If it isn't clear by now, the Insider believes in a sense of humor. A few laughs help us get through the working day. So it is with some ambivalence that we tackle the issue of the Tribune Newspaper's new Employee Handbook. Written by a non-lawyer, the handbook attempts to present the myriad issues contained in a handbook in a light, rather flippant tone. It's a fun read. But alas, it's like "shooting the bird" at a policeman: it might be protected as "free speech," but it's still not a very good idea.
The Handbook opens the section on harassment with a warning to people who might be sensitive to the actions of others:
4.1 Working at Tribune means accepting a creative, quirky, intelligent, odd, humorous, diverse, opinionated and sometimes annoying atmosphere.
4.2 Working at Tribune means accepting that sometimes you might hear a word that you, personnally, might not use. You might experience an attitude that you don't share. You might hear a joke that might not consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, non-linear atmosphere is important to the creative process.
4.3 This should be understood, should not be a surprise and is not considered harassment.
Any joke? In any context? The Tribune is basically telling employees to chill out. The sublimely tasteless Borat would love it. This "values statement" is far too general. It could make anyone squirm, not just a labor attorney.
Here again, you will find language that is unprecedented for an employee handbook:
7.1 If you use or abuse alcohol or drugs and fail to perform the duties required by your job acceptably, you are likely to be terminated. ..Coming to work drunk is bad judgment.
7.2 If you do not use or abuse alcohol or drugs and fail to perform the duties required by your job acceptably, you are likely to be terminated.
The first section seems to imply that being stoned at work is ok, as long as you can still do your job. Yikes! The second section has nothing to do with drug abuse and certainly does not belong in this section of the handbook. It seems to imply that you'd be better off stoned at work and doing your job well - as opposed to sober and performing badly. That certainly reflects the Hollywood version of the newspaper business, but it does not belong in a handbook.
Disability and Workers Comp
The disability statement is pretty straight forward, although it places the burden squarely on the employee:
3.1 Tribune will make reasonable accommodations if you have a disability and are otherwise qualified to perform your job.
3.2 If you need an accommodation, tell your supervisor.
Here is the complete section on workers comp leave:
17.1 State law dictates how Workers' Compensation is handled.
17.2 Please let your supervisor know immediately if you're hurt on the job.
17.3 If this injury is also considered to be a serious health condition under FMLA, Workers' Compensation Leave will be counted as, and run at the same time as FML.
This a bit thin, to say the least. The handbook should emphasize the importance of working safely, reporting all hazards and management's commitment to speed return to work through the use of temporary modified duty.
Employee Rights: No Laughing Matter
Employee Handbooks are generally regarded as quasi-legal contracts, primarily designed to outline the rights and benefits of employment and limit the employer's exposure to lawsuits. Handbooks are rarely read, and when they are, it's not for the entertainment value. The Tribune's attempt to have their handbook mirror the creativity valued in the workplace is well intentioned, but incredibly risky. It won't take long for labor attorneys to pounce and when they do, the Tribune will have to back-pedal furiously to contain the damage. This particular handbook may get a "high five" from Borat, but it's no way to define the employment relationship.