For franchisees and business owners, the labor and employment world has become increasingly complex, and is constantly changing. Not only must employers be aware of updates to federal labor and employment laws, they must also be aware of their obligations under state and local laws. To stay current with the ever-changing legal landscape, we recommend that all employers, regardless of size, create an up-to-date employee handbook and review it regularly for compliance. Below is a summary of some of the most important policies to include in your handbook, policies that we strongly recommend be included, and optional policies to include based on your business practices.

The Must Haves

One of the most important policies that employers should include in their employee handbook is an equal employment opportunity (“EEO”), or anti-discrimination, policy that states the company provides equal employment opportunities to all individuals regardless of any protected class, including, but not limited to, race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, genetic information, and other any other characteristic protected by federal, state and local law. A well-drafted EEO policy – if adhered to in practice – can be used as part of an employer’s defense against a charge of discrimination.

Just as important as the EEO policy, employers should also include an anti-harassment policy that prohibits harassment based on the above listed protected classes, and not just sexual harassment. Your anti-harassment policy should also include definitions of harassment, descriptions of the Company’s complaint and subsequent investigation procedures, and a guarantee that any employee who reports harassment or is involved in a related investigation will not be subject to retaliation.

Strongly Recommended

In today’s digital age, we strongly recommend that employers include a policy regarding social media use. In this policy, employees should be allowed to use their personal social media accounts during non-working time, and employers should never discriminate against employees for their personal social media use, including their personal interests or political affiliations. Your social media policy should also include a prohibition against disclosing confidential company information, a warning for employees to distinguish their opinions from those of the company’s, and a warning that employees should not violate the company’s anti-discrimination and harassment policies on social media and other digital platforms.

Another policy that we strongly recommend including in your employee handbook is a non-solicitation, or non-distribution, policy. To avoid interference in your operations and distractions, your non-solicitation non-distribution policy should state that employees may not distribute literature or solicit other employees for any purpose on company premises during working time. Employers should define working time in this policy to not include specified times when employees are not expected to be working. We also strongly recommend that you include non-employees in this policy, and prohibit non-employees from soliciting employees for any purpose, or engaging in the distribution of literature of any kind, on company premises. Employers should also include information about the repercussions of violating this policy, in line with your disciplinary policy explained below.

The third policy that we strongly recommend including in your handbook is a clearly defined policy regarding disciplinary procedures. Such a policy can include the steps taken to correct poor or improper behavior and the corresponding consequences (i.e. verbal warning, written warning, suspension, then termination). Do not forget to mention your zero-tolerance workplace violence policy in this section and include the consequences of violating said policy. Drafting clearly defined disciplinary procedures, and following them, can also help defend against claims of discrimination.

Additional Policies to Consider

Employers should be aware that, in addition to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), there are several other types of leave that employers may be required to provide. Depending on where you are located, you may be required to provide leave for jury duty, voting, donor-related activities, school activities, or for victims of domestic or sexual violence. Even if you are not required to include these additional leave policies in your employee handbook, we recommend you consider including them, depending on your business practices.

Understanding your obligations under federal, state, and local laws, and creating lawful policies, is key to minimizing your legal exposure. If you do not already have an employee handbook, we recommend that you create one, and if you already have an employee handbook, we recommend that you review and update your policies annually. Finally, we recommend that before distributing a new or updated employee handbook to your employees, you have it reviewed by labor and employment counsel. •

Founded in 1945, Laner Muchin, Ltd. is one of the oldest law firms in Chicago concentrating exclusively on the representation of private and public sector employers in the areas of labor and employment law, employment litigation, employee benefits and business immigration matters.
The Firm provides legal services to clients from coast to coast. The authors can be reached by contacting Rob Bernstein at rbernstein@lanermuchin.com or Andrea Rodriguez at arodriguez@lanermuchin.com or (312) 467-9800.