Willcox, Buyck & Williams, PA Blog

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Three Things You Didn't Know About Employee Handbooks

Employee handbooks can be useful tools for employers to define policies and procedures. A well-drafted employee handbook can proactively address many of the issues that arise in the workplace. A concise, effective employee handbook may avoid disputes and lawsuits. However, employers can run into problems if they do not seek legal guidance from a South Carolina labor and employment lawyer before they finalize and implement their employee handbook.

What is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook is a collection of company policies and procedures that help define the employee-employer relationship. A handbook provides employees with information, guidelines, and expectations related to their employment with the company. Effective handbooks are a tool to assist employers when disputes arise. An employer can turn to the employee handbook to point to the exact provision that resolves the dispute.

Common policies and procedures included in an employee handbook include:

  • Salary, wage, and hourly income guidelines
  • Policies related to harassment, discrimination, and sexual harassment
  • Disciplinary guidelines
  • Sick leave, PTO (paid time off), and vacation policies
  • Health insurance, retirement, and other employee benefits
  • Policies and procedures related to the termination of employment

An effective employee handbook is tailored to the business. Many of the templates or premade employee handbooks are not very useful for employers in South Carolina. They may be a guideline for creating a handbook, but employers can create problems for themselves if they are not familiar with the laws related to employee-employer relationships.

Three Key Things Employers Need to Remember When Creating Employee Handbooks

1.    Creating Unintended Employment Contracts

South Carolina is an “at will” work state. Employers can terminate employment for any reason and at any time provided the termination is not illegal under any state or federal anti-discrimination laws or other employment laws.

An employee handbook must contain a statutorily-mandated disclaimer to preserve the “at will” relationship between an employer and employee. The disclaimer notifies the employee of the “at will” employment status. The statute requiring the disclaimer is very specific about the wording, placement, and acknowledgment of the disclaimer in the employee handbook.

2.    Overuse of Definitive Language in Disciplinary Procedures

Many employers use definitive language when they outline disciplinary procedures.  The use of words, including will, shall, and must, can limit an employer’s options for deciding whether certain offenses warrant the most severe disciplinary action or may only require a verbal warning. Definitive language can also create problems if the employer failed to include the correct “at will” disclaimer at the beginning of the handbook. An employer may have difficulty terminating employment until the employer goes through each “shall” or “must” disciplinary action described in the handbook.

3.    Discussing Employment Laws That Do Not Apply to the Employer

Many of the employment laws that apply to larger companies do not apply to small businesses. However, discussing or referring to employment laws that do not apply to the company in the employee handbook could subject the company to those laws and regulations.

Contact a South Carolina Business Attorney for Help

Because South Carolina has very specific laws related to employer-employee relationships, it is important that an employee handbook is compliant with state laws, in addition to federal employment laws.  A South Carolina labor and employment lawyer can provide the guidance and advice a company needs as it drafts and implements employee policies and procedures. Contact us today to schedule a consult.


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