Part II: Handbooks Should Contain Anti-Harassment Policies and Procedures
Another important aspect of an employee handbook is to provide concrete policies regarding unlawful harassment based on sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, and protected activity. Employers should institute an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure which, at a minimum, establishes a prohibition against harassment, protection from retaliation, an effective complaint process, protection of confidentiality to the extent possible, and an effective investigation process. It is a good idea to include anti-harassment policies and procedures in your handbook so they are readily accessible to employees.
Importantly, including an anti-harassment policy in your handbook can help companies avoid strict liability for misconduct. Usually, an employee has the burden of proving the company knew or should have known of harassment by a co-worker or another employee. But when the harasser is a supervisor, the company is always liable unless it can establish an affirmative defense.
That's where the handbook comes in. Including written anti-harassment policies and procedures can show the employer took reasonable care to prevent harassment and/or the employee failed to take advantage of available preventive or corrective opportunities.
It is also important to ensure employees are provided a copy of the handbook (even if only available electronically). Acknowledgment forms are a good method of documenting employees received the handbook and are aware of the policies within it. It is prudent practice to update your handbook at least every few years and to have employees sign an acknowledgment form with each new version.
Ultimately, companies should provide employees with up-to-date handbooks and be familiar with its contents to ensure they adequately protect themselves. If an employee brings a claim later on, it is immensely helpful to be able to point to a written handbook policy covering the issue. By having important policies in writing and making sure your employees are aware of them, you can save yourself from a bigger headache down the road.
To discuss any questions regarding handbooks, please call your Thompson Coe attorney at (651) 389-5000 or email us at myHRgenius@thompsoncoe.com.
You can also find helpful information and resources regarding this topic and much more at https://thehrgenius.com/.
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