The Handbook – Things to Avoid

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.

Top 5 Signs Your Handbook Needs an Update


Last week we discussed 10 things that should be in every Employee Handbook, regardless of size, industry, or location. Taking a step back, why should you have to go through this process on a regular basis? What are the indicators that this is even necessary?

Date of Last Update

At a MINIMUM handbooks should be updated annually. Ideally, they should be updated as certain changes to organizational policies and employment and labor law take effect. If your current handbook has not been reviewed in over a year, it is time to sit down and go through the document, policy by policy, and compare each policy to applicable laws that have recently been amended, organizational changes, and wording to ensure that everything is as up to date and compliant as possible.

Missing Policies

Take a look at our Top 10 Checklist for Employee Handbooks to make sure that your current handbook includes all of these important policies. If any of these are missing or are very sparsely written, they should be updated immediately as the lack of inclusion could potentially lead to legal pitfalls.

Legal Changes (City, State, Federal)

Legal changes happen on a regular basis. If your handbook hasn’t been reviewed or updated in over a year, there is a good chance that there have been a few legal updates, whether that be city, state, or federal, that will have impacted your organization. A thorough review of policies that are impacted by such regulations followed by subsequent updates will ensure that your company is legally compliant.

Organizational Changes (Operational)

Organizations go through internal changes on a regular basis. Changes such as converting from sick and vacation leave to a PTO policy, changes to wardrobe and appearance, the inclusion of telecommuting opportunities for employees and so much more can change your organization for the better. It is vital that these policy modifications be communicated in writing to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding.

Organizational Changes (Cultural)

Changes don’t always directly affect operations and business practices. Often changes that occur within your organization are cultural. New ownership can lead to a revamped mission and vision statement or a merger can result in changes to the code of ethics and standards for conduct. It is just as vital that you communicate these types of changes to your employees through an updated handbook, ensuring that everyone is in the know and agrees to adhere to such modifications.

Have your handbook reviewed at least annually, and do a complete rewrite every two years. Annual changes (or as necessary dependent on legal updates) are necessary to catch any of the five factors listed above, whereas the complete rewrite ensures that you are up to date with any and all changes and updates that affect your organization.

HRCentral is more than happy to give your handbook a thorough review, and is here to offer suggestions for changes or a rewrite. Contact us today!

Top 10 Checklist for Handbooks

Employee Handbooks are often one of the first pieces of documentation a new employee looks at during orientation. A handbook serves as an introduction to your organization and provides employees with an outline of policies and procedures that will apply to them throughout their employment.

Regardless of the size of your organization, your industry, or your location, there are a number of vital components that every handbook should have to ensure that policies are not only compliant but effectively communicated.

Compliance with State, Federal, and Local Law

Staying on top of employment and labor law and updating your handbook annually, or as needed, to ensure compliance is crucial in ensuring that your employees are provided with the most recent and compliant information.

At-Will Employer

The inclusion of an at-will statement, and repeating it throughout your handbook as needed to accompany certain policies, is important to make sure you don’t unknowingly create a contract for employment that is difficult to terminate.

Harassment Policy

Many handbooks have a short and sweet harassment policy. We recommend having a separate section of your handbook which includes not only a longer harassment policy that details the different forms of harassment and what is/is not acceptable, but provides employees with a harassment policy acknowledgment form to sign and return to their manager or HR, indicating their understanding of and agreement to abide by the policy.


Affirmative action and non-discrimination in employment practices is a hot topic in the HR world. Having a policy that indicates your organization’s commitment to promoting non-discrimination in all aspects of employment is not only legally compliant, but can help prevent potential legal pitfalls.

Guidelines for Appropriate Conduct

Guidelines that communicate to your employees what is expected of them with regards to behavior and conduct is a section that is heavily used. This section provides you with an opportunity to communicate standards in areas such as: dress code, attendance, drug and alcohol use, unacceptable behaviors, etc.

Disciplinary Process

Much like the code of conduct section, outlining the disciplinary process is important in ensuring that employees know what is expected of them, what the ramifications are if they violate company policies are, and what the steps of that process entail.

Open-Door and Employee Complaint

Often included as a part of the section on your organization’s disciplinary process, the inclusion of the employee complaint/grievance process is intended to let employees know what they can do if they have any issues at work; whether that be conflict with another employee, a disagreement with a piece of disciplinary documentation, or a report as a witness to a violation.

It is also important to communicate that you have an open-door policy, and that employees are always welcome to come and talk to you about any issues they have, in a confidential and safe environment.

Internet/Computer/Device Policy

In today’s technology-drive workforce, employees are constantly working with computers, email, mobile phones and other electronic devices. A beneficial tool, the expectations for the use of company property is important to ensure that there is no abuse of such equipment and resources, and productivity and confidentiality are maintained.


A handbook doesn’t have to be long and extremely detailed. For benefits, it is not necessary to include complete benefit plan summaries. Providing an outline of the benefit programs offered to employees (including health, dental, vision, retirement, etc.) is more than sufficient, with a mention of a point of contact for additional information or questions.

Acknowledgement Form

Much like the form that accompanies the harassment policy, an acknowledgment for that recognizes the employee’s understanding of the communicated policies and their agreement to abide by them is a vital piece of your handbook. Without this acknowledgment of receipt and understanding, the policies and procedures hold no meaning.

Creating and maintaining a thorough and complete handbook can be a challenge, especially with countless other tasks coming your way on a daily basis. HRCentral can help you create or update/modify your handbook, ensuring effective communication of these policies and compliance with applicable law.

The Importance of Policies: A Well Drafted Handbook

Lucas is a new hire at a local medical clinic. During his orientation, the HR Manager gives him the organization’s Employee Handbook to read and review. He skims through the relatively short document and moves on to the next part of his orientation.

2 months down the road, Lucas misses 3 days of work in a row and fails to call his supervisor to inform her of his absence. On the fourth day, he returns to his job and is terminated for job abandonment. Lucas informs his supervisor that this policy was never communicated to him. Why should he be terminated for violating a policy he was not aware of?

After a review of the Employee Handbook, it was discovered that the attendance policy did not indicate that 3 days of missed work without notification would result in termination; rather, this was an old, verbally communicated policy. Additionally, Lucas never signed a Handbook Acknowledgement form, so there was no proof that he had even reviewed the handbook. The company rescinds the termination, and Lucas returns to his job.

Many companies have been using the same handbook for years. A common assumption is that so long as the basic info is there, you’ll be fine. Wrong! The importance of a well drafted, well worded, and complete handbook could not be more crucial than it is today, state and federal employment and labor laws frequently being modified, and organizations such as the NLRB and DOL cracking down on non-compliance.

This month, we will be addressing a number of factors that apply to your handbook:

Top 10 Checklist for Handbooks – The list of things you can include in your handbook is endless. There are a number of vital policies that should be a part of every handbook, regardless of size, industry, or location.

Top 5 Signs your Handbook needs an Update – If certain components are missing, if particular wording is not there, if your handbook hasn’t been reviewed in a few years, it may be time for a thorough review and update to avoid potential pitfalls.

Things to Avoid in your Handbook – Just as important as what you need to include in your handbook is what NOT to include. Wording is very crucial and there are a number of phrases, policies, and word choices that should never make their way into your handbook.