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Minimize Risk with an Employee Handbook

Employment relationships are complex, and they can be a common problem area for municipalities. 

Cities and towns can help minimize the potential for employee difficulties by developing, implementing and maintaining an employee handbook that formalizes employment policies and procedures. As a best management practice, municipalities should have a labor attorney review the municipality’s employee handbook at least every five years to ensure it complies with state, local and federal regulations as well as laws and constitutional provisions. 

The Model Employee Handbook for South Carolina Municipalities can help officials develop an employee handbook or revise an existing one. This resource is a product of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, the SC Municipal Human Resources Association, and Gignilliat, Savitz & Bettis, LLP. 

The handbook, which receives periodic updates, is designed to comply with federal and state employment laws and includes a specific disclaimer on the first page declaring the handbook is not a contract. SC Code Section 41-1-110 requires the disclaimer to appear in all employee handbooks. The disclaimer must be conspicuous, and to meet the law’s requirements it must be

  • underlined and in all capital letters,
  • on the first page of the document, and
  • signed by the employee. 
Policies included in the handbook range from harassment to employment status, probationary periods and employee leave. Other model policies cover discipline, grievance procedures, outside employment, conflicts of interest and the State Ethics Act’s rules about public employees accepting gifts or political activity. The policies also address evolving technology issues of workplace privacy, use of computer and handheld devices, and internet policies. Because technology often changes rapidly, these policies need to address user behavior rather than specific devices, websites or social media networks. 

Labor attorneys drafted the handbook’s policies to help employers deal with the practical issues of employment. Each policy features an explanation of its purpose and provides specific language choices that municipalities can choose to best suit their circumstances. In some sections, a municipality using the policy would choose between referring to a city manager or administrator, mayor or council as the relevant authority on a matter, depending on the municipality’s form of government. 

The explanations for the policies also address how federal and state laws might impact the policy. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity policy notes that civil rights laws cover those employers with 15 or more employees. Even so, municipalities with less than 15 employees should consider anti-discrimination policies because employees may still bring lawsuits about discrimination.

Although the handbook provides a useful resource for policy development, it is not something that cities and towns can adopt without modification. Officials need to have legal counsel review all of their policies to make sure the policies comply with current law. 

This model handbook is available via The Association's website