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Wednesday
Mar152000

10 Problems You Can Prevent With An Effective Employee Handbook

1) Prevent unlawful termination claims from employees that do not work out.

State your policy that employment with your company is on an "at-will" basis. This statement must be at the beginning of your handbook and must be "clear and conspicuous."

2) Prevent courts from rewriting your employment-at-will policy.

Courts look for ways to get around employment-at-will and require "just cause" for termination. This is a difficult standard to meet and should be avoided. Do not use terms such as "permanent employee," "probationary employee," "probationary period," "cause," "good cause," "cause for termination," "annual salary," "job protection," "job security," etc.... Courts have used terms such as these as an excuse to rewrite employee handbooks.

3) Prevent breach of contract or discrimination claims from disciplined employees.

Remove all discipline provisions from your handbook. Progressive discipline can be a fair, effective and legally acceptable means of handling most employee problems. Some problems, however, may require action not anticipated by even the best of policies. Also, list "rules of conduct" instead of "reasons for discipline." You want to let your employees know what is unacceptable conduct without limiting your right to discipline inappropriate behavior.

4) Prevent and correct sexual harassment.

The United States Supreme Court recently rewrote the laws on sexual harassment. Do not rely on outdated policies. The recent decisions illustrate the risks employers face but also provide strategies employers can use to prevent liability. These Court rulings make clear you must be serious about preventing harassment or risk being sued.

5) Prevent mistakes contained in other firms' handbooks.

It is common practice to use other companies' handbooks as guides when preparing employee handbooks. This can expose you to legal risks. There are a number of common provisions that can subject you to liability. Even a giant multi national oil company lost big dollars a few years ago because of a handbook statement. Do not let the mistakes of others put your company at risk.

6) Prevent vacation pay disputes with departing employees.

Vacation pay for departing employees has been the subject of many disputes. Do not describe vacations in entitlement terms. Instead, make clear vacations are a benefit designed for the rest and relaxation of current, active employees, without loss of pay.

7) Prevent legal risks created by modern electronic communications.

Describe proper and improper use of fax machines, pagers, voice mail, email, Internet access and other forms of electronic communications. Warn employees that these communications are not private, prohibit their use for discussing confidential information and preserve your right to monitor these communications.

8) Preserve your right to change, modify or deviate from your handbook's policies.

The law and business practices are constantly changing. Sexual harassment was unheard of a few years ago. The same is true of the Internet. State that your handbook is not a contract, is an overview of some but not all of your policies and it can be amended, modified, suspended or discontinued.

9) Prevent "negligent evaluation" claims by disgruntled employees.

Performance reviews are an important management tool. Unfortunately, day-to day business demands, the difficulty of making evaluations and differences between managers may result in irregular, inconsistent or incomplete evaluations. It is better to preserve your flexibility and not discuss reviews than to state a policy that you may not meet.

10) Preserve your ability to handle problems as the situation may require.

Your supervisors need to know your management policies, such as how to hire employees, how to perform evaluations or how to discipline problem employees. However you should not make these policies part of your "contract" with your employees. Communicate your expectations to your supervisors in a separate supervisor's handbook or in policy statements to your managers, not in the handbook for all employees.

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