Employee Handbooks - May 2014

Terry Jessop & Bitner Newsletter

Issue 9, May 2014

Does your business have an employee handbook? Do you know where it is? Do you know when it was last updated? An employee handbook is a tool which, if used and maintained properly, can significantly improve your business operations by managing expectations, fostering clear communications, and drastically reducing exposure to liability from employee claims.

The Pros and Cons of a Handbook

While you are pulling your old handbook out of that bottom drawer, consider the benefits of having an employee handbook. As a practical matter, a well-written handbook can increase productivity by helping employers and employees avoid confusion and miscommunication. The handbook should clearly establish the employer's expectations and the employee's responsibilities. It also gives a ready reference to both managers and employees who may have questions about specific policies. It can also serve as a welcoming invitation into your business family by explaining your company, its purpose, vision, and mission, and by acknowledging the integral role each employee plays in accomplishing company goals. From a business perspective, a handbook protects the employer by ensuring the employee is provided with required legal notices as well as setting forth important policy disclosures. The handbook should establish rules for reporting and investigating employee claims. By providing clear rules and policies, the employer reduces exposure to liability and increases the chances of prevailing on any claims.

Having a handbook also comes with some cons. Perhaps the biggest con is the failure to follow what the manual says. Ignoring established policies and procedures negates the purpose of the handbook, and can expose the employer to significant liability. Another potential pitfall is poor drafting which can create ambiguity and/or inflexibility, ignoring the reality that a handbook cannot address every possible scenario that may arise. Proper drafting and consistent application of the handbook policies should alleviate these concerns

Is Your Handbook Doing Its Job?

An effective handbook should include certain basics, including disclosure of legally required notices concerning federal and state labor laws. A common misstep is the omission of state laws that may be more restrictive than federal laws.

Next, the handbook should expressly state the conditions of employment, for example that employment is at will, and disclaim any express or implied contract, unless of course the employee is under contract. It should also include explanations about compensation, benefits, and leaves of absence. There should also be a discussion of workplace policies concerning harassment, violence and weapons, drug and alcohol use, employee conduct and discipline procedures. The rapidly changing areas of technology and social media require updating a handbook to include prudent policies for their use at work. Finally, you should obtain a signed acknowledgment of receipt of the handbook from each employee.

To help ensure your handbook is up to date and up to the challenge, call us today for a review and evaluation. We are here to help.

©Terry Jessop & Bitner May 2014