Employee Handbook Check-Up: What to Review

Review these sections in your employee handbook and ensure your policies do not contain this language, which violates worker rights under the NLRA.



In August of 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) adopted a new standard that requires employer policies to be narrowly tailored to avoid having a “chilling effect” on employee rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). 

This means that your employer policies should never prevent employees from improving their work environment, even if that means allowing them to vent about company policies (or frustrating managers) on social media. 

Knowing this, it is more important than ever to review your employee handbook regularly to ensure it reflects current laws, regulations, and legal verbiage in company policies and procedures, which will help you avoid unfair treatment claims.  

Sections to Annually Review and Update in Your Employee Handbook 

  1. Legal Compliance 

Review and update relevant policies to ensure compliance with local, federal, and state laws and regulations. This includes changes in minimum wage laws, overtime regulations, anti-discrimination laws, leave laws, etc. 

If your employment relationship is "at-will," be sure you clearly state that fact and have a conspicuous disclaimer in the front of the book that specifically states that the employee handbook is not an employment contract and should not be construed as a contract. 

  1. Code of Conduct and Ethics

Review the code of conduct and ethics section to ensure it reflects your company's expectations for employee behavior, integrity, and professional conduct. This may include your dress code, legal obligations to protect customer data, and company standards related to employee discipline. 

  1. Deductions and Compensation

Be sure your employee manual states the company will make necessary deductions for federal and state taxes and voluntary deductions for employee benefits. You may also want to outline your company’s legal obligations for overtime pay, pay schedules, performance reviews, salary increases, time keeping, breaks, and bonus compensation.  

  1. Employee Benefits

Update any outdated information regarding employee benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, vacation and sick leave, paid holidays, and any other perks or benefits offered by the company. Many benefit plans will require a summary plan description to be given to employees, which does not need to be included in their own employee handbook. 

  1. Leave Policies

Your company's leave policies should be carefully documented and updated, especially those you are required to provide by law. Family and medical leave, jury duty leave, military leave, and voting leave should all be documented to comply with federal, state, and local laws and regulations. 

You should also update any changes to your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement, and sick leave, as well as guidelines for attendance, punctuality, and reporting absences. 

  1. Workplace Health and Safety

Your company’s workplace health and safety policy should already outline the need to create a safe and secure workplace, including the requirement for employees to report all accidents, injuries, and potential safety hazards. If your employee handbook does not already include a protocol regarding severe weather, hazardous community conditions, and emergency procedures, be sure to include these updates. 

  1. Remote Work Policies (where applicable)

If your company offers remote work options, consider including policies related to remote work arrangements, communication expectations, cybersecurity measures, and equipment usage. You may also need guidelines for flexible schedules and telecommuting. 

  1. Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policies

There are many laws you must comply with as an employer. Review and update company policies related to preventing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace. Ensure that your employee handbook provides clear procedures for reporting and addressing complaints. 

  1. Technology Policies

Technology is critical for conducting business, but employee misuse can have dire consequences. 

If your company has a policy regarding the use of technology in the workplace, ensure it is up to date and addresses issues such as data security and acceptable use of company resources. This should include steps to take to secure electronic information, especially if your company collects personally identifiable information from customers or clients. 

  1. Social Media Policy

The NLRB often finds that social media policies are overly broad and vague, characteristics that generally limit (in the eyes of the NLRB) an employee’s ability to engage in Section 7 activities. These policies must be drafted in a way that do not limit an employee’s rights while addressing the company’s concerns about an employee disparaging your business on a company-run platform. 

  1. Conflict Resolution and Grievance Procedures

Review the process for resolving conflicts and addressing employee grievances to ensure it is fair, transparent, and effective. 

  1. Acknowledgment and Employment Agreement

Once the employee handbook is updated, ensure that all employees receive a copy and acknowledge receipt of the updated policies. Consider implementing a process for each employee to sign a form indicating their understanding and agreement with the handbook and retain a copy in the employee's personnel file. 

Avoid This Wording in Employee Policies 

According to the NLRB’s general counsel guidance memorandum, pay close attention to your wording in the following types of policies: 

Confidentiality Provisions 

Confidentiality provisions tend to be overly broad, especially those that prohibit disclosing personnel or employee information. 

Under the NLRA, employees have the right to discuss with each other the terms and conditions of their employment, including wages, benefits, assignments, treatment by supervisors, etc. If you include a confidentiality provision, be cautious to not be overly broad with your verbiage. 

Positive Work Environment/Courtesy/Non-Disparagement Provisions  

A policy that prohibits employees from engaging in “rude,” “negative,” or “disrespectful” conduct towards the company and/or prohibits “negative” or “inappropriate” discussions among employees violates the NLRA. 

Employees have the right to criticize their employer’s treatment of employees and/or to discuss the terms and conditions of employment. An overly broad policy often runs afoul of these rights. 

No Disruption Provision 

The NLRB has found that policies that prohibit employees from “causing a disruption” during work hours violate the NLRA. This is because it could be interpreted to prohibit employees from engaging in Section 7 activities like engaging in a work stoppage or participating in a Union meeting. 

Stratus HR Can Help with Employee Handbooks and Employment Policies 

Regularly updating your employee handbook helps ensure that your company remains compliant with laws and regulations, effectively communicates expectations to employees, and directly impacts your company culture. But handbooks can also be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back for your office manager or internal human resources (HR) team. 

Instead of pushing your team to be available for one more administrative task, let Stratus HR help! Our certified HR experts work regularly with handbooks and are very familiar with what should and should not be included. They also know appropriate verbiage to use for a well written handbook that will keep you compliant with all governing laws and regulations. 

For more information or to get an employee handbook template, please contact your certified HR expert. Not a current Stratus HR client? Book a free consultation and our team will contact you shortly. 


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