Employer Best Practices – Part 1 – Employee Handbooks and Uniform Employment Policies

Over the next few weeks, Marcus & Boxerman will publish a three-part series discussing employer best practices. Part One focuses on the practices all employers should adhere to in creating, developing, and enforcing employment policies and workplace conditions. Part Two will suggest best practices for maintaining employee personnel files. Part Three will discuss regulatory compliance issues and employer best practices for resolving them.

employee handbook, employer best practices, employment lawMaintain an employee handbook and keep it updated. A good employee handbook effectively communicates an employer’s workplace expectations, policies and procedures, and can provide an employer’s best defense against many employee claims. Employers should distribute the handbook to all employees upon hire, and should review and update the handbook as often as necessary. Employers should require a signed and dated receipt for the handbook from each employee and save the receipt to the employee’s personnel file. A strong employee handbook helps ensure that uniform policies are in place, that the policies are communicated to all employees in writing, and that employees are aware of the employer’s expectations for their employment.

Enforce employment policies and conditions uniformly. A clear and thorough handbook will not protect an employers who doesn’t enforce its policies uniformly among all employees. Making employment decisions or favoring/disfavoring employees because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information is unlawful, and may result in complaints or lawsuits filed with state and federal regulatory agencies. In many states, including Illinois, it is also illegal to discriminate based on an employee’s sexual orientation, ancestry, marital status, pregnancy status or military status. In the City of Chicago, moreover, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate based on an employee’s parental status, source of income, or credit history. Employment policies must be absolutely neutral when it comes to the protected characteristics above. Employers must apply and enforce all policies equally and consistently among all employees.

Use measurable and meaningful promotion criteria. Making promotion decisions according to measurable, meaningful criteria communicated to all eligible employees serves two purposes: (1) it protects employers from claims of bias or discrimination and (2) it ensures that only the highest-performing candidates get promoted. Promotion decisions should be made based on criteria relevant to job performance, not favoritism or bias.

Handle all employee-related issues, especially harassment and discrimination complaints, thoroughly, respectfully and professionally. When an employee notifies management of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, employers must treat the employee’s grievance seriously. Employees should have a clear avenue for reporting their concerns and employers should reassure employees reporting concerns will not be met with retaliation. Inform the employee that management will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, and that, if appropriate, management will take corrective action to ensure that the employee feels comfortable and safe in the workplace. Most importantly, employers must FOLLOW THROUGH by conducting a thorough investigation, finding out what happened, and taking appropriate disciplinary measures if necessary. The employee handbook should spell out these procedures – remember, it is important that the employee perceiving harassment and the accused employee both know the policy and know that management will follow it.

Check back next week for Part Two of our Employer Best Practices Series for guidance on maintaining a clean and protective personnel file. Meanwhile, if you have questions about employment policies or your employee handbooks, contact us at (312) 216-2720.

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