Having Written Policies or a Handbook Protects YOU

 In Assess & Protect

Having Written Policies or a Handbook Protects YOU

Why the h#!! would I even consider having written policies or a handbook?!

Or as one of our clients writes…..

Q: We’re a small family owned company and all my people know the rules. Why would I even consider having written policies or a handbook. They’re boring and way too full of legal mumbo-jumbo.

A: Having written policies or a handbook protects you in so many ways. So don’t be lazy and don’t be scared! A huge amount of money budgeted by enforcement agencies to audit companies, because there have been so many changes in the law recently. As a result, it’s more important than ever to make sure you have written policies for your protection.

Handbooks don’t need to be super long or full of legalese. They can be written in simple plain language when you use the right resources. And it’s easy to say that your staff members know the rules. But having written policies or a handbook protects you. How do you prove that they know the rules if you don’t have them written down and have signatures from everyone showing that they received their copy?

And believe it! The day will come when you need that proof!

Do you need to create a formal Employee Handbook?

Q: We have a few written employee policies in place, but are debating whether we should have a formal handbook. We have more than 50 employees and are finding that we have difficulty implementing policy decisions consistently. Should we have a full-blown formal handbook for employees?

A: Heck Yeah! You should definitely consider creating a formal handbook for your organization. Sound employment policies are like the blueprints for business success. Written policies or a handbook protect you because they provide the framework for setting employee expectations and managing your employee relations. A handbook guides both managers and employees as to what is expected and can prevent misunderstandings about employer policy.

In addition, supervisors and managers are more likely to be consistent in how the policies are actually applied if they are clearly communicated in writing. Plus, carefully written policies demonstrate your commitment to a positive work environment and nondiscriminatory employment practices.

But are written policies legally required?

Now, let us just say this…..Although written policies in general are not legally required, certain state and federal laws do require policies.  At the very least, employers can show good faith compliance efforts, when needed.

For example, the Supreme Court has indicated that employers can help protect themselves against liability for sexual harassment. To do this, you must have clearly written policies against sexual harassment that include effective complaint procedures. Many state laws require written harassment policies and policies informing employees about compensation issues. And finally, some state laws require written termination policies and notifications. So you may want to check with your state agency.

Important tips in writing an Employee Handbook

Q: Will a handbook create a contract or unintended obligations?

A: So, the simple act of putting your policies in writing should not create a binding contract. However, you must write your policies as guidelines that explain generally what your requirements are and how employees normally will be treated. However, a word of warning—you can inadvertently create a contract by using language that conveys rigid rules that must be followed exactly as written in all circumstances.

So, here’s the deal…. you should build flexibility into your wording and steer clear of any promises that could be interpreted as a contract. Your policies should not, for example, state that the company will “only” or “always” do something or “must” act in a particular way or especially describe employees as “permanent.”

Instead, you should use terms like “generally,” “typically,” “usually,” and “may.” This way, managers have some flexibility in interpreting and applying the policies. In addition, you should specifically state that you are retaining management’s right to update, change in any way, and implement all policies as the company sees fit.

Don’t forget the at-will statement in your written policies

Finally, you should include a strong “at-will” statement that clearly specifies that all employees… at least those who don’t have contracts or collective bargaining agreements specifying otherwise….may quit at any time and for any reason or may be terminated at any time and for any lawful reason.

Even when you’re finished drafting or updating your policies, your job is not complete. I know, no rest for the weary! Seriously though, if you’re drafting your own policies, hire legal counsel to review them ensure that they comply with state and federal employment law. Do this before they are finalized and distributed to employees.

And, review the policies on a regular basis (once a year is great) to make sure they continue to comply with the laws that apply to your company and meet the needs of your organization. New laws, regulations, and court cases can affect both policy language and how you implement the policies.

Want to make this whole process EASY??

Correctly written policies or a handbook protects you. Therefore, for that very reason, we’ve created the Employee Handbook Builder. And you can rest assured that they’ve been written by legal counsel and are appropriate for federal and state requirements.

Do you have a story you can share with everyone about how having written policies or a handbook saved you from a major problem or lawsuit?

We’d love to hear from you, and may even feature your story in one of our future posts or training courses.  You can send us a note at [email protected]

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