Does Your Employee Handbook Need a Midyear Checkup?


New workplace laws on minimum wage, paid sick leave, criminal background investigations and more are popping up all the time—and they don't always take effect at the beginning of a new year. HR professionals need to communicate these changes with their workforce as the laws become effective, but how often should you revise your employee handbook? Employment attorneys told SHRM Online that the answer depends on a few factors.

The frequency of handbook reviews may depend on how big the employer is and how many states it operates in, said Lucas Asper, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Greenville, S.C.

HR professionals should also consider the purpose that the handbook serves for the organization—which varies from employer to employer, he noted. Some businesses just want to cover the minimum that is required by law. Others might use the handbook as a summary of all the applicable workplace laws that the HR and management teams rely on when providing guidance. If that's the case, they'll want to be extra careful about making sure the information is accurate and up-to-date, Asper said.

[SHRM members-only resource: Sample Employee Handbook]

"Updates should be considered at a minimum on an annual basis," said Stephanie Peet and Timothy McCarthy, attorneys with Jackson Lewis in Philadelphia, in an e-mail to SHRM Online. "However, sometimes there are drastic changes in applicable laws that necessitate an immediate change."

As an example, they said, if Congress were to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to expressly include sexual orientation as a protected characteristic, employers would need to ensure that sexual orientation is covered in their equal employment opportunity policy and make revisions if needed.

That's why a midyear review is a good idea. "Employers should make an effort to stay abreast of changes in applicable labor and employment laws on an ongoing basis," Peet and McCarthy suggested.

If there are any significant changes to the laws that affect a particular employer's workforce, the handbook should be reviewed to ensure that the company's policies are in line with those changes.

Notice Is Key

When a new law takes effect, it is vital to give employees notice, Asper said. But that notice doesn't always have to be provided through a formal handbook update.

For midyear changes in the law, employers may want to consider…    

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