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Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Useful Employee Manual Isn’t Automatic

By: Peter J. Lamont, Esq.

In a new business’s early days, time and money may be tight. Only the most important or urgent tasks usually win the fight for funds and management attention. So when it’s time to develop an employee manual, cutting corners may be tempting. After all, on the Internet you can find manuals from actual companies, free or low-cost ready-made handbooks, and manual templates for do-it-yourselfers. 
But that’s not as good an idea as it might seem. 

Even if you plan to start with a draft of your own (or of someone else’s you found on the Internet), you should ask an experienced business lawyer to review it carefully, and listen carefully to the comments and suggestions you get. That’s because writing an employee manual that prevents problems, rather than causes new ones, is far from a simple task. Why bother to develop an employee manual for your new business? 

In part, because it’s an important way to communicate with new workers and to document for your entire workforce significant policies and procedures your company follows, and to address your expectations of them, and manage their expectations of you. Also, depending on the size, type and location of your business, you may be required under any number of federal, state and local laws to deliver specific information to your workforce on their rights and your responsibilities. Further, your company’s adopting and distributing to workers an acceptable policy statement can be a valuable part of your defense if the company is ever accused of a violation. 

So maybe just find another company’s employee manual and replace its name with yours? Well, suppose you had an up-to-date copy of Google’s employee manual: think it would be a good model? A good fit in type and scope of operations, compensation and benefits, and so on? Even if you could lay hands on the manual used by your closest competitor in your industry, would you feel comfortable adopting all its practices and values, without first undertaking a careful review? 

In the first place, your company has made choices in how it operates, and your employee manual needs to reflect them. In addition, if you think that things change rapidly in your industry, that’s nothing compared to the pace and size of changes in the legal and governmental issues you may want to, or have to, address. True, you can find forms and model statements, especially for the widest-ranging laws. But the more specialized, complex or local the mandate, the harder it will be to rely on the accuracy and applicability of what you find. 

There’s also more to why you need to have an experienced business lawyer help you customize your employee manual to the needs of your particular business: a minor-seeming difference in the language you use can have far-reaching effects.For example, consider the employment-at-will doctrine. In states where it’s in force, employers are generally free to hire or fire workers for any lawful reason. But you could lose that ability, or at least have to litigate it, if your employee manual does not carefully disclaim that providing an employee with a copy of the employee manual has any effect on the employment-at-will doctrine. Similarly, other innocuous-seeming wording can spell unwanted and expensive trouble with aggressive agencies. 

As I’ll discuss in my next article, employers whose workers use social media must be very careful in setting their policies in that area, to avoid the National Labor Relations Board coming after the employer. So get the advice and help of an experienced business lawyer before you adopt an employee manual, and at regular intervals to keep it current.

If you would like more information about this topic or have general legal questions, please feel free to contact me at (973)949-3770 or via email at plamont@peterlamontesq.com Offices in: New Jersey New York, Colorado & Puerto Rico and affiliated offices throughout the country.

© 2010-2015, Law Offices of Peter J. Lamont & Associates. This Update is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between the firm and any readers or recipients. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances. This Update may be considered attorney advertising in some states. Furthermore, prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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