HR Management & Compliance

Make Your Employee Handbook Work for You

Most employers these days have some kind of employee handbook. But oftentimes they lapse into an outdated state, or wind up loaded with all sorts of protocols, procedures, and guidelines — some of which have nothing to do with employment issues.

Today we’ll explain why important to treat your employee handbook as a valuable corporate resource that merits regular attention.

Why You Need an Employee Handbook

Suzie is not a star performer. She is habitually late or absent, she’s one of your least productive employees, and her negative attitude is affecting other employees.

One day, she comes in late for the third time in a week. It’s the final straw, and you fire her on the spot. As you should, you carefully document your reasons for her discharge, including her tardiness, in a termination letter.

Two weeks later, you receive a charge of discrimination claiming that she was unlawfully terminated because of her gender.

Suzie claims there was no attendance policy. Instead, she contends you have an unwritten policy allowing employees to arrive to work late if they make up the time at the end of their shift and that all of the men she worked with routinely came in late with no adverse consequences. 


All the California employee handbook policies you need — already written and fully updated.


A Guide for Employees and Management

At its most basic level, an employee handbook is a guide for both employees and management. It should tell employees what you expect of them and what they can expect of you. If you don’t have policies, or you have only informal policies that aren’t written down, it’s much harder to apply them consistently and fairly to all employees.

A published set of policies helps keep everyone on the same page. It also helps prevent liability resulting from any arbitrary or unfair employment decisions (or the perception of such). 

Must Reflect How Things Actually Are

But the work has only just started once a handbook has been written. Handbooks that are overlooked or ignored by employers will cause as many problems as they were intended to solve. While a well-crafted handbook doesn’t have contractual status, there is a widespread expectation that you will follow its terms.

A handbook should reflect the way you actually run your business (so long as it’s legal), not the way you think you should run your business, or the way the guy next door runs his business.

It should also be tailored to your specific circumstances. For instance, if you allow employees to use their work-provided smartphones for personal reasons, you shouldn’t have a policy prohibiting that use.

Having policies that you don’t enforce leads to employee uncertainty about what is expected of them, inconsistent enforcement by management, and increased exposure to employment discrimination claims.

Have an Employee Handbook, Not an Employee Encyclopedia 

Sam is a good employee. He comes in on time, does his work efficiently, and keeps to himself. One day on his lunch break, you find him blogging on his office computer — a violation of a policy in your employee handbook, which is 512 pages long.

The company considers Sam’s actions a serious breach of office policy. When you tell him you will have to discipline him, he becomes very upset and apologizes profusely, explaining that he didn’t think it would be a big deal because he was using his personal time. He tells you he would never dream of surfing the Web during work time.

You explain to Sam that personal use of office computers is strictly prohibited and that the company’s computer-use policy is in the handbook – right between the popcorn policy and the policy prohibiting the wearing of Mardi Gras beads in the office.

Sam sheepishly admits that he tried to read the handbook when he first arrived, but it was difficult to understand and he forgot much of what he read (even though he signed a form saying he read it and agreed to follow it).

As with any agreement, the chances of compliance are enhanced when both parties understand their rights and responsibilities. As a basic measure, make sure your handbook is intelligible and readily accessible to your employees. A tome that details every in and out of your workplace is unnecessary and may be counterproductive.


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Keep General Applicability In Mind

A similar problem exists when handbooks contain rules and regulations that don’t apply to the general employee population.

If you have, for example, a radiation suit policy that applies only to a small fraction of your workforce, don’t leave other employees wondering if they need to suit up when they walk through the door. Specific policies can go into a procedures manual for the relevant division.

Handbook Basics — and Why You Should Rethink Them

You are the only employer, possibly in the entire country, that finds the genetic information of your employees useful. With the passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, you have been very careful to collect genetic information only in permissible ways, and you never use it to discriminate against an employee or applicant.

Sally applies for a job at your company. You decide she’s not a good fit, so you reject her. Unfortunately, she has a rare genetic disorder and claims you discriminated against her on the basis of her genetic information.

In preparing your defense, you confidently pull out your nondiscrimination statement. To your dismay, you find that you forgot to update it to reflect the fact that you don’t discriminate on the basis of genetic information. 
Every employee handbook should have the following policies: 

  • an at-will employment statement;
  • an equal employment opportunity and nondiscrimination statement;
  • a harassment policy;
  • a family and medical leave policy (when applicable);
  • a discipline policy;
  • an attendance policy;
  • vacation and other paid time off policies; and
  • a pay and overtime policy.

These policies are like a computer in that they sometimes require technical updates or “patches” to keep them current and operating at their maximum capacity. For example, some employers have overlooked including sexual orientation and genetic information as protected classes in their nondiscrimination policy.

Coming up tomorrow: Other policies you may have overlooked — and a foolproof way to make sure you never overlook them again.

Download your free copy of 20 Must-Have Employee Handbook Policies today!