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Small businesses and national corporations alike understand the difficulties in maintaining an up-to-date and accurate employee handbook. These reference documents should serve employees throughout their tenure with your company, providing helpful information on dispute resolution, health insurance, overtime policies, and more. You may not realize it, but the boilerplate terminology in your handbook may violate the law.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regulates nearly all non-government employers in the United States and defends the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Most of the NLRB’s enforcement actions concern an employee’s right to collective bargaining and organization, but many employers may use handbook language the organization deems illegal.

Workplace policies to review

Including “illegal” policies in a handbook is not a crime, as the federal government does not regulate these internal documents. However, these policies often dictate employer interactions with their employees, prompting the NLRB to take legal action.

Employers frequently include the following illegal policies in their handbooks:

  • Arbitration: Many company policies stipulate that employees must arbitrate their disputes with the company. Companies break the law when they dictate employees waive their right to a class-action suit or filing a complaint with the NLRB.
  • Prohibiting the discussion of wages: Policies that prohibit employees from discussing their wages or working conditions violate the NLRA.
  • Non-disparagement: Policies that prohibit employees from speaking negatively about the company online or in-person violate an employee’s right to discuss working conditions.
  • Confidentiality: Confidential information and the right to discuss working conditions often intersect. While your company has a right to protect its confidential information, take care when writing policy concerning the secrecy of personnel information or training.
  • Social media: Much of the NLRB’s regulatory work concerns employees fired over social media comments that disparage their employer. Like most enforcement actions on behalf of the NLRB, policies limiting “offensive” comments violate workers’ rights.

Designing a handbook for the first time? Consider legal counsel

Many business owners consult with legal professionals when designing their handbook. A lawyer can recommend policies in line with the NLRA while protecting your company’s interests.