The purpose of an employee handbook is to provide a consistent means of communication regarding policies, best practices and resources for everyone within the organization. The handbook is a guide that allows managers as well as staff to understand the expectations of role and responsibilities. However, there are consequences to using the organization’s handbook incorrectly or ineffectively.
Although there is no legal requirement to provide an employee handbook it can support best practices and be used as confirmation of procedures if ever called into question for legal purposes. The issue of using a handbook incorrectly or ineffectively comes to light when the following mistakes happen:
- Omitting a legal review of the handbook: It is highly recommended to have legal counsel review the handbook prior to distribution. A review can flag misleading information or identify where details should be generalized or have additional information included.
- Inconsistent utilization of the handbook: Managers should avoid making decisions and approaching issues without consulting the handbook and ensuring any applicable policy is reviewed.
- Not Including an Employee Acknowledgement page: The practice of obtaining a signed handbook acknowledgement receipt from employees for the personnel file, offers a level of consistency and proof that an employer makes their employees aware of the Handbook.
- Omitting State specific policies in conjunction with Federal requirements: When noting federal guidelines within a policy, there should be a review of state mandates as well. For example, while FMLA is a federal mandate, there are additional provisions in some states, to allow for additional leave time. These mandates are required and if not followed, may cause an employer to become legally liable.
- Misleading information, promises or an implied contract: Ensure the employee handbook is not misleading in the details of a process or policy. Language should read in a way that a manager or direct report understand outcomes are not guaranteed. The language should also ensure there is no perception of any implied contract or agreement.
- Not reviewing the handbook on a regular basis: Policies and practices are constantly changing. It is very possible that a handbook written one year ago may contain policies and practices that have already changed. An employer should ensure the handbook is written in a manner that includes disclaimers as well as refers the employee to the source of the most current law or mandate. If there is an update prior to the new handbook being printed, an addendum should be provided to all employees.
- Failure to introduce a newly implemented or revised handbook to current employees: The sudden introduction of a new or revised employee handbook can cause confusion on effective dates of changes, any grandfathered practices, and who may specifically be required to follow particular mandates. The improper roll-out of a handbook can cause confusion and negatively impact employee morale.
Our colleagues at Helios HR are able to assist clients with reviewing their Employee Handbook and assuring it covers basic compliance regulations. We understand that creating an employee handbook can be challenging. There are a number of laws and requirements that impact what should be included in your organization’s documented handbook. It is important to review the handbook on a routine basis and to consider regularly having it reviewed by legal counsel. The handbook should set expectations that will protect the company if ever challenged on its practices.