October 1, 2013
In a cautionary tale for employers, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently investigated the popular T.G.I. Fridays restaurant chain relating to a complaint by an employee that the company violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The employee alleged that the company failed to reinstate the employee to the same or equivalent position, including pay, benefits and other terms of employment, and did not allow the employee to return to work immediately following FMLA-covered leave, which resulted in weeks of lost pay to the employee. As a result of the investigation, T.G.I. Fridays entered into a settlement with the DOL that required the company to pay monetary damages to the employee and revise its employee leave policy to be in compliance with the FMLA.
As the T.G.I. Fridays case demonstrates, an out-of-date, incomplete, or “off the shelf” employee handbook can lead to an expensive problem for employers down the road. Indeed, employers without a proper handbook may find themselves litigating a claim, with the employee handbook listed as one of the first items requested by the complaining employee or governmental agency for production by the employer.
Employee handbooks are an important way of communicating information to employees about the employment relationship. A well-drafted handbook will:
- Answer employees’ frequently asked questions
- Explain the rules of the workplace
- Comply with federal and state laws
What should employers include in their employee handbooks? Some handbooks are more comprehensive than others, but all handbooks should address basic topics including, without limitation, anti-discrimination policies (including reporting procedures in the event of sexual harassment and other harassment); work schedules and break times; vacation, sick time, and other leave policies; standards of conduct; confidentiality; dress code; electronic communications policies; social media policies; and employee benefits.
In addition, employers should periodically audit their personnel files to make sure that the files contain the employees’ signed acknowledgment that they received and read the employee handbook. A new acknowledgment should be obtained from each employee every time that the employee handbook is updated, but be sure to keep the acknowledgments that pertain to prior versions too.
Further, many employers are moving to online employee handbooks that are available via an intranet. Online or electronic employee handbooks have the advantage of being easier to amend as needed; provided that employees are given notice of the change. Employees who do not have access to the employer’s electronic employee handbook should be given access to a hard copy of the employee handbook.
With the Fall season upon us, employers may wish to review and update their employee handbooks soon and roll out new versions to be effective January 1, 2014.
Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor, & Reed, P.A. has a team of employment lawyers who can assist with developing or updating your practice’s Employee Handbook and can consult with you regarding other labor and employment law matters affecting your business. Please visit the firm’s employment law blog at www.theemployerlawyers.com for more information regarding employment law issues affecting companies.