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  • January 2021

    Employers big and small benefit from having detailed, updated handbooks.  Handbooks are a great way to communicate internal and mandatory policies. They can help employees find answers to many employment related questions. Handbooks can also help employers protect or defend against liability. 

    Mandatory Policies

    California mandates that employers develop and distribute certain policies to their employees. For example, employers must have written policies concerning discrimination, harassment, and retaliation prevention.  A handbook is an efficient way to distribute these policies and helps protect the employer if discrimination, harassment, or retaliation claims arise. 

    At-Will Employment

    A handbook is an effective way to communicate an employer’s at-will employment policy. Although California presumes employment is at-will, employees have successfully challenged this presumption by claiming they were verbally guaranteed employment. A handbook helps prevent these situations by firmly establishing an employers’ at-will policy and limiting changes to the policy only be clear, written agreement.

    Wage and Hour Policies

    Wage theft is a significant issue in California. A 2014 Department of Labor report found that minimum wage laws were violated in California 372,000 times per week.  A 2010 study by the UCLA Labor Center calculated that frontline workers in Los Angeles County lose $26.2 million per week in stolen wages.[1] 

    In response, California passed the Wage Theft Prevention Act (“WTPA”) requiring employers to provide written notice regarding wage and hour policies at the time employees are hired.  Employers can comply with the WTPA by including wage and hour information in an employee handbook. Handbooks can also help protect employers from potential wage and hour claims by instructing employees on how to track work hours, when to take meal and rest breaks, and how to seek approval for overtime.

    Vacation, Sick, and Other Leave Policies

    Handbooks provide employees with detailed information about available vacation leave, sick leave, or other paid or unpaid leaves.  While vacation leave is not mandatory, California passed regulations back in 2014 requiring employers to provide all employees with paid sick days each year.  California also requires most employers to provide paid and unpaid leaves for disability for the employee or to care for a disabled family member, pregnancy disability or the birth or adoption of a child, military reserve commitments, organ donation, domestic violence issues, jury duty, and voting.  A handbook is also an effective way to communicate company holidays.

    While a handbook can be a tool to protect against litigation, an out-of-date handbook or improperly drafted handbook can lead to significant problems. For instance, an improperly drafted handbook could override California’s presumption of at-will employment.  A poorly drafted handbook could also violate provisions of the National Labor Relations Act against policies that “chill” employees from exercising certain rights. 


    Do you need help drafting an employee handbook or updating your current employee handbook? Gibbs Giden can help.


    Matthew Wallin, Esq.

    (310) 552-3400

    Matthew Wallin is a senior associate in the Los Angeles office where he practices labor and employment law.  He has extensive experience defending private business and public entities in litigation involving discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wage and hour disputes. He has also defendant against assault and workplace violence claims.  

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