The subject of employment manuals usually rises when the number of employees in an enterprise grows to a point where management decides it would be helpful to employee relations to codify and publish certain company policies and procedures. Also, an existing manual may need updating. The manual is the company's general statement of what it expects from its employees and the scope of benefits it provides. If management deems a manual would be helpful or modifications to a current manual are advisable, a review of the reasons for and the adoption of a manual need to be undertaken. Several requirements and limits must be analyzed in any review process.
Contents of a manual should not be expansive. However, the regulations and realities of the workplace must be addressed. There are no limits placed upon the contents of an employee manual. Certain legal realities make it necessary that an employee manual state the employer's position concerning the "at will" nature of employment with the enterprise. If appropriate, employment subject to a collective bargaining agreement must be addressed. The company must state it is an equal employment opportunity employer. Certain legally prohibited discriminatory activities should be described, along with the employer's commitment to ensure compliance. The employees are expected to fully comply.
As examples, certain requirements are set out in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the regulations of the EEOC, the ADA and FMLA, among other state and federal requirements. A harassment prohibition must also be stated. Prohibited employee behavior falling under the scope of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and related federal regulations raises particular problems for the employer. An employer can only police prohibited behavior that is known. Therefore, the employee manual should unequivocally state that any workplace behavior that violates the prohibition of Title VII and federal regulations addressing discrimination/harassment must be reported immediately to management for evaluation and, if necessary, appropriate remedial action.
The manual is a method to inform and give notice to the employees in a general way the goals and major understandings expected by management. Also, the manual should point out the expected general behavior of the employees. This should not be an extensive list of "do's and don't's" or a long list of commandments. A general statement that the employer expects loyalty and punctuality on the part of its employees is a starting point.
Affirmative Statements to Avoid
Affirmative statements such an "employees will be treated in a fair and equitable manner" cannot be contained in an employee manual. The company should avoid any affirmative, "feel good" statements. In cases of employment litigation, the employee manual will be the first document to be examined for possible failures of the company to follow its own published rules and procedures. Without careful drafting, the employment manual may even rise to the stature of a defacto employment contract. This possible eventuality may not be actually avoided, but must be minimized to the greatest degree possible, yet allowing both the employees and management to achieve a harmonious working environment.
The employment manual should state the company's position concerning computer usage. Emails, along with all other contents of workplace computers, are the company's property and may be examined at any time by company-authorized representatives. The employees will be placed on notice that they should not expect privacy in the workplace concerning their use of company property.
Receipt and Acknowledgment
When the employee manual is delivered, the employee will be required, by signature, to accept receipt and acknowledge that the employee will comply with its provisions and any revisions.
An employment manual should be relatively brief. It is a product resulting from input by key management members and, if practicable, one or more employee representatives. The manual cannot be a rule book expected to cover all employee activities, just the most important ones. The manual must be crystal clear on the issue of "at will" employment and the company's authority to discharge its employees for any lawful reason or no reason whatsoever. (This, of course, covers employees who are not subject to a collective bargaining agreement.)
The foregoing is provided for informational purposes and must not be construed or used as general legal advice. Laws vary from state to state, and no representations are intended or made as the applicability of enforceability of any statements herein in any selected state.
Currently of counsel to the Firm, Brownell K. Boothe specializes in corporate and employment law.
For more information on this subject, contact Michael Kitchen at firstname.lastname@example.org or B. K. Boothe at email@example.com.