Avoid these common errors when creating handbook policies

Posted May 3, 2017

By Michael Henckel, associate editor, J. J. Keller & Associates

Creating and maintaining an employee handbook may be time consuming, but having one in place could prove to be an organization’s best legal defense.

Just having a handbook, though, isn’t enough. Careful consideration must be given to the policies within: Overly restrictive policies can limit an employer’s flexibility, while policies that are too vague can make it difficult to hold employees responsible. Avoid the common errors that follow to find an appropriate balance.

Limited harassment policy

Employers should have a policy on more than just sexual harassment; harassment complaints can also be based on race, age, religion, and other protected categories. Clearly defining prohibited harassment will not only help prevent such behavior in your workplace, but should also help you defend harassment claims.

Provide examples of the type of actions you deem as harassment instead of relying solely on terms defined in harassment laws. By doing so, you can establish parameters for acceptable behavior in your workplace, while making sure employees know that the list of examples is not exhaustive.

Missing at-will employment disclaimer

Your employee handbook is essentially an agreement made between you and your employees. Written haphazardly, the handbook can create challenges to the at-will employment relationship. The handbook should include a disclaimer statement explaining that the handbook is not intended to create an actual or implied employment contract.

Specifically, an employee acknowledgement page, which requires employees to verify that they have received the handbook, can be a good place to include an at-will disclaimer.

Restricted overtime

Overtime policies may limit the number of overtime hours employees work and may also require supervisor approval for overtime. Such policies may not, however, indicate that unauthorized overtime will not be paid. All hours worked must be paid, even if employees work more than the approved number of hours.

Prohibiting salary discussions

Many employers believe they can have a policy that forbids employees from discussing their salary with other employees. This is simply not true. The National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to discuss terms and conditions of employment, which includes salary information.

Setting it and forgetting it

Your handbook should not be a one-and-done endeavor. Employment laws change, and so should the policies within the handbook. A regular review of policies (every six months or annually) will help ensure that policies are up to date. Regular communication with employees about your policies and changes as they are made will further ensure that employees understand your company’s most current expectations.

About the author:

Michael Henckel

Michael Henckel is an associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. Henckel specializes in topics such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, employee classification, and compensation. He is the author of J. J. Keller’s FSLA Essentials guidance manual. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com/hr.