In this series, we have discussed why employee handbooks are important. We have also discussed some compliance issues that can arise in the development and distribution of employee handbooks, including whether or not employee handbooks are considered to be contracts, and what non-compete and non-disclosure agreements are. All of this information is very beneficial to know in the process of developing and distributing employee handbooks, but there is one truth regarding employee handbooks that many employers do not seem to understand: The employee handbook should be a living document, and it should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
Many employers may consider the creation of an employee handbook to be a one-and-done kind of job, but having an employee handbook that is created and then sits on a shelf gathering dust is almost as useless as not having one at all. Updating your handbook is critical from a compliance standpoint, as employment laws and regulations are always changing at the local, state, and federal level. Regularly updating the employee handbook is also crucial from an internal standpoint in ensuring that the latest version of the handbook reflects the current rules and policies of the workplace.
It is a good practice to make reviewing and updating the employee handbook a regularly scheduled occurrence. For many employers, it makes sense to do this annually. The first step in this process is thoroughly reviewing the current version of the handbook to see what changes need to be made. An audit should be performed to review the policies stated in the handbook against the actual practices in the workplace. If the two do not align, the handbook should be edited to reflect actual practices.
Beyond that, there are several levels of changes that employers should ensure are reflected in company handbooks. The first level is company changes. If any major changes to company rules, policies, or procedures have changed since the previous update, those changes should be made in the employee handbook. The second level is changes in the law. Any changes that have been made to local, state, and federal laws that are referenced in the handbook should be reflected in an updated version. Finally, be sure that the handbook is up-to-date with changes in society, including social norms such as those that determine appropriate attire, and technological advances, such as the use of mobile devices in the workplace.
Two critical aspects of the process of updating employee handbooks are the timing of making these updates, and the redistribution of the updated versions. As mentioned, it is a good practice to review and update the employee handbook on a regular schedule, such as once per year. However, employers should not wait until a scheduled review date to make changes. If a conflict between current law and policy exists, changes should be made in the handbook immediately. Waiting until the annual review could prove to be costly from a compliance standpoint.
In addition, whenever changes are made to the handbook, the handbook should be redistributed to employees, who should be asked to sign another acknowledgment of receipt. The acknowledgment of receipt for each updated version of the handbook should be kept on file, as it can serve as key evidence, in the instance of a dispute, that employees were made of aware of any changes to workplace policies.
In preparation for a frequent redistribution of the employee handbook, employees should consider more rapid distribution methods, such as electronic distribution. Electronic distribution not only cuts costs, but also gives employees easier access to the handbook. Electronic handbooks can include direct links to things referenced in the handbook, such as benefits enrollment information, IRS forms, and access to an employee portal.
In conclusion, failure to regularly update and redistribute an employee handbook renders it essentially useless, and at times, even worse. An out-of-date handbook can prove to be a liability and can end up costing the employer a lot. Thus, every employer should make it a regular practice to audit and update the employee handbook. Employers should also be sure to re-distribute updated versions of the handbook, and should consider the method of electronic distribution to make the process as seamless as possible.
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This post is part of a series on employee handbooks. Check out the other posts in the series: