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January 25, 2010Client Alert

Top 10 Employee Handbook Updates to Make in 2010

The New Year is a great time for employers to review and update their Employee Handbooks. It is especially important this year because there have been several changes to existing laws, as well as new challenges that employers may not have previously addressed in their handbooks such as texting and social networking.

Below is a list of the top 10 areas that employers should consider updating in their 2010 Employee Handbooks:

1. Workplace Violence and Conflict Resolution

Workplace violence is a growing concern for employers for several reasons. In 2009, incidents of workplace violence increased by 18% and workplace suicides rose by 28%. Incidents of workplace violence are highly publicized and often result in injury or death. Moreover, this problem is not expected to go away quickly as layoffs and unemployment continue. Workplace violence-related litigation includes actions for negligent hiring, workers compensation, and OSHA. Handbook policies may not always prevent the risk of workplace violence, but they can serve a purpose if they provide employees with reporting avenues, counseling avenues, or general guidelines of how to react when violence is threatened or suspected.

2. Benefits Provisions

Many companies have made changes to their benefits plans in 2010 and they should be sure their handbook accurately reflects those changes. Furthermore, the handbook should state that if the handbook summary and plan language differ, the plan language controls.

3. EFCA-Related Concerns

While the passage of EFCA or an EFCA related bill remains up in the air, employers should be prepared for changes in organizing tactics and procedural requirements and should make sure their handbook policies are up-to-date concerning bulletin boards, outside employment, solicitation and non-distribution, and visitors. For more information on EFCA-related concerns, please see Michael Best’s client alert titled, “The Metamorphosis of EFCA: What’s the Latest?” from August 2009.

4. Text Messaging

Text messaging has become a new challenge for employers in terms of harassment and retaliation. Employers should include a provision on text messaging in their harassment and retaliation policies, or create a separate policy to deal with these issues. For more information on text messaging policies, please see Michael Best’s client alert titled, “Why Employers Need a Text Messaging Policy.”

5. Social Networking and Blogging

Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Twitter accounts have become more and more prevalent. Employers may need handbook policies that address issues such as what communications are prohibited and the consequences of “misuse” of social networking relating to employment or the employer. Employers will want to put limits on posting confidential or proprietary company information. In addition, employers can use the handbook to address situations involving employees making disparaging or harassing remarks about other employees or the company, or employees posting inappropriate photos on their site.

6. Adverse Weather/Other Closings

More and more employers are incorporating adverse weather policies into their handbooks to provide guidance as to when the business will close and how weather-related absences or shutdowns will affect employee compensation.

Additionally, the H1N1 epidemic forced employers to consider how best to function should an illness such as H1N1 enter the workplace, including considerations such as shutting down the workplace, working remotely, cross training, and return to work concerns .

These policies should address compensation issues for both exempt and non-exempt employees.

7. Family Medical Leave Act

Some employers have made it into 2010 without updating their FMLA policies. The FMLA was amended in 2009, and new regulations were also issued late in 2009. It is necessary for employers to update their policies, as well as their FMLA posters. For more information on FMLA requirements, please see Michael Best’s client alert titled, “Congress Expands Family and Medical Leave Military-Related Leave Provisions.”

8. Respectful Workplace Policy

Because of website movements such as JerksatWork.com and MyBossisMichaelScott.com, some employers have found it useful to adopt policies encouraging and defining respectful workplace behavior. If an employer chooses to pursue such a policy, they should be specific about what behavior is and is not acceptable. These policies must be kept separate from harassment policies because harassment is illegal, while disrespect is not.

9. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

GINA went into effect in November 2009, so many employers have not yet added provisions to their handbooks to deal with the changes. GINA prohibits discrimination based on genetic information. Among other things, employers should add Genetic Information to the list of protected classes in nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies, as well as updating their Wellness Programs to avoid collecting any genetic information from employees. For more information on the requirements of GINA, please see Michael Best’s client alert titled, “Interim Final Health Insurance Rules Under Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act ("GINA") Published.”

10. Charities and Tax-Exempts

Charities and tax-exempt companies who file IRS form 990 should consider adding certain policies that are referenced on form 990. The revised form 990 asks whether the employer has whistleblower, conflicts of interest and document retention and destruction policies. The form also asks about executive compensation and the procedures used to approve it. The information requested varies depending on the size of the tax-exempt organization or charity.

It is essential that employers seek counsel before making changes to their handbooks. There is no one-size-fits-all employee handbook and not all employers are required to implement all employment laws depending on their size and location. In addition, when employers consider adapting or adopting new policies, they should make sure employees are aware of the changes, obtain signed acknowledgement forms from employees, and implement the new policies uniformly.

If you think it’s time to update your employee handbook or you have any other questions about implementing new policies, please contact one of the authors of this alert, or your Michael Best attorney.

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