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Your Employee Handbook: Staying Compliant in a Crisis & Beyond

You’ve spent countless hours—and dollars—crafting the perfect employee handbook. All federal, state, and local requirements are covered and up to date. You’ve gone through legal review and are feeling accomplished and compliant.

But then, the COVID-19 pandemic hits, and everything flies out the window.

Even under the best circumstances, your employee handbook will be out of date in just 17 days. (Yes, you read that right!) According to ThinkHR, 17 days is the average amount of time that passes before your employee handbook is no longer compliant.

In some states—New York and California, for example—that timeframe can be even shorter, and in the current environment of swiftly changing policies surrounding COVID-19, your employee handbook may be rendered outdated every few days.

It can be overwhelming for organizations to keep up—and even more challenging to keep your employees in the loop. From paid time off and sick leave policies to work-from-home or telecommuting requirements, how can you be sure that your organization stays up to date and everyone’s on the same page?

Why Your Employee Handbook Matters

Your employee handbook is more than a go-to resource for your organization’s company policies. It also outlines legal protections for employees and employers alike.

Your handbook serves as your company’s operating system and is an essential HR tool to support open communication and, ultimately, a positive employee experience from onboarding to offboarding. Your handbook is a valuable tool for establishing your culture, reinforcing your brand, and setting expectations while providing guard rails for risk management.

It’s important to remember that your handbook is not a static document and should be reviewed at least once a year to ensure your business maintains compliance with the state laws in which you employ people. Luckily, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to wait until January to do it.

The Risks & Challenges

A large number of employers share changes and updates to workplace laws and company procedures one at a time as they occur. Unfortunately, this piecemeal approach can result in inconsistent—or even contradictory—policies when your employee handbook isn't updated accordingly.

Worst of all, if rules or policies change and aren’t reflected in your handbook, you can leave your organization open to legal risk and exposure.

Every organization has a responsibility to notify employees when federal, state, and local workplace laws change. Often this is done in the form of a poster displayed in a prominent location at each business establishment and ultimately incorporated into the employee handbook.

But what about in times like the COVID-19 pandemic when more of your workforce may be telecommuting?

You are still required to get that information, like notice of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), in front of your employees by posting it electronically, emailing it to your team, or mailing the poster details to each employee directly.

It’s critical that you maintain alignment between your company’s policies and practices within your employee handbook. More importantly, it’s important to ensure that you keep your handbook up to date and that all of your employees have access to the same version of your handbook.

We recently had a client separate from a few employees who asked for copies of the handbooks they had received and signed to understand their rights (i.e. documented reasons for termination, COBRA, return of company property, etc.). Electronic signatures were on file through the company’s human capital management (HCM) platform, but it turned out that each employee had signed off on a different version of the handbook when they were onboarded and had never been given any updates.

This was a brutal reminder of how crucial it is that all employees are provided with copies of handbook updates and required to sign off on them, acknowledging their review of any new policies or changes to existing ones.

As you know, people change too! Does your handbook have the correct and current company representatives included in your handbook? Your employees should know who to go to with questions and who reports on everything from leave requests to allegations of misconduct. If staffing changes frequently, you may be better served to list contacts by title versus name.

Lastly, your words matter. Ensure the use of inclusive language when crafting documents. Your choices can have both a social and legal impact.


What’s an Employer to Do?

When it comes to updating their employee handbook, organizations have plenty of excuses to put it off—sometimes until it’s too late. Whether you feel like it’s too much work, you don’t have time, or you lack the necessary resources, don’t let the obstacles hold you back. Ask for help!

You may already have some of the tools you need to maintain your employee handbook both short-term and long-term. One of the best options for communicating updates is by leveraging your existing HCM technology. From banner announcements and sharing documents to collecting electronic signatures, explore the capabilities you have in your system (or think about finding a solution that can support your organization’s needs.)

There are plenty of checklists, templates, and resources available online from law firms or HR organizations like SHRM. Rally Partners recognizes how vital a compliant and up-to-date employee handbook is to any organization, so we offer our clients complimentary access to a suite of online tools to build—and maintain—their employee handbooks.

When was the last time you reviewed or updated your employee handbook? If you’re not sure where to begin, get in touch. Rally Partners is here to help you create and maintain a comprehensive, compliant employee handbook for your business.

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