Protect your company against issues related to errors with your employee handbook. Here are five questions you should ask to make sure you’re getting the most protection from your employee handbook.
Does your introduction serve a purpose? An introduction isn’t a required handbook component; however, it can serve a critical function if it includes the following key elements:
- Employees are expected to follow the handbook.
- The handbook is not a contract.
- The company may change the handbook as it sees fit.
- The company reserves the exclusive right to manage the organization.
In Chipman, et al. v. Kalispell Regional Medical Center, employees argued that Kalispell Regional Medical Center couldn’t change a sick leave benefit that was contained in the employment contract. The Montana Supreme Court held that the employer could take away the sick leave benefit because its handbook made clear that it was not a contract and the employer was free to change its policies and benefits in the future.
Does your harassment policy provide an internal reporting procedure? The complaint reporting mechanism is important. If you have an internal reporting policy and an employee doesn’t take advantage of that procedure to report allegations of harassment, her failure to follow the policy will provide you a defense to a subsequent administrative charge or lawsuit.
Are you taking advantage of Montana’s probationary period of employment? The probationary period is important because the WDEA provides that an employer can terminate an employee during the probationary period for no reason or any reason, meaning there’s minimal liability for a wrongful discharge claim at that point in the employment relationship.
Thoughtful evaluation should take place throughout the probationary period, and a formal review should take place before the probationary period expires. You should take this time to fully evaluate whether the employee is going to be successful in your organization. If not, it’s best to use the probationary period to terminate him.
Have you told employees when to expect final paychecks? Under Montana law, when an employee is terminated for cause or laid off from employment, all unpaid wages are due and payable immediately upon separation unless you have a written personnel policy that extends the deadline for payment of final wages to the employee’s next regular payday covering her last pay period or to within 15 days from her termination, whichever occurs first.
Do you have an internal grievance procedure that protects you from a wrongful discharge claim? The WDEA provides that if an employer has adopted an internal grievance procedure and provides a copy of the procedure to an employee within 7 days of discharging him, the employer has a complete defense to a wrongful discharge claim if the employee fails to exhaust the procedure.
Employee handbooks are great tools when they’re used correctly. Conversely, employee handbooks can create liability if they aren’t properly drafted. Use the tips we’ve provided in this article to make sure you’re getting the most out of your employee handbook. However, you should also consult with your employment counsel to ensure your handbook isn’t creating liability for your organization.
Until Next Time, Be Audit Secure!