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What not to include in an employee handbook

On Behalf of | Apr 22, 2024 | Employment Law for Employers |

A good employee handbook is valuable for New York employers. Your employee handbook helps employees understand both the policies and procedures of your company and provides you with an opportunity to illustrate your company’s culture.

Benefits of an employee handbook

There are many reasons to have an employee handbook. It allows you to communicate expectations to employees in one clear format and ensures they understand what to expect.

Another crucial reason to have an employee handbook is legal protection. An employee handbook protects your company and employees by communicating policies such as anti-harassment or discrimination policies.

An employee handbook is also a great place to outline a resolution process for workplace disputes. A policy that must be followed for all disputes reduces conflict and makes it easier to make fair decisions when workplace disputes arise.

While there are many topics your employee handbook should cover, there are also some topics to avoid.

Illegal policies and procedures

While this may sound like common sense advice, do not include any illegal policies in your employee handbook. For example, a policy forbidding employees to discuss salary is likely illegal.

Remember that this can extend to many different areas you may not initially think about, such as dress codes. Some policies may be inadvertently discriminatory.

It is best to avoid this problem by having your employee handbook reviewed by a legal professional before distributing it to employees.

However, your employee handbook should also include critical legal policies. Make sure any legal policies, such as an at-will employment policy or employee rights under certain federal or state laws, are included.

Not giving a reason for the rules

Try to avoid focusing only on spelling out the rules. Bland, dry language simply stating rules and regulations can be a turn off for employees.

While detailed rules and regulations should be included, incorporate language about the purpose of the rules. Employees generally take rules more seriously when they understand the reason for them.

Do not use complicated language or too much legalese. Handbook language should be professional, yet understandable.

Avoid vague or ambiguous language, especially when it comes to harassment, discrimination or retaliation policies. Include language that specifically states what statements or behavior is unacceptable.

An inflexible disciplinary policy

If you include a disciplinary policy, give yourself discretion when necessary. A “one size fits all” discipline policy might cause problems rather than solving them.

Sometimes violation of a policy may justify a warning, while another might be grounds for immediate termination.

For example, if you have a no-phones policy, an employee receiving a call about a family emergency could be cause for a gentle warning, while an employee who causes an accident injuring others because they were playing a game on their phone could justify immediate termination.

Do not forget to review and update

Any employee handbook should be regularly reviewed and updated. As your company changes and grows over the years, so should your employee handbook.

Regular reviews of your employee handbook can help you learn about policies that might have caused confusion or been misinterpreted by employees. Reviewing gives you an opportunity to update policies before problems arise.

Additionally, employees who know the employee handbook is updated regularly are more likely to feel a sense of security and reliability in its contents. This can result in more productive and loyal employees who help your company succeed.