Employee Handbooks: 101 (Part 1)

If you are an employer in Pennsylvania, you should have a handbook and/or a policies and procedures manual. This Employee Handbook or Manual will be your “get-out-of-jail-free” card if and when an employee sues you down the road. Perhaps, “get-out-of-jail-free” is a bit much to expect of a handbook, but the manual is almost always your first line of defense – and the employee’s first line of attack.

If your business is sued, one of the first things the employee’s lawyer is going to look at is your policy manual. If this is lacking in any important area, your manual will be “Exhibit #1” in the lawyer’s attack against you.  For example, if the claim is for wrongful termination or for unemployment compensation benefits, it will be crucial to see whether your handbook contains any rules against whatever the conduct is about which you reprimanded and/or terminated the employment of the employee.

For instance, if you drug tested the employee, and later terminated the employee’s employment because she “failed” the test, if your manual does not provide appropriate language, setting forth the circumstances which allow such a test, as well as the methodology of the test, and the security needed to support the authenticity and accuracy of the test, you may lose a challenge filed by her employment lawyer against you.

Or, let’s say an ex-employee is now suing you for sexual harassment. If you do not have a written policy prohibiting sexual harassment, and spelling out exactly how you will investigate and deal with such matters, the employee and his lawyer will no doubt use this lack of a policy to assert a failure on your part to take such matters seriously.  They will also argue that you failed to apprise your workers of their legal rights to protest against illegal harassment.

In future blogs, I intend to discuss some of the more specific items that should be in virtually every employee handbook. In the meantime, if you are an employer and you need help reviewing your handbook or manual, please contact the employment lawyers in Lancaster and York at Trinity Law 717-843-8046.