8 Musts for Your Employee Handbook

As 2010 begins to come to a close, companies and their human resource teams are talking, forecasting, and planning for the upcoming year. While numbers are being crunched and turnover data evaluated, it is equally important in your 2011 planning and budgeting to take inventory of hot topics, recent law changes, and policies that affect your organization that need updating. I’ve created a list of must have laws, trends, and important topics to consider when updating your companys employee handbook.

This is not a comprehensive list or employee handbook 101. It is a list of my opinions for the 8 must haves that companies should be adding, editing, or considering for their company’s 2011 employee handbook. Got something to share? Leave a comment below and let’s start the conversation.

  • FLSA and Nursing Mothers. As of March of 2010, employers will be held accountable for providing a private place for nursing mothers to pump their milk at work under a provision within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The provision was signed into law and amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers, with some exceptions, to furnish “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child” for one year after the child’s birth. Employers will be required to provide nursing mothers with a private place, other than a restroom, to use a breast pump. The provision exempts companies with fewer than 50 workers if the requirement would impose “an undue hardship,” a determination left to the employer to make.
    • Text Messaging. Text messaging has become a new challenge for employers in terms of harassment and retaliation. In 2011 even the U.S. Supreme Court had to weigh in on a case involving employees and text messaging in City of Ontario vs. Quon. Employers should include a provision on text messaging in their harassment, communication and retaliation policies, or create a separate policy to deal with these issues. In 2010, Disney announced a new “No Texting” policy for employees while driving. Employers should be concerned about the potential liabilities as an employer and insurance if employees are involved in wrecks or collisions while on the clock and are texting and driving.
    • Focus on OSHA and Safety. In 2010, OSHA added 100 additional field investigators focusing on enforcement and their sites set on lofty revenue goals of $559 million. In 2011, it is estimated the government agency will add an additional 25-50 compliance officers. While adding a “safety focus” to your employee handbook won’t save you from OSHA fines and investigations, it will provide you a jumping off point to begin conversations with managers and their employees. It is important to clearly outline how you enforce your safety programs and your general safety policies overall.
    • Social Media. As the number of Facebook users soared past 500 million this year, the average social media user is now age 37. In the United States alone, citizens are spending on average 6 hours a month on Facebook alone. This doesn’t include the more than 200 million mobile phone downloads of the Facebook app for use on an employees mobile phone and computer. Companies need to address social media to protect themselves, their brand, and create guidelines for their employees to follow. Otherwise, most employees operate under the belief that, “Silence is acceptance.” Basically, if you don’t address it, it’s not a problem.
    • Genetic information. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010 . GINA prohibits discrimination based on employees’ and applicants’ genetic information, and that of their family members as well.

Genetic information includes the results of genetic tests, along with information about family medical histories. Companies with as little as 15 employees must comply. As a result of this new law, you should add genetic information to the list of protected characteristics in your nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.
    • Benefit Plan Changes. Many companies have made changes to their benefits plans in 2010 especially as companies look to Healthcare Reform changes. Companies should be sure their handbook accurately reflects those changes. Furthermore, the handbook should state that if the handbook summary and plan language differ. Don’t forget, it’s important that handbook language be easy to understand especially when concerning employee health benefit information.
    • Union Awareneness Focus. It’s important to make sure that your employee handbook makes mention of your policy regarding solicitation. Look for an increased focus by unions in 2011 involving social media, employee rights, and union campaign communications. Many union shops are leveraging social media to engage and target disgruntled workers within an organization without accessing work rosters and employee lists. This is especially important if your organization is not and wishes to stay a non-union organization. In 2011, the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) will be making a decision as to if conversations among co-workers on Facebook should be viewed as a “concerted protected activity.” Look for an increased focus by unions in 2011 involving social media, employee rights, and union campaign communications.
    • FMLA and the military. As a reminder in 2009,the FMLA expanded to include greater definition surrounding the care of military families whose active family member has been activated or to care for a member of the Armed Forces who is undergoing treatment. Your employee leave policies and absence information should be changed to reflect this change.

    And there you have it. Eight of my “musts” for your 2011 employee handbook. Is there something I missed? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at blogging4jobs.@gmail.com so that I can make additions. And here’s to 2011. I hope it’s a year of positivity, change, and learning. Here’s to offices filled with happy employees, corporate executives, and their HR teams.

    Photo Credit Flickr, Sync-Blog, & Union1.

    Jessica Miller-Merrell is an author, HR consultant,  new media strategist, and author who writes at Blogging4Jobs. Her company, Xceptional HR offers social media strategies, human resources, and recruiting consulting with an eye on digital media.  Jessica is the host of the Job Search Secrets, an internet television show for job seekers on Sundays at 9 PM EST.

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