Municipal Employee Handbooks

Weekly HR News –

Municipal Employee Handbooks

With the New Year comes new challenges, and one of those challenges is the employee handbook.  An employee handbook is a valuable communication tool to allow employees to understand what is expected of them and what they can expect from the city as the employer.  In addition, an employee handbook will be of vital importance in defending an employment-related claim. It shows that your city had in place personnel and employee policies relating to the employment relationship, that the employee was aware of those policies and that those policies were followed by the city.   

Employee handbooks should be drafted in clear, concise and easy-to-understand language.  At a minimum, employee handbooks should include the following:

  1. A conspicuous disclaimer in the front of the handbook that the handbook does not create contractual rights and that employees continue to be terminable at will.  The statement should be something to the effect of:

The City Employee Handbook does not create any contractual or other legal rights.  The personnel policies contained in this Handbook do not alter the City’s at-will employment policy nor does it create an employment contract for any period of time.

  1. A clear, comprehensive equal employment opportunity statement such as:

The city provides equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetics.   

In addition to federal law requirements, the city complies with applicable state and local laws governing nondiscrimination in employment. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruiting, hiring, placement, promotion, termination, layoff, recall, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation and training.”

3.         The city's sexual harassment/discrimination policy condemning all forms of unlawful harassment, not just sexual harassment.  The policy should also clearly set out an easy-to-follow process for filing a complaint and stating what action will be taken, including termination, if it is determined that harassment or discrimination has occurred.

4.         An explanation of the employee disciplinary procedures stating the types of behavior that will subject an employee to discipline or immediate termination and the process that will be followed in addressing disciplinary problems. 

5.         Information on the city's personnel file policy including a statement as to what information will be maintained in an employee's personnel file. The policy should also include a statement that only personal information such as home address, social security number, medical information, marital status and other matters unrelated to the performance of public employment will be considered confidential. Any other information that relates to the performance of public work is considered an open record and open to public inspection.  In addition, the policy should include the procedure on how an employee can make a request to review their own personnel file.

In addition to the above, an employee handbook may address any and all policies you may have, such as: time cards, overtime, benefits, dress codes, alcohol and drug use policies and safety guidelines.

Cities should be certain that every employee is provided with a personal copy of the employee handbook at the time of hire.  They should also be required to sign an acknowledgement stating that they received a copy of the employee handbook and that they are responsible for reading and understanding the information contained in the handbook.   This signed acknowledgement should be placed in the employee's personnel file.  In addition, any time that an amendment is made to the handbook, employees should be required to sign an additional acknowledgment regarding the specific change. 

The executive authority should review city policies to be certain that they are up-to-date with any recent employment law changes.  If it has been more than a few years since they were last updated, they are not current.  You should also make sure that all employees have a copy and have signed off as having received a copy of the current policies.  Checking on these matters now could prevent costly liability issues from occurring in the future. 

If you need to update your policies, keep in mind that cities are unique. When it comes to creating or updating your personnel policies, you need to work with someone who not only has expertise in personnel law and human resource matters, but someone who knows municipal law as well.  KLC can offer this expertise in a way that is specific to your city’s needs.  Whether it is creating or reviewing city personnel policies or providing training on your city policies or on a variety of specialized HR topics, KLC has you covered.  For more information on this service or any other personnel-related matters, contact Andrea Shindlebower Main, KLC personnel services specialist.   

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