8 Common Mistakes of Employee Handbooks
Some businesses regard employee handbooks as a "necessary evil," but in fact they are much more than that. A well-crafted employee handbook can serve numerous purposes, including:
- Clearly articulating your company's HR policies
- Providing a view of your workplace environment and culture
- Offering a helpful guide for employees with questions or concerns about their jobs
Most importantly, an employee handbook that's free of the most common mistakes may serve as important documentation in the event of an employment-related lawsuit. A poorly-worded, inconsistently implemented and inaccurate handbook, on the other hand, can invite problems with human resource management and may be an easy target for a plaintiff's attorney if faced with employment-related litigation.
Here are some common mistakes businesses make when drafting their own employee handbook:
1. Choosing a "one-size-fits-all' template. All businesses are not alike. Simply copying the contents of another company's employee handbook—or downloading a generic version found online—are unlikely to satisfy the particular HR needs of your workforce.
2. Failure to include at-will disclaimers. Where permitted by law, a handbook should state in clear language that the employment relationship is at-will, and that the handbook itself doesn't represent any sort of binding employment contract. A handbook lacking an explicit at-will employment statement—outlining the employer's right to terminate an employee at any time, with or without cause—may prove problematic if faced with a wrongful discharge suit or breach of contract allegation.
3. Includes policies that are either too specific or too broad. One of the objectives of an employee handbook is to include policies addressing most workplace situations. Rigid policies may be counter-productive, however, because they can eliminate your flexibility in certain circumstances. Overly broad policies, on the other hand, can make employee accountability difficult to identify and enforce.
4. Not explaining policies in reader-friendly language. Wording that's too technical can cause confusion and make enforcement of your policies a source of employee discontent. Make sure your policies are stated in simple, clear language.
5. Failing to include an anti-harassment policy. Harassment in the workplace can impact productivity and employee morale and can be unlawful. Depending on company size, your business may be legally obligated to identify, address and resolve issues of harassment in the workplace. Be proactive in this hazardous area regardless of your size by spelling out and following a zero-tolerance harassment policy in the employee handbook.
6. Overlooking a policy on company rules regarding the use of computers and social media. If you want employees to know you have the right to monitor their email communications and social media activity, prominently set those expectations of privacy in the employee handbook.
7. Not engaging a labor and employment attorney to review the handbook. An attorney well-versed in employment law is an invaluable resource for assessing the language and policies stated in the handbook. It's vitally important to know your document is up to date with applicable employment laws, accurate with regard to your policies, and comprehensive where necessary.
8. Neglecting to get an employee acknowledgement when they receive a handbook. Each employee's handbook should include an acknowledgement or receipt page where the employee is asked to attest to receiving the handbook and reading the policies therein. The signed receipt page should be retained in the employee’s personnel file for reference in future disciplinary actions as necessary.
There are other common mistakes, such as failing to incorporate changes in relevant local, state and federal employment laws, and simply forgetting to review the handbook's contents at least once a year. Rather than risk committing such errors, many businesses opt to join forces with a professional employer organization (PEO) as a way to outsource a full gamut of HR functions—including the design of a customized employee handbook with clearly stated and legally reviewed policies.