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How to Update Your 2021 Employee Handbook in 3 Steps

Businesses should review their existing employee handbook each year to confirm that it complies with all relevant regulations and best practices. COVID-19 has added numerous compliance concerns and many businesses remain unclear on what to add or amend in corporate policy documents. This article will provide a simple 3-step process to help you complete a 2021 employee handbook update, create an employee handbook, or conduct an employee handbook review.

Step 1 | Reviewing Employee Handbook Contents

Begin updating your employee handbook by assessing if the current version covers all necessary topics. At a high-level, employee handbook contents should include at least the following sections and sub-categories:

Step 2 | Find New Applicable Laws and Regulations

Continue with your 2021 employee handbook update by determining any new regulations that apply to your industry. You should also identify newly relevant topics or issues that your current handbook version does not address. The top 2021 changes that companies should consider making to their employee handbooks include:

  • Core Values
    • Many organizations have their core values written in various forms, but are they stated in your handbook as an enforceable policy – a daily expectation of individual & team behavior?
    • Company History – often on your website, be sure to include it here as well.
  • Infectious Disease Program
    • While the need for this has become apparent in the age of COVID-19, standard language is pertinent to a standard flu outbreak, meningitis, or any other workplace situation.
  • Controlled Substances
  • Removal of pay & criminal history inquires pre-employment
    • While this may be more process-oriented, your stated policies should reflect any changes in your process. If you have not changed your process yet, you are probably behind the curve.
  • Paid Leave
    • Requirements from both the state law sick leave and the FFCRA requirements must be addressed, maybe as an addendum.
    • State laws often include time off for school/child activities.
    • Paid Paternity Leave – a given in most large organizations, and gaining traction elsewhere.
    • Are you providing time off to vote? Help your people make their voices heard.
  • Adjustments to non-compete agreements or policy language
    • Broad policy language in a handbook is basically unenforceable, and separate agreements must be properly drafted and targeted.
  • Pay Equity & Issues
    • While delayed, the federal government will begin collecting wage data by position, gender, etc. in the year future.  What will your data show?
    • Have you updated any minimum wage posters or related policies?
    • Exempt salary level – both Federal and State, are you in compliance?  This is your #1 Department of Labor liability area.
  • Harassment & Discrimination
    • Hair Styles, LGBTQ+, pay & criminal history are all on state & local radars, and on your employees’ as well.
  • Diversity & Inclusion Policy / Statement
    • Some may debate the difference, but having a policy that defines tangible practices has more impact than a corporate statement.  Together, a company position and set of practices are very powerful.
  • Cyber Security & BYOD (bring your own device) policies
    • While the threat of business damage from hackers increases every day, so does the desire of your staff to connect their own devices (laptops, phones, watches, etc.) to your systems.  Not a problem, but you have to have clear mutual expectations about how this will work to protect the company as a first priority.
    • Biometrics, screening, and other forms of identification are becoming more widely used.
  • Social Media
    • Does your policy still reference MySpace or Napster?
    • Beware any National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) issues.
    • Tie into your privacy policy – as in, at work, little e-privacy should be expected when using company resources.
  • Workplace Surveillance
    • Health screening and temperature checking.
    • Have cameras in the workplace?

Where do I find New Small Business Regulations?

New regulations are published on a variety of government information pages. Attorneys, CPAs and consultants typically provide summaries of new regulations; often for particular industries. These updates and summaries are often communicated through the following channels:

  • Legal Resources
    • Various law firms & governmental agencies all have regular regulatory updates & newsletters available, with most “back issues” available online.  This is a great way to balance out the “regulation” with the “application”, and catch up if something is missed.
  • 2. Additional Resources

Step 3 | Communicating Policy Changes to Employees

Once a handbook has been updated or created, how do businesses make sure employees are aware of any changes? After all, employee handbooks are only a useful tool if they are updated, communicated, acknowledged and referenced. Below are three recommendations for communicating 2021 employee handbook updates to your workforce:

  • If you are making basic updates that do not substantively change the employee/employer relationship, a quick email outlining those details and e-distribution of the handbook is generally adequate.
  • If you are making major changes – even if it seems minor but improves the internal PR of your organization – release it appropriately and make sure it is acknowledged by your team. Acknowledgment could be a sign-in sheet, e-signature, email confirmation, etc.
  • For full revisions and major policy changes it’s best to get a new autograph on an acknowledgment page of the handbook.  Again, e-signature is fine, but a fresh autograph ensures that employees are at least aware of the change.

If your organization needs help completing or starting a 2021 employee handbook update, contact Axios HR today for expert guidance.



January 1, 2021


Axios HR


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