Weekly HR News –
Municipal Employee Handbooks
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:
- 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.
- A clear, comprehensive equal employment opportunity statement that includes state and federal law requirements.
- A policy regarding how an employee that may need an ADA accommodation would make that request, and that the employee must initiate the request for a possible accommodation.
- A 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. In addition, there should be provisions that provide protection for an employee that is retaliated against based upon the filing of a complaint.
- An explanation of the employee disciplinary procedures and examples of 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. In addition, make sure that the examples of behavior include a disclaimer that they are not an all-inclusive list of the items that can result in disciplinary action.
- Information on the applicable forms of leave that the city provides, or is required to provide by law. The policy should include information on the process for requesting leaves and any requirements such as forms that must be filled out and any applicable timeframes.
- A policy as to what employees are entitled to overtime and when overtime is paid. This policy should also include a requirement that employees must request permission from the supervisor before the time is worked. In addition, include information on work that is done “off the clock” and how and when this time is compensable for nonexempt employees.
- Information on the privacy protection requirements that are found in 61.931- 61.934.
In addition to the above, an employee handbook may address any and all policies you may have, such as: hiring procedures, time cards, compensatory time, payroll deductions, personnel files, job references, social media and other computer usage issues, benefits, dress codes, alcohol and drug use policies, expense reimbursements, reporting work place accidents, return to work requirements and safety guidelines.
To be effective, cities should be certain that every employee is provided with a personal copy of the employee handbook at the time of hire, as well as the city ethics ordinance, if it is applicable to city employees. Employees 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 and maintained pursuant to the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives Record Retention Schedule. 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.
In addition to providing an employee a copy of the handbook, employers should provide training for employees on any changes to the policies and allow time for them to ask any questions that they may have regarding the handbook. Maintaining proof of that training and who was in attendance, can provide excellent proof in the event that an employee claims that they were not aware of something contained within the handbook.
The executive authority and/or human resources person should continually 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. 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 making sure your policies are legally compliant, plan to attend the KLC Conference, Wednesday October 4th at 10:45 for an informative session on this topic. If you can’t make the conference, or if you would like to discuss a review of your current policies contact personnel service specialist, Andrea Shindlebower Main for details on this service.