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Alkalay & Smillie, PLLC

in Mt. Washington Valley, New Hampshire

Office: (603) 447-8994
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Articles of Interest

Attorney Edward Alkalay writes a regular column for the Conway Daily Sun newspaper entitled "The Legal Corner." His articles address a wide variety of timely legal issues. Click on the titles below to review his past articles.

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The Legal Corner: What Every Employer Needs to Include in Employee Handbooks

February 25, 2009

An employer’s decision whether or not to have an employee handbook depends on a variety of factors. It depends upon the circumstances of the employer, the size of the organization, and the management philosophy of a particular employer. While employers are not legally required to have employee handbooks, many choose to have handbooks so that the rules of the employer are recorded, the benefit information is readily accessible to employees, and a variety of other information is maintained in one central document.

Once an employer decides to have an employee handbook, what is contained within the handbook is dependent on an employer’s particular circumstances. However, there are a number of items that should be included in every employee handbook.

Anti-discrimination policy – All employers should have a clear anti-discrimination policy protecting against at least race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, and disability discrimination. Employers should also be clear about the process that an employee should follow should he/she have a complaint.

At Will Employment – One of the risks for employers in having an employee handbook is that it can arguably give employees more rights than they are entitled to under federal and New Hampshire labor laws. Employers should include a clear statement in a handbook that the handbook is not a contract, that employment is \\\"at-will,\\\" and that an employee can be discharged at any time, for any reason, with or without cause and without advance notice.

Safety Statement and Policy – It is also important to have a statement of the safety policy in the handbook. This statement should address specific concerns to the employer and should also address compliance with current federal and state regulations and laws. Employers should also identify a particular person who will be the employer’s safety coordinator.

Drug/Alcohol Policy – Interconnected with a safety statement, a handbook should include a statement prohibiting employees from drinking alcohol or taking drugs during work hours.

Grievance Process – It is critical to establish a procedure for handling any workplace disputes in an employee handbook. An effective grievance procedure can help an employer to avoid liability for discrimination, harassment, and/or safety complaints, among other things. Many times it is best to establish a procedure which is outside the normal chain of command, because oftentimes disputes involve direct supervisors.

Family and Medical Leave - The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers with 50 or more employees (within a 75 mile radius) to provide eligible employees with a leave of absence for family or medical reasons. Employers should include a family and medical leave policy in their handbooks, including a procedure for accessing the leave.

Email and Internet Policy – In an employee handbook, an employer should be clear as to what is permissible, and what is not regarding electronic communication and the internet. An employer may wish to prohibit all personal use of email or the internet. On the other hand, an employer may want to allow limited personal use of email and the internet. Under all circumstances, an employee handbook should prohibit illegal, insulting and offensive communications, including but not limited to sexually explicit or offensive messages, ethnic or racial slurs or any other harassing messages.

Confidentiality – All handbooks should include a policy protecting the confidentiality of an employer’s business interests. The policy should also prohibit unauthorized use and disclosure of confidential information and trade secrets.

There are many other issues which can be addressed in employee handbooks. The above list is simply some of the most important items. Employers should consider the substance of employee handbooks carefully. Additionally, the handbooks should be reviewed at least once a year, because laws change rapidly in the employment field and employers should make sure that their handbooks are legally accurate. It is safest to have an attorney draft and review employee handbooks. However, if an employer chooses not to hire an attorney, there are many online resources which can help an employer both draft and update employee handbooks.

Edward D. Alkalay is a partner at Alkalay & Smillie PLLC and can be reached at (603)447-8994 or ed@northconwaylawyers.com. (This article conveys general information and should not be relied on for legal advice without further research and/or consultation with an attorney.)

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By: Edward D. Alkalay