Q: What are the benefits of having a policy manual or employee handbook? Does every policy become contractual?
A: An employee handbook can be an essential tool for communicating information about workplace culture, benefits, attendance, pay practices, safety issues, and discipline. In the absence of policies typically found in an employee handbook, past and present activities become policy. Since many of these practices are or can be discriminatory (because of a lack of consistency), the company is in greater danger of law suits and claims with government agencies than if they had carefully spelled out the organization’s expectations of the employee.
To deter a policy from being contractual, it’s always a good practice to use a disclaimer in your policy manual or handbook. Here’s an example: This employee handbook is not intended to be a contract or any part of a contractual agreement between the employer and the employee. The employer reserves the right to modify, delete, or add to any policies set forth herein without notice and reserves the right to terminate an employee at any time with or without a specific cause. In addition, avoid using phrases such as “permanent employee.” A more appropriate phrase is “regular employee.”
Q: May an employer prohibit employees from discussing their pay with one another?
A: The action is considered unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Wage discussions among co-workers are generally considered to be concerted and protected activity under the NLRA; therefore, under most circumstances, management cannot prohibit salary discussions or threaten discharge or discipline for revealing salaries.
Under certain circumstances employers are permitted to treat salary information as confidential if there are legitimate business reasons for the confidentiality that outweigh the protected interest of employees in discussing wages. For example, an employer may be able to discharge an employee who steals confidential wage information. There is also a practical reason for not attempting to prohibit or curtail co-worker pay discussions. Prohibitions are issued for reasons. Such a prohibition starts employees wondering why they can’t talk about pay. Is there something the company is trying to hide? Is the program not fair? What will I learn by talking about this that the company doesn’t want me to know? These questions lead to employee rumors and speculation. No employer needs that. If the system and pay levels are believed to be fair and market appropriate, let them talk.
Q: Is it a discriminatory practice to not include a certain holiday (e.g. Martin Luther King’s birthday and Good Friday) as a paid holiday, especially if an employee feels it is an important day to observe?
A: No, as long as the employee knew that they may be required to work on certain holidays, it is certainly not discriminatory nor is it, at face value, unfair. However, we would suggest that you either provide an alternate day off to those who do have to work on normal paid holidays OR that you give one “floating holiday” per year to compensate for this type of situation.
Contrary to what many employees think, there is no law stating that organizations have to provide any paid holidays. Of course, in this employees’ market, it may be difficult to find employees willing to work for an organization with minimal benefits.
Q: Do employers need to change their policy(ies) on marijuana use in states where marijuana is legal?
A: No. Your organization can choose to follow federal law. Under federal law, marijuana is illegal. We recommend having a zero-tolerance / drug-free workplace policy. Contact HR Answers for more information to develop a Substance Abuse Policy.
Learn how Audax HR Services can help you with your Employee Handbooks.