This month, we have been discussing employee handbooks in depth, and have touched base on what vital components you should always include, and the warning signs indicating that your handbook is in need of an update. Just as important as what you need to include in your handbook is what NOT to include. Wording is incredibly crucial and there are a number of phrases, policies, and word choices that should never make their way into your handbook, or should be articulated in such a way that does not create any legal pitfalls for your organization.

Creating a Contract

Avoid any and all language that indicates a promise of employment and the expectation to employees that their employment is guaranteed. Refrain from using language that refers to a “regular” job classification or status as “permanent” and any language that can be perceived as any kind of employment agreement or assurance.

Additionally, at-will statements are crucial to be included in handbooks both as a stand-alone policy and summarized throughout. This statement ensures that the employee knows that their employment is of an at-will nature, and either they or the employer can terminate the employment relationship, at any time, with or without cause or notice.

Making Promises

Similar to avoiding verbiage that can create a perceived contract of employment, you want to make certain that promises in general are not made. For example, avoid wording that promises certain benefits to all employees vs eligible employees, promises of wage increases and bonuses, promises of any particular treatment, etc. Disclaimers throughout your handbook that apply to certain policies make certain that you communicate that such decisions are based on management/the organization’s discretion and indicate the right of management and the organization to make exceptions.

Rigid Disciplinary Procedures

Situations in which disciplinary action is warranted are nearly always reviewed and handled on a case-by-case basis. The severity of the behavior or performance and past histories are factors that may influence your decision of what course of disciplinary action should be administered. A rigid disciplinary policy that follows a strict “step” process leaves your hands tied with regards to skipping steps if the behavior is the employee’s first infraction. Make certain to include a disclaimer stating that the company reserves the right to skip all or more of the indicated steps if necessary.

Legalese Language

A common complaint employees have about their organization’s employee handbooks are that they are incredibly dry and difficult to understand. Often handbooks are created using a template that was created using legal jargon and wording which, while technically compliant, isn’t the most effective way to communicate policies and procedures. When rewriting or creating your handbook, use language that is easy to understand and is tailored to fit the culture of your organization.

Disorganized Structure

Inconsistencies, disorganized layout and structure, and policies that don’t flow well or fit together, are all easily avoidable handbook failures. A well-organized handbook should be grouped into sections (e.g., employee conduct, time away from work, employee benefits, etc.) and the policies in each section should flow together in such a way that content is easy to find and read as needed, making the communication of such information that much easier for your employees to review.

HRCentral specializes in taking your existing handbook and restructuring, rewording, and completely revamping it to create a handbook that is not only up to date and compliant with state and federal law, but fits the tone, language, and overall culture of your organization. Contact us today for the creation or a thorough review and update of your employee handbook.

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