There are numerous reasons employers should take the time to update their manuals at least annually. However, many employers, including those in the construction industry, underestimate the advantages of an up-to-date, legally compliant manual, and unfortunately an outdated manual can be just as risky as no manual at all.
1. Check your manual regularly
Manuals should be reviewed at least once a year. Labor laws, especially at the state and local levels, are constantly changing and require rigorous policy reviews to ensure that notice periods are met and that the law is accurately reflected. For example, Virginia has legal requirements for disability and maternity accommodation information to be included in an employer’s manual. Additionally, if you are a state contractor, additional requirements may be placed on you through executive orders (such as salary transparency requirements). State and local sick leave laws, harassment policy regulations, marijuana legalization laws, policies permanently affected by COVID-19 (e.g. to see if it needs an update. If you have employees who work in more than state (including those who work remotely), you should also ensure that your manual meets the requirements of each state.
2. Make sure that guidelines accurately reflect real life and are easy to understand
In addition to notifying workers of their rights, manuals can be useful tools for employers to show why certain actions have been taken in relation to worker behavior and performance. However, this only applies if the guidelines are correct. For example, if there are differences in guidelines from site to site, the guidelines in the manual may need to be adjusted similarly. If manual guidelines are to be used to demonstrate employees’ knowledge of expectations and rules, the guidelines must be written in a manner that is easy for employees to understand. You don’t want to be in any doubt about what was expected. This information can be useful in dealing with unemployment and employee compensation claims and litigation, as well as in handling the placement procedure. However, when guidelines are imprecise and do not reflect current practices and expectations or are incomprehensible, they can actually harm the employer.
3. Be able to demonstrate that the employee received the manual
You can have the best manual, but it means nothing if the employer cannot demonstrate that it is provided or accessible to the employee. It is important that the employee has received the manual and expects to become familiar with it. In addition, some state and local laws require the recognition of certain guidelines. The onboarding should also refer to the manual, with a record of it. With many workers in the construction industry only doing field work, it is even more important to ensure that workers acknowledge physical receipt as they do not report to a stationary corporate facility every day where copies can be placed, nor do they have always electronic access to digital manuals in the company intranet.
4. Train manual policy management
Make sure your management team is familiar with and trained in the guidelines in the manual to ensure consistent application and interpretation. A court can assess whether a manager can articulate the company’s expectations and requirements and, if not, determine that the employee should not be held accountable for those standards either.
5. Legal review is key
Finally, make sure to have a legal counsel review your manual before finalizing it. Manuals are not a one-size-fits-all and it is important to ensure that each manual meets legal requirements before making it available to your employees.
Ultimately, an employer can be held liable if your manual is not properly updated. Updating a manual may not be your favorite job, but employers can really benefit from making it an annual exercise.
© 2021National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 181