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Be careful to have the right employee policies in a handbook

As discussed last week in this blog, it is often a good idea for Michigan employers to put some rules in place regarding policies that apply to employees. An employee handbook can cover a wide variety of issues, including some policies tailored to specific types of businesses.

At the same time, however, it is important that the policies be in accordance with the current laws governing the employer. For instance, many employee handbooks set forth policies on employee benefits and leave. While these policies can be useful for employers and employees alike, the policies should reflect the current state of the law with respect to those matters.

For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act contains provisions entitling employees to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period. Employers should understand whether they are subject to the FMLA, which applies to private employers with more than 50 employees. Employers should also understand what specific provisions govern under the FMLA, such as when an employee requests leave to care for an immediate family member who has a serious health condition, or to care for the employee's own health condition.

While the FMLA and other laws impose legal requirements the employer must follow, employers should understand that having certain policies in their handbooks could be seen as obligating them to provide certain benefits as well, even if the law does not require it. The majority of common leave benefits that are offered by employers are not required by federal law. While this is certainly acceptable, and in many cases advisable for employers to offer these benefits, employers should recognize that they could be obligating themselves to provide certain benefits or standards if it is stated in the employee handbook. Accordingly, handbooks must be carefully drafted so that employers understand what their obligations are, and the handbook should be revised from time to time to stay current with the changing laws.

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration, "Required employee benefits," accessed on March 12, 2016

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