An employee handbook is there to for the benefit of employees; to help employers effectively communicate rules and any other relevant information that may be of value to their staff. While there are must-have policies, employers need to know what topics to avoid. Below are policies to avoid because they may conflict with local, state, county or federal laws.
1. Withholding Final Employee Pay Until They Have Returned Company Property
According to federal law, employees should receive their last paycheck before or on the next payday. Final pay has to be remitted even if the employee has not yet returned company assets.
Best Practice: Try and reclaim company assets before the employee’s final day. Some states permit the employer to make some limited deductions from the final pay of the employee to cover any unreturned assets. However, this is prohibited for exempt employees. Employers can submit these deductions as long as the deduction does not result in a below-minimum-wage pay. Check with the state laws to ensure you are adhering correctly to these guidelines before you get in trouble for making unlawful deductions on unreturned company assets.
2. Unauthorized Overtime Will Go Unpaid
Under the FLSA Act, non-exempt employees must be paid 1.5 times their normal pay rate for any hours worked above the regular 40 hours a week, but the overtime rate may vary depending on the state. This should be paid whether or not it was pre-authorized. Punching in prior to scheduled work start time should be paid.
Best Practice: Disciplinary measures can be taken against unauthorized overtime, but withholding overtime pay is illegal.
3. Demanding a Doctor’s Note When an Employee Has a Sick Day
While some sick laws require the employees to make proper documentation for their leave, others are less strict, unless the employee is on leave for more than three days consecutively.
Best Practice: Although you may require employees to document their sick days, consider that some laws limit the amount of health information you can request from employees. Keep all requested health information as private as possible.
4. Prohibiting Legal Off-Duty Conduct
In many states, employers are prohibited from punishing tobacco-using employees, while a few others prohibit employers from taking disciplinary measures against employees for any lawful conduct when off-duty.
Best Practice: Have relevant policies to address legal off-duty conduct. Let your employees know up front what type of behavior is expected of them while they are representing your company.
5. Safety Bonuses Depending on Non-Injury Days
Offering rewards to employees through safety incentive programs aimed at rewarding them for working consecutive days without incurring a workplace injury could be violating the OSHA Act, as this discourages them from reporting any workplace injury that they might have.
Best Practice: Consider basing your incentives on worker participation in workplace safety-related activities, including incentives for suggesting safety improvements or assisting in injury-related investigations.
6. Pay Secrecy
Pay secrecy policies are often prohibited under the NLRA (Section 7), and NLRB enforces the NLRA to ensure employees are free to discuss pay and other benefits, even without a union.
Best Practice: Avoid implementing policies that violate employees’ rights and instead encourage communication about your compensation program. Annual or bi-annual pay reviews may also be a good idea.
7. Extensive Social Media Restrictions
According to the NLRB, an employee’s right to protest on social media platforms for unfair pay, harassment, or working conditions, is protected under the NLRA (Section 7).
Best Practice: Your social media policy should not infringe on the rights protected under the NLRA.
8. Introductory/ Probationary Periods
These can be confusing when it comes to “at-will” status, which allows either party to lawfully terminate the contract at will. Some employees may also misinterpret this as a disciplinary action taken against them.
Best Practice: Communicate performance expectations clearly so that all employees understand the development plan and set performance objectives while carrying out regular monitoring and evaluation on new hires to determine whether they are meeting performance expectations.
9. Inflexible Discipline Policies
Disciplinary action provisions need to be flexible and progressive so that verbal warnings are for first-time offenses and written warnings for second-time offenses.
Best Practice: Refrain from making policies that limit your disciplinary actions against employees. Mention that violations may attract disciplinary action, which may include termination, and add that it is at the company’s discretion to decide the right disciplinary action to take. However, observe fairness at all times.
10. English-Only Policies
Requiring workers to communicate only in English even during breaks may be unlawful. Be sure to check with your state laws before enacting such a policy
Best Practice: Apply the rule only when necessary to carry out business operations. You want your business to run smoothly but also don’t want to make your employees feel uncomfortable in the workplace.
Your employee handbook should include only policies that are necessary to avoid violating local, state, county or federal laws.
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