When was the last time you updated your employee handbook?

Does it include information on California-compliant meal and rest breaks? Does it reflect recently passed laws, new technologies, and changes in how your company conducts business? Is it written in language that’s clearly understandable to employees, without legalese or jargon?

Handbooks aren’t required by law, but there are advantages to a clearly written, uniform set of policies that delineates performance standards and workplace behavior, as well as ensuring that employees are treated fairly and equally.

Have it reviewed by an HR professional or an attorney, because a handbook that is poorly crafted or violates laws can increase your exposure to litigation and liability. In fact, lawsuits often are won and lost based solely on the employee handbook.

A handbook should inform employees about their legal rights. That includes meal and rest breaks, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – and the California counterparts to those laws. Make sure you also include information on how to report harassment or discrimination.

Caution: You don’t want California courts to read your handbook as a contractual obligation. You can avoid that by including a disclaimer – in a prominent spot – stating that the handbook is not a contract and that it contains only general guidelines about the company’s policies. Indicate, too, that employment with your company is at will and that the handbook can be modified by the employer at any time without a written revision.

Make sure every staff member receives a handbook, and that he or she signs off upon receipt.

Leave some flexibility in your procedures. For example, don’t say that a verbal warning is the first step in every disciplinary procedure. Some employee actions will call for immediate dismissal. Also, be sure you adhere to your policies on a consistent basis to avoid charges of discrimination.

If you are an employer who has questions or wants more specifics about employee handbooks, contact Johnson Employment Law for guidance.