A strong set of employee policies can be of tremendous benefit to your business and your employees. Too often, though, employee policies evolve without planning. Or, no explicit policies are implemented at all, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis with no clear governance. This can lead to confusion for employees and potential liability for employers. Crafting a clear set of employee policies will help to keep your business running smoothly, avert conflicts and allow your employees and management team alike to plan appropriately.
However, the process of creating employee policies can be a delicate one, particularly if you are formulating those policies on your own without thorough knowledge of relevant laws and regulations. Missteps in writing policies, or even ambiguous wording, can turn your well-intentioned directives into a liability. Having an experienced business lawyer guide you through the process of formulating policies and creating the documents that will convey those policies to employees protects your business.
Employee Policies Must Comply With Applicable Laws
When you are formulating employee policies, it is critical that you are aware of and take into account all applicable state, federal, and perhaps even local laws. These include statutes addressing issues such as medical leave, work hours, breaks, overtime pay, reimbursement of expenses, safety procedures and more. Some issues you may not even have thought to consider, but will risk running afoul of the law if you do not formulate and enforce an appropriate policy.
For example, many business managers want to implement rules prohibiting employees from discussing their wages. This protects the company from the resentment that may come from one employee earning more than another, and may save the company money since it will reduce pressure to match wages of the higher-compensated employees. However, the National Labor Relations Act prohibits most employers from restricting such discussion.
The process of creating policies that achieve your purposes while complying with all applicable law can be particularly complex when your business is operating in more than one location, and policies must comply with different laws or regulations governing the same subject matter. The experienced business lawyers in our firm make it a point to stay abreast of the employment-related laws and regulations in all jurisdictions impacting our clients, to ensure that policies are compliant regardless of location.
Your Business is Bound by Your Employee Policies
Not all business owners and managers realize that when a company creates and disseminates and employee policy, the company becomes bound by that policy. In this regard, a company can unintentionally limit its own rights when creating an employee policy. For example, an employer in an at-will employment state may generally terminate an employee for virtually any reason–or no reason at all. So long as the cause for termination does not conflict with a specific legal protection, such as the prohibition on race discrimination, the employer may generally fire an employee whenever it chooses.
However, if the employer institutes a policy that says that an employee who is late for work will receive a verbal warning the first time, a written warning the second and may be subject to termination on the third or subsequent offense, the employer has changed the rules. Having created a policy and advised employees that the consequence for the first offense is a verbal warning, the employer may have effectively tied its own hands.
Of course, that type of consistent system of discipline and enforcement has value, as well. And, implementing and strictly following set procedures for managing that type of infraction can protect an employer from wrongful termination litigation or accusations of some form of discrimination when an employee is terminated. The important thing is that an employer creating this type of policy fully understands the ramifications of the policy for both the employer and the employees.
Talk to an Experienced Employment Lawyer about Your Employee Policies
Well-formulated and consistently-enforced employee policies can create significant benefits for your business. Such policies allow your employees to know exactly what is expected of them, and protect your business against accusations of discrimination when employees do not fulfill their obligations.
On the other hand, creating employee policies haphazardly or without a thorough knowledge and understanding of the applicable law can put your business at risk. The best tool you can employ to ensure that your policies achieve your goals while complying with the law is the assistance of an experienced employment lawyer.