When you are busy running a business or nonprofit, it can be hard to remember that you have an employee manual sitting on a shelf gathering dust somewhere. But if you have one, you need to keep it up to date; it is not something to ignore. If you ever have to defend a wrongful discharge claim, not following your own policies is one of the easiest ways to get into trouble, even if you did nothing wrong in firing the employee; on the other hand, good policies can make firing an employee easier. So it pays to keep your employee manual up to date.
Updating your employee manual is important for two reasons: laws change and businesses change. If your maternity policies are from the last century, you may very well run afoul of laws intended to protect pregnant women from discrimination – which often looks like paternalistic concern. Are your tobacco policies in compliance with clean-air laws? Do you have a no-weapons policy or one on workplace violence? You may not be taking advantage of beneficial law changes such as, in Montana, the grievance for termination provision. So check with someone familiar with the changes in employment law and update your policies in line with them.
If your business hasn’t changed in the last decade, it is unusual. More likely, you have added now job positions and learned to deal with new issues. Tattoo policies are common now but weren’t in the past. Do you need social media policies? Have you added new layers of management? Changed who to ask about benefits? Changed your benefits? Have you added new policies that you have only mentioned in memos? Does your discipline policy allow for immediate dismissal if the problem is severe? All of these are things to consider in updating your manual.
Your employee manual should accurately reflect how you do business. Not how you think you should, or how a consultant thinks you should, but how you actually operate. It should protect you from common pitfalls and take advantage of legal benefits. It should be a useful management tool. It should not be a weapon for a disgruntled employee to use against you in court. So blow the dust off yours and put it back to work for you.