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Mistakes in Employee Handbooks

Top Mistakes to Avoid When Drafting an Employee Handbook

Your employee handbook is your roadmap to all the most important information new employees need to know about working for your company. Employee handbooks are vital resources for employees at all levels. There are many reasons for creating a handbook that puts your policies in writing. If you’re wondering why you should make an employee handbook, consider that a handbook:

  • Is a valuable resource for employees to understand employment laws and policies
  • Sets expectations for employee conduct and protects your company when employees don’t comply with those expectations
  • Welcomes new employees to the team and saves you time in helping them understand your policies, procedures, and company culture

If you’re wondering who still uses handbooks, you should know that about 87% of companies with between 10 and 200 employees rely on them to stay organized and compliant. So, if you’re ready to draft one of your own, consider all the ways your employee handbook can go wrong.

A poorly-written handbook can cause confusion and frustration among all employees — from people just starting out to supervisors and executives. This confusion can create liability in completely avoidable situations. Additionally, a poorly-executed handbook can fail to set expectations or reflect your company’s culture, which can prevent good employees from reaching their potential.

Some of the top mistakes employment lawyers recognize in first drafts of employee handbooks can be corrected by working with an attorney from the beginning of your journey to create an effective company manual.

Mistake #1: Failing to Customize Your Handbook

When starting your employee handbook draft, it’s easy to get caught up in a template that outlines the basic laws, policies, and procedures your handbook should include; however, don’t forget to customize your handbook to highlight your company’s specific rules. 

Each company is unique, so it’s important to take a creative approach to your handbook’s content after you get a rough idea of what it should look like from looking through your competitors’ handbooks or those of companies you collaborate with. A handbook should accurately state how your company handles breaks, paid time off, your code of conduct, employee dress code, and more. 

Mistake #2: Skipping Important Policies

Your handbook is primarily a valuable resource for new hires. Thus, it should include detailed information about all the policies your new hires will have the most questions about. Failing to include them could defeat the purpose of distributing a handbook in the first place. Ideally, your handbook should be updated yearly to include new policies or reflect changes in outdated ones. Be sure to include policies that you inform your workers about via email, memos, or message boards.

Mistake #3: Forgetting to Add Disclaimers about Employment Policies

Disclaimers are essential for protecting your company from legal liability when an employee feels that he or she has been wronged. When drafting a manual for your employees, it should include a disclaimer alerting them that nothing in the handbook equals a contract for employment or changes their at-will employment status in any way. 

You should also consider removing any probationary language in the handbook if your employees are at-will. An at-will employment relationship assumes that the employee may leave the position at any time for any reason, and in turn, you may let the employee go at any time, for any reason. Your handbook should also make it clear that it cannot possibly have answers for every unique situation that may arise in the workplace, so your employees should feel comfortable approaching their supervisors about specific issues.

Mistake #4:  Overly-Restrictive Social Media Policies

In an ideal world, employees would not discuss work-related issues on their social media profiles, but unfortunately these days almost every employee has a presence on at least one major social media network and may be prone to executing speech that puts your company in an unfavorable light. While it makes sense to include confidentiality policies surrounding employee social media use, banning any speech that might make your company look bad might be a violation of the employee’s rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

If you’d like to reduce the likelihood that your employee’s personal use of social media will hurt your company, suggest that they add disclaimers to their posts that make it clear their opinions are their own and do not represent the company’s stance. The takeaway here is that you cannot manage your brand’s presence by controlling what your employees post about it on social media.

Mistake #5: Applying Policies in the Handbook Inconsistently

Unfortunately, there are times when employers who mean well when they make their handbooks seem to apply policies inconsistently. It’s important to enforce policies equally among all employees they apply to. Think about appointing an employee from outside your HR department to screen your handbook for inconsistent or vague language. When policies are applied inconsistently, it can negatively impact employee morale, leading some employees to believe that their associates can choose to ignore certain policies while they must adhere to them. Employers who seem to discipline employees differently for the same violation could also be at risk for a discrimination claim.

Work with a Trusted Colorado Employment Lawyer to Draft Your Handbook

Creating an effective employee handbook can take several months of planning, drafting, editing, and revising. It may turn out to be a much more involved project than you initially anticipated. Fortunately, if you’re an employer in Colorado, you can rely on attorney Nathan Davidovich to guide you through the process, make smart suggestions, and understand exactly what laws you should include in your handbook to avoid potential legal action. 

Nathan Davidovich of the Davidovich Law Firm has been helping employers create thorough, engaging, and helpful handbooks that comply with state and federal laws for more than 55 years. When you’re ready to get started on your unique manual, call (303) 825-5529 or complete our contact form.