Common employee handbook mistakes and how to avoid them

 Creating a thorough employee handbook provides a valuable resource for your employees, both during the onboarding process and throughout their employment. A well-written manual also sets your business on the right track to staying in compliance with federal and state labor laws and avoid fines and potential lawsuits. 

Conversely, a poorly written employee handbook can create confusion around existing company policies and expectations. And if critical processes and rules are not laid out properly, unnecessary liabilities could arise. 

Building an effective employee handbook should be considered a priority. Errors in your handbook can be problematic in the long run. But if you do it right the first time, you won’t have to worry about making corrections as often. 

There are several common mistakes employers make when setting up an employee handbook. Luckily they can all be easily avoided. 

Don’t: Use a cookie-cutter approach 

Your business’s employee handbook should be a direct reflection of your operations and culture. Every business is unique and has its own set of policies and expectations. While templates are an efficient place to start in the handbook creation process, it’s a mistake to adopt it outright instead of adapting the manual to fit your business and employees. 

If you use a template, review it thoroughly and tailor it to your organization’s specific needs. 

Do: Focus on your values 

Your handbook should not only include your policies, but also reflect your company values. Successfully implementing a strong sense of culture for your team relies heavily on their understanding of what your business is all about. 

Include a mission statement, a history of your organization, and your workplace philosophy. Educate your employees on the vision that drives workplace decisions and inspire them to actively participate in the culture you’ve worked hard to create. 

Using your handbook as a way to motivate employees to positively participate in building your company culture can result in a more fulfilling workplace environment for everyone. 

Do: Include all policies 

Employment laws change often, and when this happens, you need to draft new policies based on the new rules to show that you are up to date with your compliance requirements. New policies are also created as new workplace situations arise that need to be addressed.

It can be easy to draft these new policies and forget to include them in your handbook, especially if it’s already completed. However, it’s critical to include all policies. A good rule of thumb is that if you plan on enforcing the policy every day, put it in the handbook.

That way your employees don’t have to search through other methods of policy distribution to find the information they need on new rules, and all your proof of compliance is in one place. 

Don’t: Forget a disclaimer

Your team members should be aware that the handbook in no way creates an employment contract. Just because an employee follows all the rules laid out in the manual, at-will employment is still in effect and you have the right to terminate them. 

The best way to get this point across is to include a disclaimer. The disclaimer should also stipulate that while the handbook covers a wide range of workplace situations, it is not an exhaustive list. Include this caveat to guarantee that you have the flexibility to address unique occurrences. 

Make sure to include the disclaimer in your handbook and have your employee sign and acknowledge they read it.

Don’t: Skimp on the anti-harassment policy 

Your anti-harassment policy is one of the most important aspects of your employee handbook. Your team members need to understand what exactly harassment means and how to report it if they experience workplace harassment. Failing to include a well-written policy could lead to a less effective harassment prevention strategy. 

Lay out the required procedure in your handbook for reporting a harassment incident, and include a designated person your employees should go to in order to do so. It’s also a good idea to include an alternate person to report the incident to if the designated employee is the alleged harasser, or the employee feels uncomfortable with reporting to the primary individual. 

You can also include a form employees can complete and submit to the designated person to report harassment. If you do, be sure to make it clear that you will thoroughly investigate all harassment allegations, even if they don’t submit the complaint in writing. 

Many states have additional laws requiring anti-harassment training. Inform yourself on any requirements in your area to ensure your policy is compliant with local laws. 

Don’t: Include overly restrictive disciplinary practices 

Your employee handbook should lay out what types of conduct can lead to discipline. It should also detail the penalties for different behaviors. However, it’s a mistake to create a restrictive process that applies to all cases. 

If you set your disciplinary policy up this way, you lose the flexibility to handle unique situations. 

Your policy should include a disclaimer that you have the right to skip a disciplinary step as necessary. It is possible that an employee’s unacceptable behavior may leave you no choice but to terminate them for cause. Let your team know you will assess the severity of each issue on a case-by-case basis. 

Do: Make it easy to read

The point of an employee handbook is to clearly distribute company policies to your team. If the language is hard to understand, your team members could end up more confused than ever. 

Keep your policies concise and get rid of any potential ambiguity. Avoid attempting to detail every possible scenario or laying out every management policy in extreme detail. An effective employee handbook provides necessary information without turning into an extensive “terms and conditions” manual that no one reads. 

Don’t: Skip the review 

You might not notice inconsistencies or ambiguities in your policies if you’re writing your own handbook. Errors like this can lead to employees feeling that you don’t enforce policies the same way for all team members.

Consider utilizing an outside expert to review your language and provide guidance on how your policies should be written. An expert can also give you insight on further policies to include based on industry trends. 

Need help crafting an employee handbook? Homebase HR Pro gives you access to certified HR experts who can review your existing policies, help you create new ones, and even provide customizable templates to make crafting an effective handbook as easy as possible. Sign up today! 

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