A legally savvy, well-written employee handbook can be the most important tool to keep your organization out of court. But a poorly drafted handbook can be worse than having no handbook at all.
Here are 10 questions to help you quickly analyze whether your handbook is a strong lawsuit shield – or a major lawsuit risk:
___1. Does your handbook clearly state that it’s not a contract and that you reserve the right to change it? You can best preserve at-will status by placing disclaimers throughout the handbook. Make clear that all employees are hired on an at-will basis, their employment is for no specific term, both the employer and employee have the right to terminate the relationship at any time (for any legal reason) and that nothing in the handbook should be construed as a contract or guarantee of future employment.
___2. Does your handbook include too much information? If it includes a long list of offenses that warrant discipline or termination, does it make clear that those listed are merely illustrative rather than exhaustive? Employers can wall themselves in if they spell out every detail. It’s better to stay flexible so they can deal with unforeseen circumstances.
On Sept 6, learn how to ‘Bullet-Proof Your Employee Handbook’. At this special HR Specialist Summit session, taught by attorney Brian Bradford, you’ll discover how to spot the ticking time bombs in your handbook and defuse them without drama or lawsuits. Learn more about this session and see the entire agenda at HRS-Summit.com.
___3. Does your handbook make clear that any type of harassment is not tolerated? All the media attention on sexual harassment is distracting from the reality that federal law also protects employees who are harassed for other legally protected reasons (age, race, religion, disability, etc.)
___4. Does it include the dreaded “probation trap”? If you promise an employee that she’ll become a “permanent employee” after completing a certain probationary period of 90 days or six months, you may be unknowingly contracting to keep her on forever. Stay away from probationary periods – employees with contracts are no longer at-will employees.
___5. Does it provide procedures for making complaints? Make sure you include a complaint procedure that complies with the law. Run it by your attorney.
___6. Do your policies match reality? A “Do as I say, not what I do” approach to company policies is legally dangerous. Policies in your handbook must match what’s really going on in your workplace. Inconsistencies serve only to anger employees and enrich their attorneys. Also, don’t put a policy into the handbook if supervisors won’t enforce it – such divergences shake an employer’s credibility.
___7. Do you let it collect dust? It’s important to regularly update your handbook to incorporate changes in laws and your company policies. To make it easier on yourself, don’t include details that are likely to change frequently.
The Summit … less walking, more learning! At those mega HR conferences, you leave only with aching feet. At the Summit, you’ll be trained on every aspect of your HR job in smaller breakout sessions, interactive roundtables and Q&A sessions. Real HR learning! To see the agenda and learn more about our two-track approach (Strategic and Compliance), go to HRS-Summit.com.
___8. Does your handbook conflict with state or local laws? This is especially important if your organization operates in several different locations and states. Any item in your handbook that conflicts with state law is invalid. Have your attorney check for state and local angles.
___9. Have all employees received a copy – and do you have proof? Employees should receive copies of the handbook every time it’s revised. Have a receipt form that employees sign (either electronically or on paper) that shows the employee received the handbook and understands it.
___10. Is it free of political or anti-union statements? Even though you’re entitled to make a reasoned case for keeping your company a nonunion shop, some comments go too far and may create legal problems.
So, how did your handbook stand up to these 10 questions? If you really want to make sure your handbook is in compliance (and for answers to ALL of your HR questions!), join your peers at the HR Specialist Summit, Sept. 4-6. Plus, you’ll have a fabulous time at the legendary MGM Grand Resort & Casino.
See you in Las Vegas!
Dan Kaplan, Esquire
Moderator, 2019 HR Specialist Summit
P.S. Two FREE Bonus Gifts. All HR Specialist Summit attendees will receive comprehensive course materials … 6 months of our HR Specialist newsletter … PLUS 6 months of our HR Specialist: Premium Plus online service – a combined $597.00 value – yours FREE!
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P.P.P.S. We promise you’ll be satisfied. If the HR Specialist Summit fails to meet your needs, we will immediately refund 100% of your tuition. No questions asked – and your free bonus gifts are yours to keep.
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