New hires often view employee handbooks as a formality, something to quickly browse before signing off that they’ve read it. However, from a legal perspective, employee handbooks are more complex and important than many business owners realize, and a thoughtful, well-crafted handbook is a preventive mechanism worthy of investment. Employers who refrain from spending on legal advice on drafting an employee handbook to save time or money may find themselves vulnerable to much more costly and arduous challenges down the road.
Put simply, to be effective, an employee handbook should be a fully comprehensive look at company employment policy. There’s no point in putting a policy into writing if the final document is vague or incomplete.
Typically, well thought-out handbooks cover an extensive list of topics, like: salary schedules and payroll procedures; benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, insurance, tuition remission and 401K; and, workplace conduct, including grievance filings, progressive discipline, termination, safety, harassment and discrimination. In addition, employee handbooks usually include mission statements, general operating procedures and anything else salient to a particular employer.
Being detailed, specific and comprehensive is a good start. However, there are other concerns. Poorly developed handbooks can be a liability in themselves, particularly when it comes to how they’re written. For instance, if the language used can be construed as a promise, it could be found to be legally binding.
The use of effective disclaimers, however, can work to prevent litigation.
For example, some employers choose to include a disclaimer that is prominent, and clearly states that there is no promise of any kind contained in the manual, regardless of the content. Disclaimers should further state that the employer, without notifying the employee or obtaining agreement, is free to change the conditions described in the handbook at any time, including the termination of employment at any time with or without good cause.
Though the above disclaimers are not intended as legal advice, an employee handbook should be constructed under the guidance of a qualified attorney, while existing employee handbooks should be reviewed and updated annually.
Because employee handbooks are an integral part in defining your company policy to employees, it’s important they are constructed with care. Feel free to contact our firm to discuss your organization’s current needs.