The Top 3 Guidelines for Writing and Revising Your Employee Handbook
Many Florida businesses have written employment policies. If you do not yet have an employee handbook, now is the perfect time to consider getting one. Our law firm has used technology to allow us to assist small and mid-sized Florida businesses create an employee handbook for the first time. This will be a quality handbook, drafted by an experienced labor and employment lawyer. Well written employee handbooks help your business establish clear guidelines for employees and managers to follow. Handbooks can also minimize the risk of litigation in Florida. Unfortunately, businesses that have poorly written handbooks may unwittingly be creating legal liability.
As an example, Mr. Miklas has reviewed one handbook by a Florida business that had approximately 25-30 employees and the handbook included an FMLA policy. When David Miklas asked the business owner why they had an FMLA policy, the business owner said that they had downloaded the handbook from somewhere online and thought that all businesses their size had to have an FMLA policy. Mr. Miklas informed the business owner that this was not true and general if the private businesses had 50 or more employees would the FMLA apply. This employer was unknowingly paying thousands of dollars to employees by providing them long leave that was not required by law. Of course, Mr. Miklas informed the business that they could continue being benevolent if they wanted to, but none of their same sized competitors were doing this.
Each Florida employer must decide whether it desires to have an employee handbook. If the business decides to do so, the provisions must be tailored to the employer’s individual circumstances, number of employees, whether the workers are blue collar, office or otherwise professional. In Florida most employers are covered by various state and federal laws. Mr. Miklas can quickly help a business determine which labor and employment laws apply to that business. As an example, many employers mistakenly believe that the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) only apply if the company has 15 or more employees. While this may be true for many types of discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Florida Civil Rights Act, this is not the case for the FLSA. Mr. Miklas explains to Florida employers that there are two types of coverage under the FLSA: 1. Enterprise Coverage; and 2. Individual Coverage. Under the FLSA’s Enterprise Coverage, a company in Florida is subject to enterprise coverage if it has annual dollar volume of sales or receipts in the amount of $500,000 or more and at least two employees who are engaged in commerce or the handling, selling, or otherwise working on goods or materials that have been moved in or produced for commerce by any person. That’s right, having only 2 employees is enough for a Florida company to be covered by the FLSA’s requirements! Of course, because Mr. Miklas has been representing Florida employers for nearly two decades, he is well aware of Florida’s labor and employment laws, and can help Florida businesses navigate the complex requirements under Florida’s employment laws.
In drafting or reviewing handbook policies, Florida employers often consult with an employment attorney to determine whether any applicable state or local law would impact any policy contained in the employer’s handbook. The following general guidelines provide business owners with key issues relevant to language that should be included or excluded from an employee handbook.
1. The handbook language should not create contractual obligations
Each section of your handbook should be reviewed to make sure that it does not include any terms or phrases that could give rise to unintended enforceable contract rights. The handbook also should contain a clear and conspicuous disclaimer that the handbook does not create a contract.
2. The handbook should use clear language
Your handbook should be drafted so that it is accurately describes your business’ practices and policies. You do not want your employees to interpret your policies differently than how you intended. If your handbook contains any section that does not apply to all classes of employees, the handbook should clearly explain which types of employees are covered. As an example, if your business does not provide vacation leave to part-time employees, this should be clear from the language in the handbook.
3. The handbook should be drafted in such a way that allows for modification
Because an employee handbook cannot address every possible employment situation that could arise, the language in the handbook should allow for flexibility. As an example, the handbook can easily contain language noting that the handbook is not all-inclusive and contains only general statements of the employer’s policies. A handbook’s discussion of discipline rules should allow the employer adequate flexibility.
What exactly is an Employee Handbook?
A properly drafted employee handbook can be a valuable tool for relaying information about your Florida company and its policies, as well as a guide to help your managers consistently apply your company’s nondiscriminatory policies and practices. A comprehensive employee handbook is an important communication tool you can use to explain your organization’s policies, work rules, benefits, culture and expectations.
In Florida, an employee handbook often plays a role in employment litigation: Employees in Florida often legally challenge whether an employer properly complied with its own handbook language, or whether that language complies with the labor and employment laws. Therefore, a handbook with properly drafted provisions is an invaluable tool to protect your business from legal claims.
Whether you want to develop an employee handbook for the first time or make major modifications to an existing handbook, it’s important to follow a detailed plan to stay on schedule. The development and maintenance of an employee handbook is frequently divided into nine phases:
These phases may vary slightly depending on your specific organization. However, if you follow these phases, it will help to make sure that the handbook process is thorough and represents your organization’s goals. These phases often take several weeks and thousands of dollars. However, the Law Office of David Miklas uses technology that allows us to reduce both the time and money required. We still need to know the details of your organization, but the information we need can be obtained through verbal questions or by answering a list of questions by email. Yes, we still have a lot of questions, but usually your time answering will be less than 20 minutes.
In Florida, employers should realize that lawsuits based on language contained in employee handbooks and other written employment policies and procedures are common. If you have language in your employee handbook that is determined to be contractual language, this can create potential problems. Florida employers should regularly review their handbooks and policy and procedure manuals to determine whether they contain language that may form the basis for a wrongful discharge lawsuit or other employment claim. If your handbook has not been updated by experienced labor and employment counsel in the past 5 years, we recommend that you consider this investment. Do you have a probationary period? Is it in writing and provided to each employee shortly after they are hired? This may be one of the easiest ways to prevent the State of Florida charging your business account for unemployment compensation.
As a Florida business, if you distribute a handbook or policy and procedure manual to your employees, you should be prepared to follow the specific terms and conditions of employment set forth therein.
Florida business owners are reminded that the regional offices of the NLRB are focused on employment policies and whether such policies potentially would dissuade an NLRA-covered employee from engaging in protected concerted activity. This means that if the NLRB investigates your business after receiving a complaint from one of your employees, the investigator will almost certainly review your employee handbook in an attempt to find illegal language. This does not only apply to unionized workplaces in Florida. Most private businesses fall within the NLRA’s coverage.
Employee Handbook & Policies (creation or revisions)
If you think an employee handbook is out of your price range, think again. You can have a lawyer customize your employee handbook for less than you may think.
We are able to harness new technologies to minimize costs. Because the practice of law is rapidly changing, we believe that as the pace of technological innovation accelerates, Florida’s labor & Employment law firms should be evolving to keep up. That is why we are offering a reasonable flat fee to create a new employee handbook for Florida’s small and medium sized businesses. This is not a handbook created by a non-lawyer. David Miklas has years of experience and regularly lectures on the newest updates to both labor laws and employment laws. Many of Florida’s businesses have handbooks that were unwittingly downloaded from somewhere online or created by non-lawyers, or lawyers who have no experience in labor law. Although many lawyers claim to be a “labor & employment” lawyer, the reality is that the vast majority do not practice labor law and may only dabble in employment law. The distinction between labor and employment law is important because many of the handbooks we have reviewed were drafted by employment lawyers who have no knowledge of labor law, and this has resulted in the handbooks containing illegal language. Handbooks that contain impermissible language can result in expensive federal investigations and lawsuits.
If you would like to discuss having the Law Office of David Miklas help your business create a new employee handbook for a reasonable cost, please contact us by email or call us at 1-772-465-5111.
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Not all law firm and lawyers use advanced litigation technology. Today business owners expect lawyers to use the best technology and to translate the benefits of those technologies into lower pricing and use in terms of the client experience.
The Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. has invested in technology to streamline the delivery of legal services, including employee handbook creation. While it is common for law firms to charge several thousand dollars to revise an existing handbook, Mr. Miklas believes that many Florida employers simply cannot afford this large cost, but still deserve a quality handbook, put together by an experienced labor & employment lawyer – not an HR official, and not just downloaded from online. We believe that the practice of law has fundamentally changed, particularly with respect to how law firms provide their services to clients. While there may always be the need to bill litigation on an hourly basis, many Florida business owners demand to know how much it will cost to draft an employee handbook. Rather than continuing what most law firms in Florida are doing, David Miklas has experimented with offering a high quality employee handbook at a reasonable flat fee. We believe that this type of out-of-the-box thinking is a way to help Florida business owners keep costs low, while still making high quality legal work within reach. Using a flat fee to draft an employee handbook from scratch allows us to focus on maximizing results and efficiency and minimizing costs in order to most effectively satisfy our small business clients.
Typical problems that often delay the creation of an employee handbook
1. Management views the creation of an employee handbook is optional and it is given a very low priority.
This often changes when a lawyer brings a lawsuit or a federal agency, such as the EEOC or the Department of Labor investigates the employer’s employment practices. Because an employee handbook is a tool to educate employees about important policies on harassment, discrimination, equal opportunity employment, etc., a handbook can often reduce the risk of employment-related legal claims. If employees are confused as to which standards they are being held to because there are no written guidelines, this can often result in poor morale problems and even discussions about unionizing the workplace.
2. Too many managers are involved in the handbook development process, and this results in consensus is being reached on what will be in the final product.
A Human Resource professional should not create a handbook in isolation. Feedback from key managers will help speed up the process, so long as deadlines are followed.
3. A company grows fast and an employee handbook is a hodge-podge of policies, procedures, processes and management guidelines.
This often results when employers fail to understand that an employee handbook’s purpose is a tool to inform employees about important policies, guidelines, rules and employee benefits.
Employers never impose a timeline for completing a handbook.
This often happens when one person is not designated as being responsible for this task. This is something that can easily be accomplished in less than one week. Even if managers need to be involved in reviewing before it is finalized, a deadline is important – it can always be extended a few days or a week, if needed.
4. An employer has an old handbook, but it is not followed and not reviewed regularly.
We can start from scratch and give you a new handbook that is tailored to your organization. Immediately upon completion of the employee handbook, you can create a schedule to review it with managers and staff.
“At-will employment” statements now fall within this area of concern. In essence, to avoid these issues, an at-will policy in Florida should clearly state that an employee’s at-will status can be modified only in a signed, written notification or letter from an authorized company executive. Additionally, in order to comply with the NLRA, a Florida employer’s at-will statement should not say that at-will status only can be modified on an individual basis. The reasoning for this is that employees have the right to seek modification of at-will status through collective bargaining. A real-world example is when an employer modifies at-will status by agreeing to language requiring “just cause” for termination, which is something that is typically requested during union negotiations. If you own a Florida business and if you do not already include such language in your disclaimers and acknowledgments, you should consider revising your handbook disclaimers and acknowledgements.
The Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. is becoming one of Florida’s most innovative labor & employment law firms through the use of legal technology tools. Using technology to change the practice of law is a good thing when it increases efficiency and reduces costs to businesses.
How can my business benefit by using an employee handbook written by a Florida lawyer experienced in labor and employment law?
Our use of technology allows our law firm to build and customize your business’ employee handbook. We will create for you a custom, Florida-specific handbook for one reasonable price. If you have never had an employee handbook, your business can benefit by helping you stay compliant with federal and Florida laws and regulations. A new employee handbook can help you protect your organization from potential employment discrimination and retaliation lawsuits as well as the popular unpaid wages, overtime, minimum wage lawsuits brought under the FLSA.
Many Florida businesses have handbooks drafted more than ten years ago, and contain language that has subsequently been found to be overbroad and illegal. An employee handbook can help protect your Florida company from legal liability. A clear and concise handbook defines standards for workplace conduct and describes your company policies, employee benefits and is consistent with federal laws and Florida laws. The Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. can provide your Florida business with a fully customized employee handbook - something that would typically cost thousands of dollars and require weeks of valuable company time. If you would like to discuss having the Law Office of David Miklas help your business create a new employee handbook for a reasonable cost, please contact us by email or call us at 1-772-465-5111.