Why Employee Handbooks Matter

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 Why Employee Handbooks Matter electronic employee handbook acknowledgement form

Employee handbooks first and foremost reserve and protect the rights of an employer.  In addition, they can help clarify expectations, facilitate better communication with employees, and can reduce risk related to litigation or unionization. As Merritt Bumpass, a partner in the Frantz Ward Labor and Employment Group said,

“An employer has a legal relationship with each of its employees. The crucial issue is what are the terms of that relationship, and the creation of a well written handbook is a very good way to establish clear and acceptable terms of that relationship.”

However, not all handbooks are created equal, and in order to maximize the impact of your organization’s handbook,  we spoke with the attorneys at Frantz Ward LLP, who gave a few suggestions for essential policies you should consider.

Essential Policies:

  • At will disclaimer
  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
  • Anti-harassment – including sexual and workplace harassment
  • NLRA disclaimer
  • Non-solicitation
  • Work rules/Discipline
  • Electronic communications
  • Employment status/Classification
  • Attendance/Tardiness
  • Family and Medical Leave
  • Personal/Non FMLA Leave
  • Military Leave
  • Firearms/Weapons
  • Drug free workplace/ Drug testing
  • Workplace injury/Illness
  • Employee Acknowledgement Form

Additional Policies to Consider Including:

  • Welcome statement/Introduction
  • Description of benefits
  • Hours/Work schedule/Lunch/Breaks
  • Timekeeping
  • Employee benefits
  • Dress code
  • Reference requests
  • Updating personnel information
  • Access to personnel records
  • Employee suggestions
  • Continued education
  • Emergencies
  • Business reimbursement
  • Travel
  • Performance evaluations
  • Promotions/Transfers
  • Layoff/Recall
  • Payroll
  • Industry specific regulations
  • Reasonable accommodations
  • Employee complaints
  • Termination of employment/Resignation
  • Non-Fraternization/Dating/Personal relationships including relatives
  • Conflict of interest
  • Receiving/Receipt of gifts
  • Cell phones/Electronic devices while driving – Cell phones/Electronic devices at work
  • Smoking and use of tobacco
  • Working from home

Handbooks are not a one-size-fits-all. These are just some examples of sample policies that could be added to your handbook. All handbooks should be reviewed by legal counsel for compliance with federal and state laws and regulations–and should be modified to fit the organizations culture, industry and practices. If you are a ERC Member, contact the HR Help Desk for additional information on sample handbook policies.

Frantz Ward LLP is an ERC Partner and offers a Litigation Prevention Plan (LPP) that helps ERC members with their annual employment law expenses. Not a member of ERC? See what our Membership has to offer.

Source: Employment Law 2015 guidelines, “What’s Cooking in Labor and Employment Law in 2015,” Frantz Ward LLP.

IMPORTANT: By providing you with information that may be contained in this article, the Employers Resource Council (ERC) is not providing a qualified legal opinion concerning any particular human resource issue. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application. We also recommend that you consult your legal counsel regarding workplace matters when and if appropriate.

This document is intended to provide general information about legal developments, not legal advice. Receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship with Frantz Ward LLP.

ERC Partners Frantz Ward and Meyers Roman Litigation Prevention Plan

2014 HR Compliance Guide

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2014 HR Compliance Guide

We’ve developed an easy guide summarizing what your organization needs to know to stay compliant as it begins the New Year. The guide includes a summary of several regulations that take effect as well as important legal issues on the horizon.

Regulations that Take Effect

Below are several major regulations and initiatives will take effect January of 2014.
Read this article...

2013 HR Compliance Guide

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We’ve developed an easy guide summarizing what your organization needs to know to stay compliant as it begins the New Year. The guide includes a summary of several regulations that take effect as well as important legal issues on the horizon.

Regulations that Take Effect

Below are several major regulations and initiatives will take effect during the first few months of 2013.

Legal/HR Issue Description of Regulation Effective Date
2013 Income Tax Withholding Tables Provides income tax withholding tables for 2013 here. Immediately
Unemployment Benefits Extends unemployment benefits for one year. Immediately
Tax Changes Extends current tax cuts for individuals earning less than $400,000 per year and couples earning less than $450,000. Increases top tax rate to 39.6% and tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 20% for individuals and couples earning more than these thresholds. Permanently indexes AMT (alternative minimum tax) for inflation. For 2012, the exemption amounts are $78,750 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $50,600 for single filers Immediately
HR-Related Tax Credits The employer-provided benefit tax credits for educational assistance and child care credits are now permanent. Several other tax credits are extended through 2013, including an employer wage credit for employees who are active duty members of the uniformed services. Immediately
Social Security Withholding Re-sets withholding rates at 6.2%. January 1, 2013
Social Security Wage Base Increases the Social Security Old Age Survivor's and Disability Insurance (OASDI) taxable wage base for 2013 from $110,100 to $113,700. January 1, 2013
Minimum Wage Raises minimum wage in Ohio to $7.85 per hour for non-tipped employees and $3.93 per hour for tipped employees. January 1, 2013
Mileage Rates Increases standard mileage rate to 56.5 cents per mile for business miles driven and 24 cents per mile for medical or moving purposes. Continues 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations. January 1, 2013
Retirement Plan Limits Raises the 2012 limit on the exclusion for elective deferrals in 401(k), 403(b), and 457(e) plans to $17,500, up from $17,000. For changes to other pension plan limits, click here. January 1, 2013
W-2 Benefits Reporting Requires employers who have an employer-sponsored group health plan to report the cost of coverage under their plan on employees' W-2s unless they are filing fewer than 250 forms. January 1, 2013
Contribution Limit for FSAs Limits an employee’s annual pre-tax salary reduction contributions to a health flexible spending account (FSA) to $2,500. January 1, 2013
Medicare Tax Increases Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) tax rate by 0.9 percent (from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent) on earned income over $200,000 for an individual taxpayers and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly; also includes a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income in the case of individual taxpayers earning over $200,000 and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly). January 1, 2013
Fair Credit Reporting Act Notices Requires that employers must update their Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) notices and forms because enforcement of the FCRA is now under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. January 1, 2013
Notice of Health Insurance Exchanges Requires that employers provide all new hires and current employees with a written notice about the future availability of health insurance exchanges in their state. March 1, 2013

Legal Issues on the Horizon

The following table summarizes several major legal issues that could lead to greater scrutiny and more regulations for employers in 2013.

Legal/HR Issue Description of Issue
Implementation of health care reform In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the health care reform law is constitutional. As a result, employers will need to keep pace with preparing for and complying with health care reform provisions, including those set to go into effect in 2013.
Jobs/job-related training Both federal and state governments will be focused on jobs and job-related training/workforce readiness in 2013, which may lead to tax incentives, grants for training, and other initiatives that assist employers with hiring and training efforts.
Social media in the workplace The federal government, some state governments, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are scrutinizing employers' social media policies and use of social media in the hiring, selection, and pre-screening process.
Background screening The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance this past year on background check practices, particularly as it relates to enhancing opportunities for those with criminal backgrounds. Ohio recently passed a law which reduces employment barriers for residents with misdemeanor or felony convictions.
Expansion of NLRB The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has expanded its influence throughout 2012, providing guidance on issues such as social media, at-will statements, and concerted activity. Expect this growing influence to continue.
Protection of unemployed individuals Bills were proposed at both state and federal levels to protect unemployed individuals from discrimination in the hiring process in 2012, and may gain further ground in 2013.
Targeted enforcement of  discrimination The EEOC will continue to focus its efforts on issues of systemic discrimination, intentional hiring discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and transgender bias.
Increased wage and hour enforcement Wage and hour lawsuits filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are dramatically rising, and the Department of Labor's (DOL) enforcement of the law has also increased. Misclassification also continues to be a focus of the DOL. Additionally, employers can expect that addressing equal pay may also be a priority for the federal government.
Workplace leave Both state and federal governments have shown interest in expanding workplace leave and enhancing the availability of flexible or alternative work arrangements.
Reduction of barriers for disabled workers The DOL continues to increase resources allocated to reducing barriers in employment for individuals with disabilities, including improving access to opportunities, increasing accessibility of accommodations, and changing perceptions regarding hiring people with disabilities.
Retirement plan reform The government continues to be interested in ensuring that employees are saving adequately for their retirement and is exploring a number of options.

If your organization needs more assistance, guidance, or detail with regard to these or other compliance-related issues, here are several additional resources and services, provided by ERC, which you can consult:

  • HR Help Desk: Contact hrhelp@yourERC.com to ask any HR or compliance-related question and receive answers, guidance, and research. Service offered to ERC members only.
  • BNA HR Essentials & Tools: An online tool that houses notices, posters, sample policies, forms, federal and state law summaries, and local wage and tax information. Accessible in the ERC Member Center at www.yourERC.com. Resource offered to ERC members only.