Allevity Blog

Typical Employee Handbook Mistakes

Aug 10, 2015

By nature, employee handbooks are just about the most dry reading material anyone has ever come across. But that’s because they have to be. 

A good employee handbook is dry because when you start spicing them up to make them into a more entertaining read – you run the risk of communicating something that could actually get your company in trouble down the line. That’s the one thing a lot of people seem to forget – the employee handbook can either help you or hurt you if you wind up in court or if your policies ever come into question.

So the first rule of a good employee handbook? Keep it simple and boring. 

But what other mistakes should you be trying to avoid?

Being too Vague

Leadership should hopefully be looking to the employee handbooks regularly for guidance on company policies. If those policies are vague, all that room for interpretation could get a company in trouble. 

Take overtime and rest periods, for instance. There are very clear guidelines put out by the state of California regarding these rest periods, and a good employee handbook should list out those standards explicitly.  The same goes for overtime policies. It’s not enough to just state you comply with California Law. You have to draw those policies out so that if they ever come into question, you can clearly point to your handbook and show that you are educating your staff members on what complying with the law entails. 

Too Much Detail

Then again, there are also times when too much detail can get a company into trouble. Case in point: detailed disciplinary procedures.

How you discipline your employees is not dictated by California Law, but going into a lot of detail regarding those policies does wind up holding your company to that standard – which isn’t always realistic in every situation. For instance, if your policy calls for a verbal first warning, are you expected to stick to that even when more egregious actions take place? 

It is important to maintain consistency with discipline, but having a disciplinary policy outlined in your handbooks can tie your hands in the future. Instead, you should keep your disciplinary policy short and sweet, reminding employees that “the violation of any company policy may lead to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.” 

Not in Line with the Law

One of the biggest mistakes a company can make with their employee handbooks is outlining policies that actually deviate from what the law requires. For instance, if you have a “use it or lose it” policy surrounding paid time off or vacation – you’re going against the law. And what’s worse, you have that in writing. 

You should always have an Attorney or a Human Resources professional review your entire handbook to ensure compliance with the law. 

Unenforceable Electronic Communications Policies

With the rise of social networking, and nearly everyone attached 24/7 to their e-mail accounts – both personal and professional – it’s no wonder that companies are looking for ways to crack down on personal electronics use during work hours. But did you know that you can’t just outright dictate electronic communications be used only for business purposes? That’s because the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has deemed such policies to have a “chilling” effect on union organizing – which means they are a no-no. 

That doesn’t mean that Electronic Communications Policies don’t have a place, though. You should still use them to inform employees that they do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when using company electronics. 

Failing to Routinely Update

Above all else, the biggest mistake companies make with their employee handbooks is ignoring them. The laws are always changing, which means that your policies should forever be in a state of flux as well. Review and update regularly, or you run the risk of your handbook falling behind. 

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