ADA & Disabilities, Employment Law

SHRM 2011: Don’t Just Sit on Your Employee Handbook

How’s this for an illustration of how quickly developments can pop up that may require you to revise your employee handbook?

Speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference today, Christine V. Walters discussed a new ruling only five days old, in which a federal appeals court held that an overly broad confidentiality policy that forbid employees from disclosing their compensation and other terms of their employment to “other parties” violated the National Labor Relations Act.

Or how about a lawsuit filed today by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission that shows how employee handbook policies that establish maximum leave entitlements can violate the Americans With Disabilities Act?

These recent developments show how HR professionals must stay abreast of changes in the field that can impact employee handbooks, said Walters, proprietor of Westminster, Md.-based FiveL Company and editorial advisor to Thompson Publishing’s Family & Medical Leave Handbook.

Walters offered dozens of recommendations to help HR professionals bring their employee handbooks up to date, including:

  • Remove the term “qualified disability” from equal employment opportunity policies to reflect the Americans With Disabilities Amendments Act’s shift in focus to “whether discrimination has occurred, not whether the individual meets the definition of disability.” “If a government agency is telling us what they think we should do, I don’t want to be the test case,” Walters said.
  • Update anti-harassment policies with concrete examples of prohibited behavior, as recommended by the EEOC, and with a provision clarifying that employees should be free from harassment not just by their fellow workers, but also outside contractors.
  • Eliminate policies that require employees to call in every day to report an absence, because it may have a disparate impact on employees with disabilities.

A final word of advice from Walters: “Do a search [of your employee handbook]. Any time you see the words ‘will’ or ‘shall,’ consider if you want to replace that with ‘may.'”

P.S. Learn about Thompson Publishing Group’s Employee Handbook Builder.