What Should be in my Employee Handbook?
Few small businesses in California have them, but all businesses, from large corporations to the small “mom and pop” pizza joint, would greatly benefit from having a well-considered and well-written employee handbook. The well-written employee handbook is one of the best tools for communicating with your employees and can set the tone for the relationship between employer and employee by defining precisely what that relationship is and can become. As with all things, however, what goes into the well-considered and well-written employee handbook varies greatly from one business to another and is defined, for the most part, by the individual business’s culture, policies, value and traditions.
While each business has its own identity, culture, policies and traditions, the following are but a few of the provisions which most California businesses will want to include in their handbook:
- California is an “at-will” employment state, meaning that, as a general rule, an employer may terminate an employee for any lawful reason, or no reason at all, upon the giving of notice. California Labor Code Section 2922. Most employers will want to confirm the at-will status of their employees and advise the employee in clear and unequivocal language that, while other policies contained in the handbook may be changed without a writing, the at-will characterization of employment cannot.
- California employers are required, effective July 1, 2015, to provide their employees with paid sick leave. Under the Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act of 2014 (AB 1522), employees “earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Accrual begins on the first day of employment or July 1, 2015, whichever is later.” AB 1522. Employee handbooks should confirm these requirements and, if additional sick leave is provided, the employer’s policies should again be explained in detail.
- All procedures relating to the resolution of harassment claims should be succinctly explained and must conform to California law.
- Employers may prohibit the use and possession of drugs and alcohol in the work place and, if so, that “zero tolerance” policy should be explained. The handbook should also explain that employees may legally use drugs prescribed to them so long as they are used in a safe manner. The employer should also disclose that it will not discriminate against alcoholics or recovering drug addicts and will offer reasonable accommodations to such persons.
- If the employer pays for any employee memberships or dues, those policies should be explained (as where a physician or lawyer might offer continuing education to its professional employees).
- The handbook should describe what circumstances the employer considers to constitute job abandonment by its employees.
- Finally, every employee should sign an acknowledgement that he has received, read and understands that employee handbook and all of the policies and procedures contained in it.
On a final note, it is of paramount importance that every employer implementing an employee handbook follow the policies and procedures contained in the handbook in every case in order to maintain its viability. The failure on any one occasion to follow any procedure contained in the handbook can result in a court refusing to enforce specific provisions or, worse, declaring that an at-will employee is something other than at-will.
If you would like to arrange for a consultation to discuss drafting and implementing an employee handbook, or if you would like to discuss any other employment or business-related matter with a rising star, Michael Leonard, Esq. of San Diego Corporate Lawshould be your first call. He has the experience and knowledge to ensure all of your business agreements are enforceable in the California Courts. He can be contacted by e-mail or by telephone at (858) 483-9200.