Employment Law

What Gummy Vitamins Can Teach HR Pros About Workplace Policies

As I stared at the half-full 200-count bottle of gummy vitamins sitting in front of my computer monitor, I read a recent Time Magazine article that examined whether the supplements actually “work.” Unfortunately, the short answer is “no.” Fortunately, I didn’t let that stop me from figuring out how the vitamins can provide us with potent insights for creating strong and useful employee handbooks.

Source: Harry Hu / Shutterstock

Don’t Put in More Ingredients Than You Need

My main purpose for taking gummy vitamins was my belief that something that’s good for you could actually taste good, too. Well, it appears my belief was mostly wrong.

According to Time, the president of ConsumerLab.com, a private company that conducts safety and quality testing of consumer products, stated “it’s a lot harder to make a good gummy than a tablet or capsule,” and “four out of five gummy products contained more or less than their listed amount of ingredients.” Further, he said:

  • Many companies have trouble controlling the amounts of ingredients in each gummy.
  • Gummies sometimes lose potency over time, which leads manufacturers to put in more vitamins than labeled.
  • Finally, a few gummies contain iron and therefore sport a metallic taste that’s difficult to mask.

The president’s comments, although hard to “digest” for a gummy lover like myself, can similarly be applied to employment policies and procedures, which most employers provide via an employee handbook. Although you don’t have to provide a handbook, it communicates your expectations to employees and might shield your business from certain types of liability.

Energizing Your Employee Handbooks

When drafting handbooks, consider the following lessons learned from gummy vitamins.

Include the basics. If you adopt an employee handbook, at a bare minimum, it should include:

  • At-will employment policy, if applicable;
  • Implied contract disclaimer;
  • Future modifications language;
  • National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) disclaimer;
  • Equal opportunity statement;
  • Antidiscrimination policy (with complaint procedure);
  • Antiharassment policy (with complaint procedure);
  • Antiretaliation policy (with complaint procedure);
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation policy
  • Religious accommodation policy;
  • Workplace injury policy;
  • Drug-free workplace policy, if applicable;
  • Disciplinary process;
  • Performance evaluations, if applicable;
  • Work hours and attendance;
  • Pay practices;
  • Vacation and sick leave, if applicable;
  • Benefits information, if applicable;
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policy;
  • Confidentiality policy;
  • Employee code of conduct;
  • Use of technology policy; and
  • Handbook acknowledgement.

Federal and state laws require notice of certain laws to be provided to employees, and a handbook usually suffices.

Employment and labor laws vary from state to state. Some states provide more protection than federal laws. Consequently, using an employee handbook containing state laws from one state may not work with another state.

Depending on the employer’s circumstances, other policies can and should be included, and their substance should be “just right,” which leads us to the second lesson.

Too little or too much information in your policies can prove harmful. Too little information might make it hard for employees to ascertain what steps to take in a certain circumstance.

Consider a handbook policy that provides, “To complain about retaliation, contact HR.” Usually that policy would be too vague. An employee reading the handbook might wonder, what is “retaliation”? What is “HR”? And if several people work in HR, who handles the complaints? What happens after an employee “contacts” human resources? Should the contact be verbal or written?

While a policy against prohibited conduct could shield an employer from liability in certain cases, it might be insufficient if it’s too vague. From a practical standpoint, it would not prove useful to the employer or the employee.

On the other hand, too much information can be harmful, too. Policies that are too detailed and/or cumbersome could prove hard to follow. What if the above retaliation reporting policy stated the complaints could be submitted only to the “human resources director” who happens to be out on maternity leave for the next three months? Any missteps in following the policy would be held against the employer.

For the employee, cumbersome policies can be confusing. Further, the less concise the policy, the more likely it could contain contradictory and/or extraneous information, which leads to lesson number three.

Don’t include unnecessary provisions. Employment laws often change, and handbooks should be updated at least annually. If a law is no longer in effect or has been amended, the handbook should be updated.

Further, policies abrogated by law or that are seldom enforced should be removed. For example, if you no longer use a particular performance evaluation process or enforce a progressive discipline policy, as the handbook requires, you should amend or remove the policies.

Don’t leave out essential parts of your policies just to make them more palatable. This lesson speaks for itself. It’s best for employees to know up front what they are in for so they can govern themselves accordingly. Share and explain your code of conduct so they understand your expectations. For example, “you’re late if you clock in 30 seconds late and subject to termination after three 30-second tardies” or “you’ll be subject to monthly performance evaluations.”

Bottom Line

An up-to-date, concise, and comprehensible employee handbook with flexible standards and thorough, yet unambiguous policies can prove valuable to both sides of the employment relationship.

Destiny Washington focuses her practice at FordHarrison’s Atlanta office on the representation of employers in labor and employment law matters. Her experience representing an international union and state and local government entities, including law enforcement agencies and school districts, gives her a unique perspective in her advice and representation. A former military print journalist, she has proudly served her country and is a veteran of the U.S. Army and the Louisiana Army National Guard. Find her on LinkedIn here.