLP has a team of knowledgeable lawyers and other professionals prepared to help employers draft and update their employee handbooks.  If you or your organization would like more information on employee handbooks or employment laws, please contact an

Tips For Drafting Employee Handbooks – Tip #1: Determining the Appropriate Scope and Length

While an employee handbook serves many functions, its primary purpose from a legal standpoint is to reduce potential liability with respect to claims brought by current and former employees.  Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling to commit the time and bear the expense of implementing an employee handbook (or updating an existing handbook) until after they have been sued and the absence (or poor draftsmanship) of a particular written policy has crippled their defense to an employment claim.

This article is part one of a six-part series.  The purpose of this series is to provide tips and identify potential pitfalls associated with the drafting of an employee handbook.  Tip #1 examines factors an employer should consider when determining the appropriate scope and length for an employee handbook.

Tip #1: Determining the Appropriate Scope and Length

There are different schools of thought when it comes to deciding what policies to include in employee handbooks.  Some employers prefer to have a comprehensive employee handbook containing written policies governing virtually all aspects of the employment relationship, while others take the “less is more” approach.  There are pros and cons to each.  A more comprehensive employee handbook helps to ensure consistency in the administration of employment policies throughout an organization, especially if the employer has multiple locations that may utilize different employment practices at the local level in the absence of a written policy.  Thus, a more comprehensive employee handbook often makes sense for larger employers.

On the other hand, small to mid-size employers

Avoiding Three Common Mistakes Made By Employers When Terminating Employees (Part 3 of 3)

Common Mistake No. 3: Poor Drafting of Termination Letters

This post continues the discussion of common errors made by employers terminating employees which can be easily avoided.

As a general rule, an employer may terminate an employee for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason, just not for an illegal reason. Moreover, in most (but not all) states, an employer is not required to provide an employee with the reason for the employee’s termination. Although there are different schools of thought on the subject in light of the broad latitude given to employers in most states, I typically recommend including the reason(s) for the employee’s termination in the termination letter. In my experience, the termination of an employee without providing a reason usually strikes an employee as fundamentally unfair and increases the likelihood of the employee seeking advice from an attorney (which, in turn, increases the likelihood of a lawsuit being filed by the terminated employee).

In drafting termination letters, the most common mistake that employers make is not including all of the reasons for the employee’s termination in the termination letter. This does not mean that the termination letter should be long and detailed. To the contrary, it should be short and use broad terms that encompass all of the reasons for the employee’s termination without including unnecessary detail. In order to understand the rationale behind this recommended approach, a brief discussion of the employee’s burden of proof in attempting to defeat an employer’s motion for summary

Avoiding Three Common Mistakes Made By Employers When Terminating Employees (Part 2 of 3)

Common Mistake No. 2: Paying a Separating Employee Something Extra Without Requiring a Waiver and Release

This post continues the discussion of common errors made by employers terminating employees which can be easily avoided.

Whether it is advisable to pay a separating employee something extra in exchange for a waiver and release of claims against the employer depends on a number of factors, such as the strength of the potential claims that the employee would be waiving and the likelihood of the employee filing suit. That said, an employer should never pay separating employees money to which they are not otherwise entitled without requiring the execution of a waiver and release.

While the wisdom of this advice might be obvious to some, it is not uncommon in my experience to see an employer gratuitously pay a couple of weeks pay to a separating employee without requiring the employee to execute a waiver and release. As you might guess, this mistake typically comes to my attention because the separating employee is threatening the employer with legal claims after depositing the employer’s gratuitous severance payment, given further credence to the first rule of employment law: No good deed goes unpunished.

While employers sometimes voluntarily provide severance to separating employees at the time of separation, other employers contractually obligate themselves to provide severance (without a corresponding duty on the part of the employee to provide a release) through poor drafting of employment agreements. For example, the employer promises in an employment agreement at

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