The Key to Protecting Your Nonprofit from Employment Claims while Keeping your Staff Safe
It’s no secret that most employee handbooks aren’t page turners, but these often overlooked documents can protect your nonprofit from pricey employment claims and other HR nightmares. Today, we’ll answer some of our most commonly asked questions about employee handbooks (also called employee manuals) for nonprofits. As always, if your nonprofit needs your first employee manual, or needs to revise your current handbook, let us know.
Employment law varies widely by state and there are special considerations to take into account with each nonprofit organization. The nonprofit attorneys on our team are well-versed in how to best protect nonprofits from liability while keeping employees safe.
Essential Policies that your Nonprofit’s Employee Handbook Needs to Include
Discrimination & Workplace Safety
While different types of nonprofits may have unique needs in this area there are a few items your employee handbook should absolutely include.
First, it’s important to include a statement about Equal Employment Opportunity. This establishes that your nonprofit won’t discriminate against your employees based on things like race, age, or sex. Many nonprofits also include provisions beyond what’s required by the federal government, including their overall discrimination policy, their accommodation policy and their commitment to DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) statement in this section as well. Keep in mind that different states have their own requirements for things like accommodations for employees with disabilities or religious accomodations, so be sure your policy follows your state’s laws as well.
Another thing all nonprofits should include in their manuals is a section outlining workplace safety policies. These can cover everything from sexual harassment, verbal or physical harassment, or violence, as well as your drug and alcohol policies.
Complaints Procedure & Whistleblower Policy
Including these policies is important, but be sure to also establish a way for people to report potential violations of these policies as well. Having a clear, easy-to-follow complaint procedure is key to keeping your nonprofit a safe workplace and protecting the organization from liability. Great policies and procedures help make the workplace productive and safe for your employees, while also protecting your organization from battling employment claims.
Employment claims go to court at higher rates than many other types of cases, and they’re costly. Even when employment claims settle out of court, the average settlement is $40,000 according to the EEOC, and that’s without any other additional costs included like attorney’s fees. A well-followed procedure that leaves plenty of paper trails can save your nonprofit thousands.
On this note, nonprofits also need a whistleblower policy. This is a policy that outlines protections for whistleblowers, as well as how they could make a report if there were serious concerns about violations of the law occurring within the organization.
Employment Basics: Classification, Background Checks, Reviews, etc.
Of course, an employee handbook should include plenty about employment with your nonprofit. There are several things that fit into this section. Classification of employees just states the types of employment you offer with details on what constitutes each one. This could be full-time, part-time, independent contractors, etc.
Another important procedure to outline is how your nonprofit handles performance reviews and bonuses. Do you review all of your employees at the 90 day mark? Do you perform annual reviews for all employees? Are there any performance based bonuses you’ll offer? These are the types of questions this procedure should answer. Many nonprofits choose to have a 90 day period at the start of employment where there’s additional training and evaluation to ensure new employees are a good fit.
On the flip side of this coin, having a system for corrective action is also critical, especially because wrongful termination is a frequent allegation against employers. Ensure you outline the process for disciplinary action, and include things like written warnings. Having a paper trail of an employee’s performance issues ensures you’re always able to show why an employee was let go (in applicable situations).
Employee compensation is often covered within the employee handbook as well, including when employees are paid (monthly, bi-weekly, weekly, etc.) and any overtime policies. Benefits like Paid Time Off (PTO), Military Leave, which Holidays your nonprofit observes for paid holiday time off, and parental leave should also be included.
For PTO, many nonprofits include more time off for employees who have worked with the organization for longer, so including a chart that details that can be helpful for employees. You’ll also need to decide if your nonprofit offers one type of PTO or if you’d like to split that time into “personal time” and “sick time.” With parental leave, many employers now offer time off for birth, the placement of a foster child, or an adoption, so it’s something to consider when creating your policy. Some employers offer the same amount of paid time off for both parents, while others offer more time off to the mother. Many employers also offer bereavement time off in case of the death of a loved one, so defining the circumstances around that is also a useful piece to include.
Outlining appropriate conduct for employees is another crucial piece to a fully formed employee handbook for your charity organization. This includes expectations like handling yourself with professionalism and communicating to others with respect, but it also includes provisions like dress codes, and policies on if staff are allowed to use their personal cell phones during work time.
Within more recent years, many employers include a policy about social media and internet use. For example, would you want an employee to publicly post something damaging or confidential on Facebook about your nonprofit? Even if the post was made outside of work hours, that’s likely something you’ll want to cover in your employee manual.
Another technology-related consideration is how employees are to use company-provided laptops, tablets, or wifi. Do you want employees to be able to do any confidential work on their personal computers? Or are there rules surrounding internet use on company computers? These are important decisions to weigh.
All employee handbooks need a section at the end for all employees to sign to acknowledge they’ve read the handbook and will follow the policies within it. This may seem like a small task, but it’s a crucial one. If an employment claim is ever made, it’s always good to have this signed document on file, showing that the employee was made aware of the nonprofit’s policies. These signed pages are saved within the employee’s personnel file, whether that’s a physical file or a virtual file.
Keep in mind that all organizations are different. The list we’ve created above is a starting point, but it isn’t exhaustive. Depending on how many employees your organization has, different employment laws will apply. Typically, larger organizations have more requirements to fulfill than small organizations. Each state also has differing policies on employment, so having a nonprofit attorney to help when creating or revising your nonprofit’s employee manual can be helpful. And organizations working with animals, children, the elderly, and other protected populations often have special considerations. Faith-based nonprofits like churches and ministries can also have a few provisions that apply specifically to them.
No matter the type of nonprofit, we’re here to help. If you would like assistance with your nonprofit’s employee handbook, drop us a note and let us know. Our experienced nonprofit attorneys can help your nonprofit create a handbook and policies that protect your nonprofit from liability while still ensuring your staff are safe to pursue your mission.