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How your company’s employee handbook may reduce its legal liability

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2024 | Business Law, Employment Law |

There are many steps you must take care of as a business owner. Understandably, you would want to put some of your responsibilities on the back burner to handle later on. One task that you definitely shouldn’t delay doing is drafting your company’s employee handbook. That’s because a well-written manual could minimize your company’s legal exposure if a worker were to file a dispute.

Is it mandatory for employers to have employee handbooks?

There’s no specific Oregon, Washington or federal law requiring employers to have employee handbooks. It’s a matter of preference that motivates companies to draft these workplace policy manuals. If you opt to draft an employee handbook, you’ll want to include certain content.

Details should you include in your employee handbook

The U.S. Department of Labor recommends that companies include the following information in their employee handbooks to protect their interests:

  • Details about equal employment opportunity laws, especially as they relate to discrimination during the hiring, firing and promotion process
  • Federal, state and local laws and regulations pertaining to your company’s line of work or industry
  • Information about the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and any similar state laws that allow employees to take unpaid medical leave and still return to their jobs

Your employee handbook should also clearly state company policies or applicable law related to:

  • Military service
  • Jury duty or court witness responsibilities
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Sexual harassment or whistleblowing reports

If company policies vary depending on the department that your employee works in, then you’ll want to detail those differences in your handbook.

You may also want to spell out how you will address disputes, e.g., by arbitration first, if they arise.

How an employee handbook limits a company’s liability

A well-written employee handbook clarifies employee expectations. It provides workers with clarity on how your company handles certain issues so that there’s no ambiguity. Your handbook should include an effective date with a warning that it supersedes any previously published handbook and that workers shouldn’t misconstrue its contents for an employment contract. You leave your employees with few options for bringing you into a costly, hotly litigated battle if you have them sign documentation acknowledging receipt of any such manual.

Protect your company’s interests

Determining which laws and regulations apply to your company that you need to include in your employee handbook can be challenging. The choices you make when drafting this manual or responding to disputes can impact your liability risk, so you’ll want to carefully weigh the choices that you make.

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