Employee Handbooks, Part I

An employee handbook is an important communication tool between you and your employees. A well-written handbook sets forth your expectations for your employees, and describes what they can expect from your company. It also should describe your legal obligations as an employer, and your employees’ rights. Some of the more common topics include:

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Conflict of Interest Statements

Although NDAs are not legally required, having employees sign NDAs and conflict of interest statements helps to protect your trade secrets and company proprietary information.

Anti-Discrimination Policies

You must comply with the equal employment opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employee handbooks should include a section about these laws, and how your employees are expected to comply.


Clearly explain to your employees that your company will make required deductions for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for the company’s benefits programs. In addition, you should outline your legal obligations regarding overtime pay, pay schedules, performance reviews, salary increases, time keeping records, breaks and bonuses.

Work Schedules

Describe your company’s policies regarding work hours and schedules, attendance, punctuality and reporting absences, along with guidelines for flexible schedules and telecommuting.

Standards of Conduct

Document your expectations of how you want your employees to conduct themselves including dress code and ethics. In addition, remind your employees of their legal obligations, especially if your business is engaged in an activity that is regulated by the government.

General Employment Information

Your employee handbook should include an a overview of your business and general employment policies covering employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and union information, if applicable.

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Pregnancy Factoids

Saw some great info from Presagia about Pregnancy that I thought I would let you in on it.

There are more than 450 regulations that govern leave at the federal and state level, including pregnancy and breast-feeding related leave.  Do you have a system that can ensure you are in compliance with all of these regulations?

  • 50% of all pregnant women qualify for FMLA
  • There are 4 million births, annually, in the US
  • The month of September sees the most births (someone was busy around the New Year!)
  • Tuesday is the most common birth day
  • Only 3 states offer some sort of paid maternity leave: Hawaii, New Jersy and New York
  • In 2011, the EEOC received 5,797 pregnancy related discrimination complaints and resolved 6,482
  • There are 4 pieces of federal legislation that have pregnancy or childbirth implications: the FMLA, the ADA, Title VII and the PDA
  • 11% or private sector employees and 17% of public sector employees have access to paid maternity leave
  • 22 states have some sort of pregnancy legislation and 48 states have some sort of breast-feeding legislation
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Health Care Costs to Rise in 2013

I know it’s hard to predict the future but health care cost increases are probably as close to a guarantee as you can get.

I like the research and the information at the Kaiser Foundation. They always seem to be as neutral as you can get about any issue and the information is always well done and based on some good data. Their recent Employer Health Benefits Survey is a good example

The Foundation breaks their data by company size, geography and other items which makes it easier to compare your plan costs to firms of similar size. The key piece, of course, is costs but there are lots of other things to look at.

In 2012, average premiums for health care increased 4% for families and 3% for individuals, with the national average for premiums at an all time high: $5,615 for singles and $15,745 for families. Smaller companies, on average, paid about $500 less than larger companies.

Some of the other findings:

  • The percentage of cost shifting to employees did not change much this year. It is still around 18% for single and 28% for families. It seems that we have passed as much as we can.
  • The cost of HDHP plans is much lower; $4928 for single and $14,129 for families. PPOs were the most expensive at $5850 for singles and $16,356 for families.

Looking ahead to 2013, the news is not good. The projections are that health care cost increases will average about 8% in 2013 after a good 2012 with costs increasing less than 6%.

It’s possible that some time in the future we will be saying the the ACA worked. I’m not ready to make that prediction yet.

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Wage Deduction Statute Amended in New York

The Governor of New York recently signed into law an amendment to New York’s wage deduction statute, New York Labor Law Section 193. The amendment is effective on November 6, 2012 and has a three year “sunset” provision. It allows employers a wider range of payroll deductions that previously and it imposes some new deduction-related requirements.

The NYSDOL has stated in the past that many employee wage deductions were illegal, even with the employee’s voluntary agreement and written authorization. Some of these deductions include:

  • Deductions for loans, wage overpayments or wage advances.
  • Deductions to recoup tuition assistance loans.
  • Deductions for purchases from employer owned stores, cafeterias, etc.

During the past few years, the NYSDOL has continually narrowed its interpretation of Section 193 and have stated that wage deductions are not allowed unless it is expressly identified in the statute.

The new amendment will substantially expand the list of permissible wage deductions to include:

  • Prepaid legal plans.
  • Deductions for mass transit, discounted parking fees or discounted tokens, fare cards or vouchers.
  • Fitness center, health club or gym dues.
  • Tuition and fees for pre-school, primary, secondary or post-secondrary schools.
  • Day care and other child care expenses.

The amendment will also allow deductions made through IRS Section 125 plans.


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Fired for a Facebook Post?

We’ve all heard the stories of employees being fired for making inappropriate Facebook posts but this one takes the cake!

A Virginia sheriff’s deputy was fired for “liking” his bosses political opponent on Facebook. The story, briefly, is 2 people running for Sheriff in Hampton, Virginia. Must not have been a good boss because at least 6 sheriff deputys supported his opponent in the 2009 election.  All 6 were fired for their opposition.

One is claiming that a “like” is an expression of free speech and, therefore, protected by the First Amendment.

So far, the judicial system says, “no,” though. A US District Court judge said that free speech protections don’t begin until you say something. Clicking the “like” button on Facebook, since no actual statement was said, does not merit protection. The appeal (you knew there was going to be one, didn’t you?), argues that “liking” a political candidate is the “21st century equivalent of a front yard campaign sign.”

So, free speech or an erosion of free expression in the workplace?

Social media is here and it’s here to stay. We have to come up with social media rules, not the least of which is how sensitive will employer get when their employees say things online. There are literally hundreds of these cases all across the country. It will be interesting to see what the results are.

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Pay Increase for 2013

The big compensation consulting firms (Hay and Mercer among them) are predicting that employers will give, on average, 3% increases to their employees in 2013. Since budget time is fast approaching, that’s good news for HR folks.

What I find most interesting about the surveys, though, is the distribution of the increases. For the past few years and especially since the recession started in 2008, the highest performing employees have gotten increases while the average employee has not. That looks to continue in 2013.

Mercer predicts that the best employees will get average increases of more than 4.4% while the lowest performing employees only received increases of less than 1% (.01 in the survey). In fact, more and more, differentiating salary increases is becoming the norm.

I am telling my clients that, since we are working with limited dollars, we want to be smart about who gets an increase and why and, just as importantly, who doesn’t get an increase and why. I believe that Pareto is right and 20% of your employees produce 80% of your results. We need to identify the 20% and make sure they stick around. In the current job market, good employees are hard to find and keep. As I’ve said before, the good ones know they can leave and the ones you wish would leave, won’t!

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Paperwork Reduction Act?

You may not know it but the Form I-9, the Employment Verification Form required by the USCIS is due to expire on August 31, 2012, just 16 days away.

There is no updated form, yet and, as in the past, you can continue to use the expired form until a new one is available. The USCIS recenty asked for public comments on proposed revisions to the form to help make it easier and less burdensome to fill out. Some of the specific issues that they are looking at include:

  • Expanded instructions (it’s already 3 pages long)
  • A revised layout of the I-9 itself
  • New fields for the email address and phone number of the employee
  • New fields to collect the foreign passport number of those with an I-94

Check it all out at www.uscis.gov


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Hiring Outlook

One of my favorite reads is CFO magazine, and not just because it’s free. Every month there is some HR related topic and it is encouraging to know that HR is not the only one concerned with HR stuff.

This month, although the article was not really about HR, the Business Outlook certainly had some interesting things to focus on.

I had heard this before but never realized just how much cash big firms had on hand. Maybe just as importantly, even though they have lots of cash, they don’t have many plans to spend it and that, in fact, is the focus of the article.

In the survey, the question on deploying cash reserves was about evenly split between have plans and not having plans. Among those with plans to spend, only 25% said they intend to increase hiring. Among survey participants, 60% are planning on either capital spending or acquistions. As I’ve said, it’s a great time to buy market share.

Among those choosing not to spend, the largest percentage stated that they thought the economy was too uncertain to spend or wanted to stay as liquid as possible to buffer themselves from economic uncertainty.  Makes me nervous just reading it.

The final parts of the survey focused on Top Concerns in the Macro Economy and with their own firms;

In the Macro Economy, top 4 concerns: consumer demand, federal government policies, price pressure from competitors and global financial instability. Among the next 6 concerns, government uncertainty was impacted by 4 of the 6.

In the own firms, top 4 concerns: ability to maintain margins, attracting and retaining qualified employees, ability to forcast results and cost of health care.  Lots of things for HR to be concerned with, as well.

Two final points from the article and I’ll quote, “As long as people continue to feel less wealthy, there will be caution in consumer spending.” Since consumer spending is 75% of the US economy, that does not bode well.

Finally, the housing market is causing “emotional problems” for the economy and “We have a significant number of unemployed and underemployed” both of which have a real impact on the future.

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Are Tweets Private?

There is at least one interesting result from the Occupy Wall Street Movement, can tweets be subpoenaed? A New York City judge seems to think so.

The case involved people arrested during an Occupy Wall Street demonstration last year. The prosecutors attempted to subpoena tweets made by members. The defendents and Twitter objected, stating that they were private. Judge Sciarrino disagreed, saying that “If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The judge went on to say that tweets are not like private emails, a private direct message, a private chat or any of the other ways to have private conversations via the internet.

As tweets become a more common way to communicate in the business world, let’s remember this issue of privacy and make sure our policies address the issue.

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HR and Networking

One of my favorite “rants” is how difficult it is to get human resource people to come to events or to network with other HR types. When I teach, I always make the students introduce themselves to each other (I hated to do it when I was in class so I know that they hate to do it!) in the hope that some of them will connect with each other and, perhaps, form relationships that will help each them in the future.  Sadly, it very seldom happens that way.

Why is it difficult to get HR people to come to events and to network?  One of the groups I belong to here in the Hudson Valley is a hospital HR group and, while there are 28 member hospitals and more than 15 that could be members but are not, it is difficult to get more than 20 people to show up for an event. Among the member firms, there are more than 75 HR people, plus the vendor types who come to, hopefully, sell to HR, makes it possible for 100 people to attend. I really don’t expect that, but 35 would be nice.

Same is true for the local SHRM groups. If we have 35 from among the 160-200 members show up at an event, we think it went great.

So, what do we have to do to get you to come to an event; to network with others; to get out of your office?  Any HINTS?

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