Employee Handbooks in California: Are They a Must?

Practice Areas

By: Minh Luong and Payal Chhabria

It is commonly believed that employee handbooks are unimportant, with no use after an employee’s hire date. However, these pages contain important information that could mean the difference between winning and losing an employment lawsuit. Employee handbooks are a basis of communication for human resources (HR) departments and the first line of defense against lawsuits. It is essential that employers work with their attorneys to develop employee handbooks that protect against lawsuits before they occur.

Employee handbooks must document a company’s compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. They should be drafted according to the needs of each individual workplace and according to the requirements of state and federal law. Employers should try to develop policies and procedures that reflect their company’s size, employee needs, and company philosophy, and they should have an attorney familiar with California state labor and employment laws review their handbooks for legal accuracy and timeliness. Outdated or erroneous policies are as dangerous as having no policies at all. Further, it is important to regularly review and update your policies.

what should you cover in the handbook?

Most employers are surprised to learn that California does not require companies to have an employee handbook. However, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires that California employers with at least five employees distribute written harassment, discrimination, and retaliation prevention policies. If you create a handbook, there are certain policies that must be included.

It is crucial that companies do not leave themselves exposed to potential litigation by failing to outline their own policies and procedures in writing. If a company’s policies are delivered orally, no concrete proof exists to show that the policies and procedures were presented to any employee, and it will be a “their word against yours” scenario if a case were to proceed to trial.

Below is a list of important federal and California state policies to be covered in your employee handbook. This list only covers important policies and is not exhaustive.

Required Federal Policies

  • Equal Employment and Anti-Discrimination Policy
  • Sexual Harassment Policy
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Policy
  • Military Service Leave
  • Jury Duty Leave

Required State Policies

  • FMLA (state-specific)
  • Meal and Rest Breaks
  • Health and Safety Policy
  • Outside Employment Policy
  • Paid Time Off
  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Pregnancy Leave
  • Military Service Leave (state-specific)
  • Jury Duty Leave (state-specific)
  • Voting Leave
  • Witness Duty Leave
  • School Activity Leave

Recommended Policies

  • Social Media Policy
  • At-Will Employment Policy
  • Temporary Relocation Policy
  • Employee Benefits Policy
  • Timekeeping for Non-Exempt Employees Policy
  • Overtime Policy
  • Salary Pay for Exempt Employees Policy
  • Payroll Deductions Policy
  • Payment of Wages Policy
  • Business Expense Reimbursement Policy
  • Holidays
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Bereavement Leave

should employers draft their own employee handbooks?

As federal and California employment policies constantly change, it can be difficult to understand exactly what guidelines your company handbook should include. Without a well-versed attorney crafting the document, an employer runs the risk of having their written words used against them. This situation happens most often when an employer copies and pastes standard handbook language found online. Such boilerplate policies can be dangerous if they are outdated and no longer in compliance with the law.

A skilled attorney can draft a compliant employee handbook based on the needs of your business. Such a practice can also save your company from potential employment lawsuits that can run for years and cost thousands of dollars. Contact your trusted Chugh, LLP legal professional today for help drafting an employee handbook and complying with labor regulations.



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