Understanding Employee Handbooks

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 Are Employers Required to Offer Paid Vacation, Holiday, or Sick Leave?

No federal law requires employers to provide paid vacation, holiday, or sick leave benefits. One federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), requires specific employers to deliver job-protected leave to employees for events such as childbirth and tending to ill family members.

The FMLA does not demand that the employer pays for this leave. Many states and localities have adopted laws requiring employers to provide paid leave, usually sick leave. In addition, employers may select to offer paid leave to employees as a benefit of employment.

What States Require Paid Leave to be Provided to Employees?

The following states require employers to provide paid sick and family leave:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Oregon
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

These laws are comparable in function. Under each, an employee must “accrue” (accumulate) a required amount of hours before that employee can take the leave. Each state law determines the amount of leave an employee can take in a given year. Each state law also manages the point of “unused leave,” which is leave time that an employee can use but does not use at the end of a given time frame. This leave may be “carried over” to the following year, depending on a particular state’s carry-over law.

Each leave law typically requires employees to pay their regular wage for the time taken as leave. Employees may use the leave to care for ill family members, childbirth, and child bonding. Most of these leave laws allow workers to take paid leave for their own illness.

Many localities require businesses operating within their borders to provide employees with paid sick or medical leave. California, Illinois, New York, and Texas are among these localities. The paid sick/medical leave laws in these localities are comparable in structure and function to state paid sick/medical leave laws. Some localities offer more generous leave to employees than their state’s own required leave law.

If I Offer Paid Leave, What Rules Must I Follow as an Employer?

Many employers willingly offer their employees paid vacation, holiday, and sick/medical leave to benefit from employment. For ease of management, many employers provide workers with “Paid Time Off” (PTO). PTO may normally be used for any of the above purposes — that is, for vacations, holidays, and sick/medical leave.

Employers who offer any of the above kinds of leave should observe basic employment law principles in allocating the leave. That is, leave procedures should be summarized in an employee handbook. There is no legal prerequisite for an employee handbook, let alone one that includes a paid leave policy. Nevertheless, having a written leave policy in an employee handbook ensures workers know what is required of them when making requests for leave and how to make leave requests.

What Types of Handbook Guidelines Should Employers Establish?

Employers are not mandated to adopt their own leave policy. Typically, states requiring paid leave permit employers to “adopt” the state leave policy as the employer’s own to fulfill the leave requirement. However, if and when an employer decides to create a paid leave policy, the employer must ensure the policy is not discriminatory.

Under a federal law known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers may not discriminate in the granting of employment benefits based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “sex” discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. This law applies to employers with 15 or more workers. Many states have their own laws banning discrimination. These laws often cover smaller workplaces.

In addition, employers should embrace the following measures to provide smooth and consistent administration of paid leave policies:

  • Employers should instruct workers to schedule leave in advance. The amount of advance notice should be adequate to let employers find another worker to “cover” for the employee taking leave. The amount of advance notice is sufficient to allow an employer to consider any other staffing issues that may result from the employee’s taking leave.
  • Employers should create a uniformly administered guideline to keep track of leave requests and days taken off.
  • Employers should urge workers not to misuse paid leave.

What Are Background Check Policies?

An employee background check policy can be integrated into an employee handbook or used as a stand-alone policy document. This document applies only to private workplaces. It is jurisdiction neutral. State or local regulations may set additional or different conditions, but the document is valuable and relevant to employers in every state.

What Are Employment Reference Policies?

Employment reference policies concern employment references for former or current employees. An employer can minimize risks by consolidating requests for employment information with a single department and training the workers accountable for replying to the requests to handle all requests consistently.

This policy can be integrated into an employee handbook or used as a stand-alone policy document. This policy applies only to private-sector workplaces. It is jurisdiction neutral.

How to Inspect and Make Necessary Revisions to Current Company Policies

Company policies and procedures are used as the source for writing the handbook practices that are currently in place. If there are no policies, they should be created. Once the employer has revised the policies and standardized the standard practices, legal counsel should inspect them, and HR should use these final policies for designing the employee handbook.

How to Make an Overview of What to Have in the Employee Handbook?

The subjects contained in the employee handbook should cover the employer’s mission statement, equal employment opportunity statement, contractual disclaimer and at-will employment statement, the goal of the employee handbook, and background info on the business. The determination to include other issues is left to the employer.

How to Create Summarized Versions of Each Guideline and Procedure?

The employee handbook should include a statement that outlines each procedure and process. The statements should be easy to read and include no legal rhetoric—in other words, they should speak to the employee audience and be drafted accordingly.

How to Add Each Overview Statement in the Proper Sections According to an Outline?

Once HR has finished the employee handbook design, the next step is to write the organization’s position, rules, or policies under each of the outline topics.

How to Review the Entire Handbook?

The review process should ensure that the details are correct and easy to understand. The handbook may be inspected by HR, a project team, or both.

Delivering a Completed Version to Legal Counsel for Examination

By inspecting the final rendition, legal counsel will confirm that it includes no comments that may create contractual agreements.

Selecting a Means of Publication

Once the employee handbook is finished, locate a vendor to produce the finished product. Institutions can seek a bid for proposals from a few select merchandisers.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Creating a Leave Policy?

If you are an employer who has questions about your state or locality’s paid leave policy or how to create your own paid leave policy, you should contact an employment attorney. This attorney can address your concerns and guide you on how to proceed to avoid liability issues.

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