The employee handbook is a foundational document for operations at any company. The employee handbook explains company policies and procedures. It’s a critical document that employees look to for clarification.

The employee handbook sets a standard for all employees with regard to expectations. It establishes a legal basis for resolving disputes and protects the company. It also protects employees.

The employee handbook is critical for more reasons than simple communication. It establishes a formal policy and is the first place to look for legal clarification. Its purpose shouldn’t be underestimated. Its value cannot be overstated.

Employers Don’t Always Keep The Employee Handbook Current

There are three primary challenges for companies with employee handbooks:

  1. Clarification: maintaining a clear and concise employee handbook is a tough prospect;
  2. Updating: the employee handbooks should reflect current law and new company goals;
  3. Distribution: the employee handbook should be available and up to date.

There are at least 20 good reasons to update your employee handbook. Many fall into these three categories and present solutions that will streamline your business.

Some will help provide clarification where obscure descriptions open the door to abuse or conflict. Some will raise your awareness of areas that need to be monitored more frequently. Some will give you new ideas on how to distribute to employees and track engagement.

Let’s take a look at the reasons you may need to update your employee handbook…

20 Good Reasons

1. Regulatory Compliance

Keeping your employee handbook up to date is not always a matter of convenience. It can be a matter of legal compliance.

There are no laws requiring employers to provide an employee handbook. If you do provide an employee handbook, you need to know that it can and will be used as a legal foundation in a dispute.

In many cases, your employee handbook will outline legal compliance requirements for your employees. These can include time and attendance requirements. They can also include regulatory requirements or union mandates.

Whatever you choose to include in your employee handbook, it’s important to remember it can and will be used as a legal document. You will be held to the standards you document, so make sure your employee handbook is legally compliant.

2. Legalization of Marijuana Use

Many states have legalized the use of cannabis. Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, and there is some confusion about what this means at the local level. If your state has legalized marijuana, it’s time to update your employee handbook.

Legalization usually means updating drug testing policies. Discovering THC in a drug test in a state that has legalized recreational pot use may not imply a crime. However, your business may be aligned with federal laws. You may also have safety concerns that require specific periods for metabolization. This is a policy that will need to be updated in your employee manual to clarify your company policy.

3. Fair Scheduling, Overtime and FMLA Updates

Laws are changing all the time. Recently there have been significant changes to laws related to scheduling, overtime, and personal time off (PTO).

Federal guidelines have changed in the tax law, and local state laws are continuously in flux. It can be a nightmare to keep track of all the changes, but your employee handbook needs to reflect the latest changes. If it doesn’t, you risk undermining the authority of your employee handbook. Integrity is critical for the employee handbook, else what good is it at all?

The best practice is to assign an HR manager to track changes in employment law, and to incorporate them into the employee handbook as necessary. Consult your attorney and payroll company for help in this area.

4. Changes in State Discrimination Laws

Over 20 states currently have special laws related to discrimination. More states are looking at matters and adopting a new policy. As our laws begin to accommodate previously unrecognized factions of our society, it will be important to maintain pace in your employee handbook.

Many companies have taken the initiative and adopted a discrimination policy that exceeds legal minimums.

Check to make sure your employee handbook is up to date on discrimination law. Consider options to exceed legal precedent with your own policies against discrimination. Areas to consider include race, sexual orientation, religion and married status. Recently, political affiliation has become an area to consider, as well.

5. New Location

If your company has opened a new location, it’s time to update your employee handbook.

The simple matter of communicating the details of your new location is enough. Employees should be able to find the official address of your new location. You should also communicate purpose and function, so employees know which areas of your business are responsible for issues that come up.

The employee handbook is the best place to communicate official addresses, site functions, and contact information.

6. Offering A New Product Or Service

Every employee should understand your product or service offering. When new products come out, add them to the product section of your employee manual.

It’s also a good practice to remove products or services that are no longer offered. In some cases, it’s a good idea to list products or services as discontinued so that employees have an official method for discerning product availability.

Product or service listings shouldn’t be too lengthy. There are plenty of places for employees to learn more about products. Your employee manual should provide a brief overview at a minimum.

7. Hiring Additional Employee Types

Your employee manual might outline the kinds of employees the company works with. It may define job roles and employee types as a function of clarifying benefits.

If your company is hiring additional employee types, it’s time to update your employee manual. You may be adding independent contractors, seasonal workers, temporary work permit holders, and non-residents.

In these cases, you’ll need to update the list of employee types the company works with. You’ll also need to add these employee types to your benefits sections. Add special considerations or exclusions where appropriate to clarify benefits. For example, new independent contractors may be excluded from a specific benefit.

8. Social Media Policies

The social media phenomenon continues to evolve as new platforms emerge. New generations of employees are using social media as their primary communications.

Employers realize that social media can be an effective form of communication, promotion, and marketing. We also know it can be an incredible drain on productivity.

Clarify your policy regarding personal and company use of social media. Update often as new platforms emerge and become popular. Clarify as much as you can, and be specific about policy and consequences.

9. Increased Awareness of Sexual Harassment And Legal Implications

Awareness and discussion about sexual harassment in the workplace have skyrocketed in recent months. Public cases, activism, and nightly news stories have everyone thinking about the implications.

Now is a perfect time to update your employee handbook on sexual harassment policy. If not an update, perhaps a further clarification to help employees better understand your policy.

Employees will have questions after seeing news stories and hearing of dire consequences. Make sure your employee handbook is clear and concise about sexual harassment.

10. Avoiding Retaliation

Retaliation now is the most frequently filed charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Retaliation is when an employer punishes an employee for an action that is protected. Examples can include whistleblowing or filing a complaint about discrimination.

You may have a retaliation policy, which would be quite progressive on your part. Regardless, it is always a good time to review your policies regarding things like whistleblowing. Assure your employees that they can safely raise issues, and outline procedures for reporting problems.

When you have a policy in place that provides employees with instructions on how to report problems, you are less likely to get into a greater conflict because of the report. This will help your management staff address problems in a prescribed way that helps you avoid the legal trappings of retaliation.

11. Interview Policy

Many states and cities have banned salary history questions during the interview process. These regulations can be new and need to be communicated to management. Violation of these new laws can land you in an expensive litigation that can be easily avoided by updating your employee handbook.

It’s also a good opportunity to think about employee engagement with your employee handbook. It isn’t enough to update your employee handbook with new laws. You also need to make sure that employees are actually engaging with the content and learning the policy.

To make sure your managers are up to date on your interview policy, consider a platform such as SwipeClock WorkforceHUB.

WorkforceHUB allows you to publish your employee handbook in a secure online portal and tracks employee engagement. Employees can read handbook updates online and complete engagement requirements as they do. Employers can be assured that the content was absorbed and everyone is on the same page.

12. Telecommuting

If your company recently started allowing telecommuting it’s time to update your employee handbook. There are myriad reasons to update when you allow telecommuting. One of the bigger ones is time and attendance policy.

Telecommuting requires its own set of rules and regulations. Clarify when you expect employees to be at work. Outline time and attendance recording procedures. Update policies on breaks and flexible time. The more clear you can be about telecommuting policy, the more productive your out-of-office employees will be.

13. Criminal Background Checks

There are new state laws regarding criminal background checks. Some states are still in flux when it comes to regulating what employers can ask and do before hiring a new employee.

This is an area to keep an eye on, especially if you are performing criminal background checks as a routine. Update your employee manuals to include instructions, privacy policies, and acceptable practices. Make sure your managers are up to speed; this one has some legal implications that can get you in hot water.

Check with your legal advisor to learn how your state is handling criminal background checks.

14. State Level Meals and Breaks Laws

Laws are always changing and it’s good policy to review and update your meal and break laws often. State and federal laws can differ in these areas and you’ll want to make a regular routine of updating your employee manual to reflect any new changes.

Failure to communicate a common understanding of these laws to your employees can result in fines and expensive litigation. It’s an important area to keep in mind.

Review new laws regularly, and make sure your employee manual is up-to-date with the latest.

15. Legal Clarifications

If your company has confusing “unwritten” or “assumed” policies, you are on thin legal ground.

This is a good reason to update your employee handbook.

If you have unwritten policies, they aren’t policies and won’t be defensible. This will undermine the integrity of your entire employee handbook and places you on precarious footing.

Whenever there is ambiguous language or implied circumstances, you are opening the door to interpretation. Interpretation can go a million different ways and pretty soon you are not on the same page.

Take the time to review your employee handbook for ambiguous language. Update it to clarify your position and leave no stone unedited. When employees have a leveraging point, there is room for dispute.

16. Equitable Policies

Your employee handbook should contain equitable policies that define interactions between management, employees, and company.

This is a good time to review your employee handbook to make sure your policies are equitable. Make sure managers understand policies and the processes to manage them. Make sure policies are equitably applied to all employees. Make sure, too, that managers understand how to impose consequences equitably.

Another fast way to undermine your employee handbook is to apply a consequential reprimand to one employee but not another.

Review your employee handbook and revise any areas that are not clear about how to apply consequences. Make sure all policies are equitable and equitably enforced.

17. Cloud Access

Are you taking advantage of cloud access for your employee handbook? If not, this is a perfect time to update your employee handbook.

Cloud-based employee handbooks are easy to access, available always and anywhere, and updated in real time. It doesn’t get better than that.

With your employee handbook in the cloud, your employees will be able to access it from anywhere. Any time. you’ll also be able to track engagement; when your employees read a new section the software can confirm the milestone. In this way, you can track employee engagement and verify understanding of policy.

a cloud-based employee handbook can be updated in real time, too. No more reprints or handing out supplemental sections. Updates are immediately available to all employees. You can even announce new updates and make reading them a requirement.

If your employees don’t use the employee handbook because it is hard to access, it needs to be updated and maintained in a cloud-based HR portal. It’s an easy solution that makes workforce management more efficient and more effective.

18. Job Role Identification

Your employee should have updated job roles listed. Each job role should include basic responsibilities and expectations. Job roles can be assigned to specific employees in a cloud-based system so that only employees with that job role can see its requirements.

Keep this section short and to the point. Identifying job roles in the employee handbook allows each employee to better understand the various job roles in the company and fosters respect.

Articulate job roles and clarify relationships. Update this section often to include new job roles and retire unused ones. Use this section, too, for new hire announcements and recruitment.

19. Streamline Onboarding

Onboarding is ineffective if employees are unsure of employer expectations. Your employee handbook is the best way to communicate expectations.

Cloud-based employee handbooks can make onboarding more efficient. New employees can be provided access to online employee handbooks for easy, anytime access. Reading progress can be tracked by section. Onboarding with new policies and procedures can be confirmed by the system.

Some employers incorporate quizzes to help assure comprehension. Onboarding has never been easier than with cloud-based employee handbooks.

20. Growth

Your company may have grown enough that “large employer” mandates apply. These mandates are federal in most cases and are primarily related to discrimination laws and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Federal employment anti-discrimination laws may apply to your company if you have grown recently. Growth will mandate that you make updates to your discrimination and benefits policies.

It all depends on how many employees your business has:

If you have at least one employee: You are covered by the law that requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work to male and female employees.

If you have 15 to 19 employees: You are covered by the laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, disability and genetic information (including family medical history). You are also covered by the law that requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work.

If you have 20 or more employees: You are covered by the laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information (including family medical history). You are also covered by the law that requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work.

There’s a lot to consider, but the point is that if you have recently grown, there are adjustments to do to your employee handbook.

There’s no better time to take a look at your employee handbook and make some updates. If you are still working with paper-based employee handbooks, consider updating to the cloud.

WorkforceHUB is a cloud-based workforce management solution that includes online document management. Your employee handbook could reside in the cloud. This offers a lot of conveniences and provides a way for you to keep your handbook up to date in real time.

You can also track employee engagement and assure that your company is on the same page when it comes to policy and procedure.

When everyone is on the same page, you will save time in money in fewer disputes, fair and equitable treatment of your employees, and greater productivity all around