HR Management & Compliance

Handbook Acknowledgments—Why They’re Important

Most employers have some type of handbook to outline policies and expectations and keep everything in one place for employees to reference. However, not all employers ask employees to sign an acknowledgment form; it’s often viewed as an extra unnecessary step because employees already have the information they need.

An acknowledgment is critical, however, because it confirms employees know the organization’s expectations and serves as documentation that employees should have known the policies if there is a disciplinary issue, providing the organization with some protection.

When an employee signs a handbook acknowledgment, it should state the following, at a minimum:

  • Which handbook version is being referenced. Employees should sign a new acknowledgment with each handbook update.
  • A note that this version supersedes any previous versions the employee may have received.
  • A note that the company reserves the right to update or modify any of the company policies (the handbook contents) at any time.
  • A confirmation that employment is at will and that no policy within the handbook changes that. It should note that the handbook is not an employment contract and does not guarantee employment.
  • The signature line should say that the employee has received and read and understands the contents of the handbook (if he or she has been given time to do so) OR that he or she acknowledges it is his or her responsibility to read and understand it and talk to HR with any questions. The latter is typically used for acknowledgments that are signed immediately upon receipt of the handbook.

Additional Considerations

  • It may be useful to call out specific policies, such as the disciplinary policy or antiharassment policy. This note could read: “Employee acknowledges that the handbook outlines employee behavioral expectations and that violations of these may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination, even for a first offense when appropriate.”
  • It may be advisable to indicate that no one in the organization has the authority to provide an employment contract or make a change to an employee’s at-will employment status. If there are any exceptions to this statement, they should be clearly noted using the title of the role with that authority rather than the name of the individual in case the role changes personnel.

Most employers treat handbook acknowledgments as mandatory, as it could be a potential red flag if an employee refuses to sign. What has your experience been? Do you require signed handbook acknowledgments?