An employee handbook is a living document for any organization and exists because they set the tone between the employer and employee, acting as a valuable communication piece. Inside every employee handbook, you can typically find historical information about the company, policies, procedures, and an explanation of benefits, among other things.
It is important to create a well-written employee handbook, and regularly revisit the content to ensure it aligns with any new laws or regulations that could impact your organization or employees. A well-drafted employment handbook is able to minimize an employer’s exposure to employment-related lawsuits and increase an employer’s likelihood of prevailing when litigation cannot be avoided.
In 2015, we addressed 7 Must-Haves For Your Employee Handbook. Today, I want to discuss some of the things you should avoid when crafting your employee handbook. Here are seven mistakes to avoid:
1. Taking a Generic Boilerplate Approach
Your employee handbook should reflect your organization’s culture and how it truly operates. Avoid generic, template-like statements that may come off as "fluff" to your employees. Speak the truth about what your organization does, where it is going, and the kind of culture that you have.
2. Excluding Policies in the Handbook
Be sure to include all active policies and procedures in your handbook and update each as needed. Each year laws may change or be updated, or your internal procedures may changed based on lessons learned in the previous year(s), and it is important to list the latest information so your employees can read in black and white what is expected of them. Your handbook should be placed in an easily accessible location for all employees—electronically and/or a printed copy.
3. Not Defining Your Social Media Policy
Social media plays a huge role in people’s lives and these days, it is not uncommon to hear unfortunate stories related to employers, employees, and social media. In fact, according to a recent article by CNBC, 18% of employers have dismissed an employee because of something they posted on a social media platform. It is vital to incorporate a social media policy because unfortunately, you can be held responsible for legal and regulatory liability that occurs on your employees' personal social media accounts—even if the incident occurs on your employees' personal time and devices.
The key is developing a policy that protects your business but doesn’t violate an employee’s right to free speech, according to Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. When crafting your social media policy, consider including social media objectives, values, guidelines, and best practices. You also want to include your organization's rules for appropriate and inappropriate use of social media, as well as the procedures your company will follow if or when a rule is broken.
4. Not Explaining Your Anti-Harassment Policy
Harassment in any form is perhaps the most important policy to include in your employee handbook. Organizations should clearly explain its policies and give clear direction on what employees should do if it occurs in the workplace. The policy should guide the employee on how to report the incident, who to contact to report the incident, and include an alternate contact if the person designated under the policy is the alleged harasser. Be sure to include a form for employees to complete and document the incident. Whether the form is submitted or not, every incident must be promptly investigated.
5. Not Providing Regular Handbook Updates
In most cases, management will inform employees if there are updates or changes to critical policies and procedures—particularly if they impact them—but it is also the employees' responsibility to be informed. Businesses can communicate handbook updates in several ways including:
Quarterly or annual emails that highlight recent updates to the handbook
Annual in-person training
Quarterly or annual online training
Training during new-hire orientation
6. Demonstrating Inconsistency
In order to have an effective employee handbook, you must enforce all handbook policies across the board. Be sure to treat every employee the same no matter what their title or role within the company may be. You must enforce the policies the same way with everyone, every time. Inconsistency will devalue your handbook and your organization. Even worse, any inconsistency can subject your organization to a claim of discrimination if two employees that committed the same infraction are not treated the same.
7. Not Informing Your Legal Team
No matter how big or small your employee handbook update is, include your attorney or legal team. Employment laws can change and it is important to have your legal counsel review your handbook on a periodic basis. Alert employees of any new updates and make sure they acknowledge by signing a form.
Creating and maintaining employee handbooks require planning and implementing no matter the size of your business. However, they are invaluable when it comes to setting proper expectations for all employees and ensuring you have a legal and binding document to protect your organization from litigation.