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How to update your employee handbook heading into 2019

Published on October 24th, 2018 by Triton Benefits & HR Solutions

Your employee handbook is an important asset for your company, providing new and even longtime staff members with the details on your corporate policies, office rules and company culture. Because this is an item that will be seen and utilized by everyone in the organization, it's important to revisit and update your handbook on a regular basis, and ensure that changes in human resource requirements, company strategy and other elements are properly reflected.

When should I look to update?

As the Society for Human Resource Management noted, it's critical that employers are taking another look and updating their handbooks where necessary on at least an annual basis, but larger organizations that operate across several states may want to review their policies more frequently. Changes within the industry in which the company operates, as well as new and/or adjusted employment laws must be incorporated.

"HR leaders should consider employee handbook updates on at least a yearly basis, if not more often."

An outdated handbook that doesn't take these and other important factors into play could put your business, as well as your employees, at risk. In this way, HR leaders should consider regular updates. It could be helpful to review ahead of open enrollment, to ensure that any changes are included, as well as toward the end or beginning of the fiscal or calendar year. This will help you keep your handbook as up-to-date as possible.

Where to look for needed updates: Changes in federal or state laws

One element of your handbook that you should pay special attention to when updating includes language related to federal or state laws. For instance, emerging changes related to legal statues – like the use of medicinal or recreational marijuana within the state, for example – should be reflected within your handbook as soon as possible as they go into effect.

In addition, it's important to consider state and local laws. As Small Business Trends contributor Rieva Lesonsky pointed out, "ban the box" initiatives have become more prevalent with states and cities within the last few months. This movement restricts employers from asking about a candidate's criminal record until after a position has been offered. If a law like this has been passed in your area, it's beneficial to update your handbook accordingly.

Changes or additions to the employee benefits package

Any adjustments or new benefits added to the company's offerings should appear in the updated employee handbook. It's particularly important to make this information available ahead of open enrollment. HR teams should look to be as detailed as possible with benefits additions or updates, and communicate these clearly in the handbook. This includes making it clear when certain benefits are being replaced, or when new requirements or policies are put in place. Calling attention to these changes is the updated handbook may even help foster participation in voluntary benefits options. 

Rules around different working styles

An increasing number of employers are beginning to enable new working styles for their employees, including the ability to operate remotely or from home. However, it's important that this policy and other related rules are included in the handbook. For instance, if the business limits the number of days a worker can operate remotely during a week or month, or if certain permissions are required ahead of working from outside the office, these should be communicated in the updated handbook.

Top view of a person's desk with a desktop computer, coffee cup, stacks of papers, glasses, ruler, etc Rules about remote and other working styles should be included in the updated employee handbook.

Office etiquette details

This might also be a good opportunity for the HR and leadership teams to take another look at their policies and rules related to company culture and office etiquette. If staff has been having trouble adhering to refrigerator cleaning rules, for instance, updating the handbook with a clearer policy or different strategy could be beneficial.

Social media and smartphones 

Another area to check for updates concerns the use of social media and personal mobile devices. If the organization has a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy in place, this may impact a policy on the use of smartphones and other devices. However, it's important that employees understand that taking personal calls or messages during work hours can take away from their productive time. Similarly, employees should be discouraged from visiting their personal social media outside of their lunch hour or break time. The Society for Human Resource Management provides more information on social media use, in particular, including a sample policy template

The handbook is updated: Now what?

Once the HR and executive team has made changes, stakeholders' work isn't quite done yet. Next, leaders must ensure that employees are aware of the new changes, that they understand them and that they have the resources and support needed to make any necessary adjustments to their working processes.

HR Daily Advisor recommended considering several channels for communicating and disseminating the updated handbook. This could include a mass staff email with a link to the new material, a post on the company's intranet system, or even a post in the break room to ensure workers are aware.

In addition, it can be helpful to highlight where the updates or changes are in the handbook and explain how these policies differ from what was in place in the past. Making a point to communicate this can help support understanding among staff members, and even spur conversations about the changes and which staff members or departments are specifically affected.

In connection with showing employees where changes are, HR leaders should also be sure to communicate when these changes are going into effect. This is particularly important for local, state or federal laws, which might create the need for different or new work processes.

HR Daily Advisor also suggested having employees acknowledge the fact that they received the updated handbook material and that they took the time to read through and understand the changes.

To find out more about updating your company's employee handbook, related policies and how to approach benefits administration, connect with the experts at Triton Benefits and HR Solutions today!