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Employee Handbooks and Policies

One of the key aspects of running a business and employing workers is communicating your company’s policies and procedures in a way that can be easily accessed by anyone within the organization. For most companies, an employee handbook serves the purpose of compiling and distributing important information to employees, while also offering protection to the company by including information that’s both required by law and necessary for protecting the against legal liability.

As Minnesota state law considers the contents of employee handbooks binding contractual obligations on the employer’s part, it is easy to understand why putting together the handbook is a process that a business should take quite seriously.

Getting started with your handbook

The process of establishing a good employee handbook involves a number of steps, beginning with the assembly of all relevant and previously distributed documentation of policies and procedures. Once that information has been gathered, there should be a discussion of any changes that need to be made to existing documentation for the purposes of inclusion in the handbook. Current trends in the industry, changes within the culture of the company and any shifts in relevant laws and statutes may influence how you revise your handbook.

Topics that might be included in an employee handbook are numerous and varied. Some elements are required by law, while others — if not mandatory — are generally wise to include, both for workers and the employer. Minnesota law, either explicitly or implicitly, requires that several different topics be covered in an employee handbook, and employers should take care to ensure that any written policies conform to the letter of the law.

For example, business owners who wish to conduct workplace drug and alcohol testing must have a written policy in place to do so. The state also has specific legislation on the books related to workplace safety (Workplace Accident and Injury Reduction Act), discrimination (Minnesota Human Rights Act) and women in the workplace (Women’s Economic Security Act). Other areas with which Minnesota employers should familiarize themselves with relevant state law — or seek legal assistance — prior to putting together an employee handbook include paid time off, off-duty consumption of legal products, employee political activity, nepotism and employee monitoring.

Proofing and revising

Before printing and distributing an employee handbook, the document should be coherently organized in a way that encourages workers to actually read and use it. You should have several people within your organization proofread it, including someone who was not involved in the handbook’s creation. This feedback in particular may be very useful in terms of addressing confusion and any lack of clarity present in the handbook.

After the handbook has been printed and distributed, it’s important to obtain signed acknowledgment that employees have read it and understand its contents. To most effectively introduce the handbook to workers, employers should consider holding appropriate training or informational sessions as an opportunity to answer questions and communicate key aspects of the handbook to everyone within the company.

It is possible for a Minnesota business to avoid having its employee handbook considered contractually binding. However, it requires the conspicuous inclusion of a properly worded disclaimer, the creation of which should be undertaken with the assistance of the employer’s legal counsel. It’s also important to note that revisions of employee handbooks should clearly emphasize that older handbooks or documents are no longer valid. Otherwise, older policies and procedures may still be considered legally binding.

Employee handbooks can be tremendously useful for employers and employees alike — if they’re put together in a responsible and coherent fashion. But a poorly assembled employee handbook doesn’t just fail to serve the needs of employees — it also leaves the employer liable to liabilities in the event that the information included is inconsistent with Minnesota law or with the employer’s actual practices and policies. For these reasons, it’s important to assemble an employee handbook carefully and with the advice and input of a skilled business and employment law attorney.

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