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The Employee Handbook: A Good Move or Another Liability?

From the HR Pros of the HR Support

Center

It’s an exciting time to begin a new year with great start for your

business! One very important step to take in making sure you launch into

2013 in stride deals with the employee handbook.

There is no legal obligation to publish one, and it may create

unintended legal obligations for the employer. At the same time, you can

craft it as a great tool and foundation to communicate your company’s

vision, expectations, and goals to your employees. Nowadays, employees

especially expect and appreciate having some set of guidelines to help

understand the employer policies, practices, and procedures as well as

their own employee responsibilities.

A great football coach may have a great team of players, but if there’s

no playbook, confusion and chaos can quickly consume everyone. The

employee handbook is your playbook to help ensure continued success

between managers and employees. This article briefly highlights for you

some key benefits, helpful tips, and distribution methods to get such a

manual effectively in place.

So, does having such a handbook in place make sense for every business?

Not necessarily, particularly if you’ve only a handful of employees with

lots of open communication. Like any business looking at ways to grow,

however, your legal employment responsibilities also get more

complicated as you hire more employees to help grow the business. Once

you start having about 15 or so employees, written policies and

procedures become very highly recommended.

The Benefits

The handbook can provide beneficial results. Most employees really want

to be successful and simply want to know “the rules of the game” in

order to do well within your company. A good handbook describes the pay

and benefits, performance expectations, work schedules, dress codes,

time off conditions, promotion process, etc. Employers often can better

manage their staff since the objectives for each job position have been

clarified and certain policies have been established before possible

volatile workplace issues surface.

Now, the biggest reason for establishing the handbook is increased

protection. While legal disputes can’t be completely avoided, you can

clearly minimize the risks. Generally, courts consider written and

verbal policies as contracts. Verbal policies often can be

misinterpreted easily or delivered by someone with no authority to make

certain promises—not a good situation for you. Build a written document,

and you give your company a much stronger position of not having a

dreaded court case become a grueling owner-said, employee-said

situation.

Especially in terms of disciplinary and termination events, a sound

handbook can minimize hasty and rash decisions to immediately fire an

employee. It also provides a helpful guide for resolving and settling

employment disputes—thus preserving your company’s bottom line.

Some Tips for an Effective Employee Handbook

* Insert disclaimers such as an employment-at-will statement in which

the company expressly states that employment can be terminated at any

time, for any reason. Often, policy statements illustrate specific

action steps to take prior to termination. Keep in mind that this does

not mean the courts will support every single employer reason (e.g.

termination based on one’s disabilities, sex, or religion).

* Cite or quote federal, state, and/or city regulations and statutes

relating to each of the company’s employment policies.

* Avoid restrictive language. Using words like “will” or “must” may

bind employers to agreements or actions not intended originally.

Furthermore, phrases such as “terms and conditions of employment” or

“seniority” could be viewed evidence of an employment contract.

* Consider input from employees and all management levels to address as

best as possible the diversity of concerns. This process can promote

greater buy-in and cohesiveness in your workforce as well especially

when involving significant updates and changes.

* Periodically review and revise as needed. The last thing you need is

to have a handbook that’s not compliant with current laws let alone not

aligned with your business goals and objectives. On that note, clearly

communicate and state reserving the right to change, add or terminate

policies at any time.

Electronic or Hard Copy?

Some employers are publishing handbooks electronically instead of

issuing a hard copy to each employee (increasingly common among

businesses with an intranet not available to the public). Some (often

those who are public employers) publish their policies available on

websites.

One advantage reflects the ease and convenience to revise and update the

handbook and specific policies. A major disadvantage involves the

cumbersome efforts to ensure that individual employees have a reviewed a

copy and acknowledge its receipt which can be very difficult to prove in

court. Whichever mode you choose, make sure you get each employee to

complete and sign a hard copy “Acknowledgment of Receipt” with a copy

for the employee’s and your own HR files.

The Acknowledgment and Receipt Form ideally includes the following

points:

* Receipt of the handbook

* Instruction to read the handbook in its entirety

* Actual reading and understanding of the handbook information

* Opportunity to ask questions and have them answered timely

* Employment is at will

* The company can alter policies and update with newer versions

* The handbook is not a contract

Especially if you have an outdated copy lying around or no copy

whatsoever, now is a great time to take a good look at making sure your

handbook is in place, up to speed, and working for your company. In all,

by preventing disagreements and confusion, helping the business stay out

of court, and even improving communication with the employees, the

employee handbook can help you save time and money!

Wishing you much success in 2013!

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