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“Dust Off” Your Employee Handbook

by: SESCO Management Consultants 02-Oct-2017

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“Dust Off” Your Employee Handbook

Your employee handbook is, fundamentally, your most important human resources document because it is the document on which you base all of your employment decisions. It is the repository of your employment policies and procedures. Thus, it’s critically important to make sure that your employee handbook is always up to date and in compliance with the employment regulations that cover your business, and that it contains all of the policies and procedures you need to hire and retain good employees and motivate them to superior performance. Here are some important policies that we recommend you consider.

Management Prerogative.

Management reserves the right to make and interpret policy whenever, in the opinion of management, this is necessary. This is a critically important and key policy dealing with ultimate authority, that should be placed in the front of your employee handbook.

At-Will Language.

Your handbook should avoid language that tends to create a contract, such as these examples:

"for cause", "annual (salary, etc.)", "conditions of employment", "continued employment", "permanent employee", "career", "job security"

Reasonable Accommodation for Religious Holidays.

Your policy should grant “reasonable accommodation” to the religious needs of employees and applicants, so long as this does not create an undue hardship on the employer. The accommodation is not required to be convenient for the employee – the standard is that it be “reasonable.”

Reasonable Accommodation for Disabled Employees and Applicants.

Your policy should provide for reasonable accommodation to the known needs of disabled employees and applicants, so long as this does not create an undue hardship on the employer or create a threat to the health and safety of others at work.

E-Mail and the Internet.

The Internet is the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. Your handbook should inform employees that their e-mail may be monitored by the employer and that they are not to use offensive language on the e-mail system. Specifically, they are not to use language that is racially, ethnically, religiously or sexually offensive. In addition, employees may access only authorized web sites, and may not access offensive web sites.

Confidential Information.

Inform employees that they may have access to confidential information which belongs to the employer and that they are not to remove copies of it, neither hard copies nor computerized or disk copies, nor are they to download unauthorized material.

Dress Code.

Your dress code policy should deal with the new trends in dress and must specifically define employer expectations. Some of the areas that should be included in the policy are tattoos, unusual piercings, extravagant hair color, scents from cosmetics, colognes or other fragrances, and revealing, suggestive or otherwise non-professional clothing.


Most states in the South and Southwest have no regulation requiring a work break – coke, coffee, meal, smoking or otherwise. This is left strictly to the employer’s policy. Some states in the Northeast, Midwest and Northwest do have such a policy. Please check with SESCO Management Consultants to see if your state has this requirement.


Many employers completely ban smoking at work and this is clearly the trend. If you do allow smoking, you should designate a smoking area. Also, provide that if an employee objects to someone smoking, that person must immediately cease smoking.

Health Examinations.

In most cases, employers may not require health examinations, unless this is directly related to the job. Health examinations pose serious ADA issues so check with SESCO Management Consultants prior to establishing such a policy.


Employers may not require employees to retire at a specific age. A Retirement Policy is a good idea but it must be worded in the right way.

Sexual Harassment.

It is vital to define sexual harassment, provide examples and direct a primary and back-up means for employees to report allegations of sexual harassment. Do not leave this up to the “chain of command,” because someone in the chain might be the alleged harasser. Sexual harassment prevention training should be conducted annually.

Drugs and Alcohol at Work.

Your policy should ban illegal drugs and alcohol at work and reserve the right to require a drug test whenever, in the opinion of management, this is necessary.

Weapons at Work.

In order to protect your employees and customers, you must have a policy prohibiting weapons at work, except where they are job related. In addition, you should have a search policy reserving the right to search employees -- their person, locker, toolboxes and vehicles parked on employer property.

Solicitation and Distribution of Literature.

NLRB regulations say that employees have the right to solicit and distribute literature at work, so long as they do so during non-working times to non-working employees. In addition, employees have the right to distribute religious literature just like any other literature, so long as they do not offend other employees. Employees have the right to have religious literature and paraphernalia on their desks, but they must comply with the housekeeping policy.

Leaves of Absence.

Publish a Family and Medical Leave policy, if you are covered by this regulation. Decide what you are going to do for employees at the end of FMLA and include this in your handbook. Some employers release employees who do not return from FMLA, while others grant them additional unpaid time off with no job guarantee. Also, include a regular leave policy for those employees who do not qualify for FMLA.

Personal Responsibility away from Work.

Employees may be disciplined for inappropriate or bad behavior that occurs away from work, if it affects the image, reputation or services of the employer.

Social Relationships at Work.

We recommend that you prohibit managers from dating or having a romantic relationship with non-management employees. This is a sexual harassment claim waiting to happen. Some employers prohibit any employees from dating each other.

Political Activities.

In most cases, employees have the right to engage in political activities away from work. However, they do not have the right to do so on the job, if it affects their work or the work of others and they should not identify themselves as employees of your company. If an employee appears at work with a political button, you must be careful -- if you allow other buttons, you must allow this one. If you prohibit other buttons, you may prohibit this one, also.

SESCO Management Consultants
P.O. Box 1848
Bristol, Tennessee  37621
(423) 764-4127
(423) 764-5869 (Fax)
web site:

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