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Making a lawful employee handbook

Effective business operation, reasonable employee conduct and lawsuit avoidance may be based upon a well-drafted employee handbook that clearly outlines their responsibilities and acceptable conduct. Minnesota employers, however, should also know that there are limitations and possible complications with drafting these guides and should take steps to assure regulatory compliance with their rules.

The National Labor Relations Board recently issued a report outlining handbook content rules and how certain policies can violate federal law. These rules protect Section 7 activities comprised of the employees' right to self-organization; to form, join, or assist labor organizations; to collective bargaining and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

General rules concerning respectful behavior and courtesy violate this prohibition because it may discourage employee criticism of their employers. However, employers can prohibit discourtesy, rudeness or unprofessional behavior toward a customer or anyone in the company, especially on company business.

The NRLB also addressed other communications and their impact on protected activities. Broad and ambiguous prohibitions such as "don't pick fights online" and restricting "insulting, embarrassing, hurtful or abusive comments about other company employees online" are overly restrictive.

Nevertheless, employers can prohibit inappropriate gestures, such as visual staring. Logos or graphics worn by employees cannot contain a discriminatory or unprofessional message, threaten or interfere with the job performance of fellow workers or visitors, harass others or contain racial slurs or contain derogatory comments or insults.

Rules banning electronic device use cannot prohibit their use for protected Section 7 activity while on breaks or other non-work time. Employers, accordingly, cannot impose a total ban on use or possession of this equipment on their property.

Restrictions on leaving work cannot restrict lawful strikes and walkouts. However, it is lawful to restrict entering or leaving company property without permission. Business may also forbid walking off shift, failure to report for a scheduled shift and leaving early without supervisor permission.

Drafting employee handbooks and addressing work behavior are significant activities in business formation that can help assure profitability and prevent legal lawsuits. Obtaining legal assistance should be important part of business planning to help assure that this is done effectively and within federal and Minnesota laws.

Source: NLRB, "Report of the General Counsel concerning employee rules," Accessed June 22, 2015

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