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Friday, January 22, 2016

2016 Top 10 Handbook Updates

By: Thomas Eden

A well drafted Employee Handbook in 2016 should:
Set expectations
Vision and values
Define Benefits
Result in consistent policies & application
Limit supervisory discretion
Reduce litigation risk
Give at-will and/or mandatory arbitration notices
Help win Unemployment Compensation Claims

#1 Handbook Update: Equal Employment Opportunity to include all protected categories listed including sexual orientation and gender identity, with dual track reporting and commitment to accommodate disabilities, dual track Reporting process, and commitment to accommodate for disabilities

#2 Handbook Update: No Harassment not limited to sex or sexual contact, with exactly what will employer do to investigate balancing protected rights and confidentiality.

#3 Handbook Update: Whistleblowing, because there are now over 22 federal laws prohibit retaliation for violations which are investigated by OSHA and there were millions of dollars in penalties in 2015.

#4 Handbook Update: Wage & Hour Classification should set forth multiple classifications stating how status impacts benefits, listing the ACA 30-hour threshold and be ready to pivot based on new DOL Regulations in June 2016.

#5 Handbook Update: Pay Policies should define payday and workweek with strict timekeeping procedures which prohibit off-the-clock and give notice of correction procedures.

#6 Handbook Update: Appropriate Conduct should track Alabama Unemployment Compensation disqualification  grounds with a list of examples of conduct that will warrant step discipline, immediate termination (don’t use “progressive”), and disclaim that nothing is intended to interfere with employee rights protected by state or federal law.

#7 Handbook Update: Be Accommodating on drug or alcohol rehabilitation, pregnancy, lactation breaks, military, ADA, religious observance with an explanation of who to contact to make a request and an open door policy if not satisfied.

#8 Handbook Updates: Workplace Violence Prevention should have no tolerance policy for violence or threats to commit violence drafted as an Alabama compliant Guns in the Parking Lot Policy with a posting of your stance on guns in buildings.

#9 Handbook Update: Protected Activity on Social Media may include:
Complaints about wages sharing,
Complaints about Managers,
Union-related logo displays,
Union support,
Organizing a union,
Discussing terms of employment,
Facebook “likes”, or
Twitter retweets.

#10 Handbook Update: Arbitration Clause
Strong support from U.S. Sup Ct, 11th Circuit, Alabama Sup Court for Employment arbitration that should include class action waivers in signed arbitration agreement, which trumps Title VII, FLSA, wrongful discharges, etc. in a state or federal court.

Common Sense Counsel: When updated correctly, an employee handbook in 2016 should:
1. be an introduction to company policies, procedures, and culture;
2. serve as a benchmark for understanding and consistently following organizational practices;
3. provide legal evidence that the policies are consistent with, and encourage, adherence to the latest employment laws; and
4. reduce the risk of employment litigation.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter where he will be presenting on this topic at the January 26, 11:30 meeting. He can be contacted at or 334-246-2901. Blog at