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If it's been a while since the last overhaul of your employee handbook, you may be courting danger. Establish a regular revision schedule for your handbook, updating it once a year or whenever significant statutory changes occur. Block out time on your calendar, and don't put it off.

Handbooks must change with the times, and those that gather dust on the shelf may be more dangerous than no handbook at all. That's especially true if anything in your handbook reinforces corporate cultural norms at odds with current discrimination laws. Outdated handbooks can even provide ammunition to otherwise futile lawsuits. As the following case shows, handbooks from a bygone era spell trouble.

Recent case: Betty Simpson quit her job at an Arkansas bank after 25 years, claiming that a male employee with the same job was paid more. She filed a federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) lawsuit, and a jury sided with her.

Salt in the wound: The EPA allows employees to win double damages and an additional year of back pay if they can prove that the employer's pay discrimination was "willful." Simpson made this claim, and the jury agreed.

Exhibit A: the bank's employee handbook, which hadn't changed in years. It included a policy that addressed the scheduling problems of "ladies with children going to school," and it said that sick leave couldn't be used for maternity leave. These stereotypes appeared to reinforce a corporate attitude that men were more valuable employees than women, an attitude apparent in one manager's statement that more men were needed at the bank and needed to be paid more than women. (Simpson v. Merchants and Planters Bank, No. 04-3972, 8th Cir., 2006)

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