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Avoid the Top 10 Mistakes in Employee Handbooks

The employee handbook is the cornerstone of any effective employer-employee relationship. Not only does the employee handbook provide written rules and policies — what the employer expects from the employee, but it should also contain proactive policies for employees and families alike — what can the employee and family expect from the organization. Based on SESCO's 60-year history of writing and revising employee handbooks for employers in all 50 states and various industries, we have identified the most common handbook mistakes: 1. Buying "off-the-shelf" handbooks Off-the-shelf handbooks are not customized to the employer, the employer's state laws or the industry. And for those who are not aware of best practices as well as various employment regulations, adopting a form handbook can actually create more problems and restrictions than expected. 2. Including lots of detail on procedures, which confuses employees and provides fodder for lawyers. Stick to company policies in the employee handbook. Develop a separate procedures manual for managers. 3. Mentioning an employee probationary period. Probationary periods, by definition and case law, erodes state at-will status by implying that once the probationary period is completed, the employee is considered "permanent." Use of terms such as "introductory" or "orientation" periods are recommended. 4. Being too specific. This gives the impression that the "list" covers every possible infraction and subsequent disciplinary action. Utilize a progressive discipline procedure, "from verbal warnings up to termination" allowing you the opportunity to enter into any level based upon the employee's background, performance, employment history and the severity of the offense and do not try and list every infraction. 5. Not being consistent with other company documents or management practices. 6. Overlooking an at-will disclaimer. Have employees sign a disclaimer acknowledging that the company can terminate their employment at any time and bypass discipline policies if the situation warrants. Case law requires a prominent disclaimer in the front of the manual, preferably in bold face. 7. Sabotaging disclaimers by what you say, especially reassuring employees that their jobs are secure. 8. Not adapting the handbook to accommodate state laws. State laws are rapidly becoming the basis for employment law and as such, these laws must be carefully reviewed and incorporated into policies. 9. Failing to update the manual frequently for changing laws. Handbooks should be revised by a specialist at least annually. 10. Setting unrealistic policies. If you know your supervisors won't enforce it, don't put it in your handbook. Since 1945, SESCO Management Consultants has specialized in human resource and employee relations consulting services. SESCO is nationally recognized as specialists in employee handbook reviews and custom development. Feel free to call SESCO to discuss their services or to request a review of your employee handbook to ensure that it is not only legally attentive but people sensitive.