Updating Your Employee Handbook? Make Sure to Include These Policies

November 23, 2019

The professional landscape is constantly changing; your employee handbook should, too. As technology advances and employment law evolves, adhering to policies that were created for a different time exposes you to liability. Updating your handbook also expedites the onboarding process for new employees and ensures that everyone in your organization is on the same page about your expectations. As for the policies you include? Some of that depends on exactly what your specific expectations are, but every employee handbook should address some of the same core subjects.

  •   Non-Discrimination Policies

Not all employees will enter your workplace having a clear understanding of what constitutes discrimination under federal law. Bring everyone up to speed by addressing this topic in the handbook. It may be helpful to include language from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating that discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation or gender identity), national origin, disability, age (40 or older) or genetic information is illegal.

Even if your handbook already includes a section on discrimination, it’s worth checking that it’s comprehensive. An outdated handbook might include language stating that discrimination based on sex is illegal, but not specify that gender identity is also protected. And because “discrimination” is a somewhat vague term, consider including specific examples of the types of behavior that are unacceptable in your workplace. Be sure to include instructions for how employees can report discrimination and how they’ll be protected from retribution for making those reports. 

  •   Sexual Harassment Policies

Sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing new, so many companies with existing employee handbooks have already addressed this topic. But in the wake of #MeToo and other public movements designed to bring light to sexual harassment, taking a hard line on this issue is in your best interest.

It can be challenging to create these policies because a) you don’t want to get graphic in your employee handbook, and b) creating a list of specifically forbidden behaviors opens you to trouble down the line. (If you say that X and Y are not allowed, but don’t mention Z, what will happen when someone reports Z?) So give some general guidance about what constitutes sexual harassment, stress that it won’t be tolerated and discuss the procedures for reporting it.

  •   Compensation and Overtime Policies

Getting paid correctly and promptly is, obviously, a primary objective for most employees. Payroll calculations can be complex, though, especially for non-exempt employees who are entitled to overtime. Avoid disputes and confusion down the line by clarifying policies around compensation in the handbook. You might include policies related to things like payroll frequency, overtime approval and bonuses. If relevant to your workforce, you might also include information about when and how employees are paid for travel time.

  •   Paid Leave Policies

Depending on your business size and location, the relevant paid leave laws may have changed since the last time your handbook was updated. (Employers operating in Massachusetts will have to provide paid family and medical leave for most employees starting in 2021, for example.) If such leave is available to your employees, address this in your handbook. Detail the procedures for requesting paid time off as well as clarifying the benefits to which employees are entitled.

  •   Social Media Policies

Social media behavior is another one of those hot-button topics that might not have been covered in the last edition of your handbook. It’s generally within an employer’s right to discipline or fire employees for their online behavior, even if the activity happens on an employee’s personal time and doesn’t relate to work. If a worker writes inflammatory Facebook posts about people of a different religion or has a Twitter feed full of racist memes, for example, their employer may consider that grounds for termination. All it takes is for one employee’s post to go viral to bring negative attention to your organization.


Not everyone realizes the reach and permanence of social media, so it’s a kindness to make sure your employees know that their online activity is relevant to you. You may want to create a social media policy that advises employees not to post online at all about confidential work matters, trade secrets or customers/clients. Furthermore, you might also decide to include some language stating that employees are expected to behave respectfully online and that writing or sharing posts that are discriminatory, bullying or violent could result in disciplinary action or termination.

These are some general guidelines for updating your employee handbook, but there’s a lot more to know about this subject. Commonwealth can provide more guidance about all things related to handbooks. Check out our webinar Why You Need an Employee Handbook, where we discussed the ins-and-outs of this important document. Still have questions? Contact us today!

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