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Ways To Transform Your Employee Handbook

Your employee handbook is one of your organization's most important human resources tools. It outlines your employment policies, company rules and other key information your staff needs to know for a successful tenure.

As with any legal document, it's critical to make sure your handbook not only reflects the latest labor laws and social norms, but is also well-received by your team.

Handbooks and workplace policies are a critical tool in managing any workforce. But like any tool, if they are not used or maintained properly, they can do more harm than good. Here is a quick look at three ways companies, especially start-ups and small businesses, inadvertently turn these helpful tools into liabilities.

Write It Yourself

An Employee Handbook is not a wise choice for a “DIY” project. When a problem arises, the knee-jerk reaction can be to draft a new policy to prevent it from recurring. It is simple enough to Google, copy, and paste Handbook provisions. But policies that are appropriate or helpful for other companies may be useless or problematic for yours. Hastily written policies to address a specific event often fail to consider unintended practical consequences and can turn out to be cumbersome and even unlawful. Employment laws vary widely from state to state, so policies that are lawful in one business may be unlawful just miles away across state lines.

Federal agencies like the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) have been very active over the past decade in investigating Handbook provisions. Both agencies have found legal violations based upon the presence of the policy alone, even when the company didn’t use or enforce it.

Put it Somewhere no one will find it

Many companies invest time and energy to draft a Handbook, then put it on a shelf or in a file cabinet where it does nothing but collect dust. Your Handbook only has value if it is used and enforced and actually guides the behavior of your employees and management.

Smart companies circulate their Handbook to all employees and obtain signed acknowledgement forms to demonstrate each employee received and read it. Handbooks should be reviewed every few years to ensure they comply with any changes in the law. Important updates and revisions should be circulated as well to ensure that employees are clear on the current policies.

Companies go further and provide training to educate employees about the policies and provide an opportunity to ask questions. This can help identify potential misunderstandings and problems so that policies can be clarified or adjusted to be more effective.

Exclude Certain Policies

While a lot goes into your employee handbook, there is also information that should not be included, but can be developed as stand-alone documents. Your employee handbook is a legal document, which means employers need to be cautious about what promises are made. A few examples of what not to include are:

  • Commitments that are not legally required

  • Internal standard operating procedures, such as desk manuals Detailed OSHA or other safety plans

  • Descriptions of various departments and committees

Some companies consult a qualified HR professional or employment attorney to avoid these costly DIY mistakes.

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