January 3, 2018

Municipal Employee Handbooks

Weekly HR News –

Municipal Employee Handbooks

Every year brings new challenges, and one of those challenges is the city’s employee handbook.  An employee handbook is a valuable communication tool to allow employees to understand what is expected of them and what they can expect from the city as the employer.  In addition, an employee handbook will be of vital importance in defending an employment-related claim. It shows that your city had in place personnel and employee policies relating to the employment relationship, that the employee was aware of those policies and that those policies were followed by the city.   

Employee handbooks should be drafted in clear, concise and easy-to-understand language.  At a minimum, employee handbooks should include the following:

  1. A conspicuous disclaimer in the front of the handbook that the handbook does not create contractual rights and that employees continue to be terminable at will.  The statement should be something to the effect of:

The City Employee Handbook does not create any contractual or other legal rights.  The personnel policies contained in this Handbook do not alter the city’s at-will employment policy nor does it create an employment contract for any period of time.

  1. A clear, comprehensive equal employment opportunity statement such as:

The city provides equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, status as a smoker or nonsmoker, disability, or genetics.   In addition to federal law requirements, the city complies with applicable state and local laws governing nondiscrimination in employment. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruiting, hiring, placement, promotion, termination, layoff, recall, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation and training.

3.         An up-to-date harassment policy.  Sexual harassment was headline news in 2017, so no better time than the present to be certain that your city's sexual harassment/discrimination policy is in place and condemns all forms of unlawful harassment, not only sexual harassment.  The policy should also clearly set out an easy-to-follow process for filing a complaint, anti-retaliation provisions, and statement regarding what action will be taken if it is determined that harassment or discrimination has occurred.  As important as having this written policy is, the training that is provided to employees should also be a high priority. 

4.         An explanation of the employee disciplinary procedures stating the types of behavior that will subject an employee to discipline or immediate termination and the process that will be followed in addressing disciplinary problems.  Cities should also be certain to include language that the list of prohibited behaviors is not all inclusive.

5.         A policy on workplace violence that condemns these actions as well as provides information on the complaint process and anti-retaliation provisions.  In addition, if your city addresses weapons in the workplace, make sure that this policy is based on the current state of the law. 

6.         Detailed information on the drug and alcohol testing policy, especially, if your city has safety sensitive or federally regulated positions.  Make sure that you know the laws that apply to all of your city positions and that it is correctly reflected in this policy. 

In addition to the above, an employee handbook may address any policies, rules and practices within the city, such as: overtime, benefits, dress codes, social media policies and safety guidelines.  Be clear and concise with all of your policies and always provide training and time for questions whenever a new policy is implemented.

Cities should also be certain that every employee is provided with a personal copy of the employee handbook at the time of hire.  Employees should sign an acknowledgement stating that they received a copy of the employee handbook and that they are responsible for reading and understanding the information contained in the handbook.   This signed acknowledgement should be placed in the employee's personnel file.  In addition, any time that an amendment is made to the handbook, employees should be required to sign an additional acknowledgment regarding the specific change. 

The executive authority should annually review city policies to be certain they are up-to-date with any recent employment law changes, as well as changes in city practices.  If it has been more than a few years since they were last updated, they are not current.  Checking on these matters now could prevent costly liability issues from occurring in the future. 

If you need to update your policies, keep in mind that cities are unique. When it comes to creating or updating your personnel policies, you need to work with someone who not only has expertise in personnel law and human resource matters, but someone who knows municipal law as well.  KLC can offer this expertise in a way that is specific to your city’s needs.  Whether it is creating or reviewing city personnel policies or providing training on your city policies or on a variety of specialized HR topics, KLC has you covered.  For more information on this service or any other personnel-related matters, contact Andrea Shindlebower Main, KLC personnel services specialist.