Does Your Employee Handbook Work For You or Against You?

Written by Robert G. Brody and Rebecca Goldberg on May 30, 2013

Employee handbooks are a great tool for management.  A good handbook can help ensure consistent application of rules, save time by making policy decisions that don’t need to be reinvented every time the issue arises, guard against employees’ claims of ignorance of the rules (and help you win an unemployment claim), satisfy legal posting requirements, and even “sell” the company as a great place to work.  Unfortunately, a bad handbook can set the wrong tone at your company, be too specific or not specific enough to be useful, unintentionally create an employment contract, or violate the law by maintaining unlawful policies even if they are never enforced.  If you do not have a handbook, it was written a very long time ago, or it was written by anyone other than a competent labor and employment attorney or HR expert, you should strongly consider changing that.

Problem: You do not have a handbook.

If you do not have a handbook, the solution is to get one!  There really is no situation in which a good handbook would be a bad idea.  Some employers worry a handbook will be too formal for their workplaces, but this does not have to be the case.  Your handbook should reflect the values of your workplace, and can be fun and creative while still serving as a legal tool.

Problem: Your handbook was last updated during the Nixon Administration.

If you have a handbook, but it is very outdated, you must decide whether to update your existing handbook or start fresh.  It can be more cost-effective to have a new handbook created than to go back and modify outdated policies.  If you (and more importantly, your employees) are wed to the old version, have it updated.  Either way, get an up-to-date handbook.

The legal landscape is changing quickly and you must keep your handbook up-to-date.  It is important to stay abreast of legal developments on the local, state, and federal levels to ensure you are complying with all applicable laws.  In the past year, employers have had to scrutinize their policies on social mediaconfidentiality of investigationsemployment at willbackground checksuse of credit scores, and more due to legislative and agency actions.  To prepare for the next round of legal changes, consider distributing your handbook in three-ring binders so policies can easily be replaced as changes become necessary.  Put the date on each page, so it is clear when different policies were introduced.

Problem: Your handbook was taken off the Internet or was written by your friend’s uncle’s hairdresser.

It is best to have your handbook written by a competent labor and employment attorney or HR expert.  Labor and employment law is an expansive field with numerous complex and technical issues.  Small differences in wording can make a difference.  For example, a policy banning social media use during “company time” is unlawful, while a policy banning social media use during “work time” is legitimate.  Some handbooks taken off the Internet are written by people who understand such subtleties, but if the quality of the author is unknown, you are taking a risk.  For example, a standard handbook may say employees are paid bi-weekly, but in some states and in some industries, employees must be paid weekly.  A qualified person can spot these issues and ensure your handbook is appropriately tailored to your needs and your state’s specific mandates.

A well-written handbook can save your company from a lot of headaches, while a poorly written one can create new liabilities.  Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on all labor management issues and can assist in drafting or updating your employee handbook.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.

About the Authors

Robert G. Brody is the founding member of Brody and Associates, LLC. He has been quoted and published in national publications and appears as a guest T.V. commentator on contemporary Labor and Employment issues. Learn More