Employee handbooks are extremely useful tools for improving employee performance, communicating your expectations and values as well as ensuring employee compliance with your company’s rules.  However, all too often when giving online legal advice we see employers making the same mistakes over and over again in developing their employee handbook. Employee handbook cover many things, such as Email Use Policy, an Internet Use Policy and a Workplace Health and Safety Policy.

So Legal Vision has put together our list of the most common employer mistakes with employee handbooks and how to avoid them.

Relying on a standard template

Do not just use a standard template from the internet.  Repeat – do not just use a standard template from the internet!

You need an employee handbook which is tailored to your business.  A standard template may not just be irrelevant to your business; it might actually land you in legal hot water, as the template might be written for laws in another country.

You should get online legal advice from a business lawyer or employment lawyer before putting together an employee handbook.

Not updating it

Laws change and situations arise which you hadn’t considered.  Don’t just use the same old handbook year after year; update it!

Be clear

Avoid dreaded ‘legalese’ and try not to be overly technical – this is, after all, an employee handbook designed for employees.  Your number one goal when writing anything is for the audience to understand it.  Keep your employee handbook clear and basic with short sentences and the simplest words you can think of wherever possible.

Don’t be overly specific

Write the employee handbook using broadly stated, non-specific terms – don’t be overly prescriptive; you don’t want this document to create red tape and get in the way of you doing business.

Also go light on the information – you don’t need to consider every single possible scenario.  If there is too much information it’s unlikely that employees will actually read it.

Not putting a disclaimer in the employee handbook

An employee handbook is not a legally binding contract and if you do not make this clear you can end-up being legally bound to the statements you make in it.

How do you ensure you are not legally bound by an employee handbook?  The employee handbook needs to have a disclaimer in it which says it is not a legally binding contract and you should even consider having the employee sign this disclaimer to be absolutely 100% sure.

However, it is possible to make the employee handbook legally binding on both a company and its employees.  In particular, the employee handbook and any company policies can be incorporated into your employees’ terms and conditions of employment, which means that if they are not complied with then it will be a breach of contract and could give rise to rights to terminate the contract (for the employer) or compensation (for the employee).

Contradictory policies

Believe it or not, we often see employee handbooks that are full of policies that apparently contradict each other.  Read your handbook carefully and critically to ensure this is not the case or you might be exposing yourself to risks.

Too much fluff

Don’t go overboard with meaningless feel-good phrases and corporate nonsense.  Make the policies realistic and practical – remember the employee handbook will often leave a lasting impression with your employees, you don’t want to give them the impression you are ‘all words’ and no action.

Conflict with laws and/or company policy

Often employee handbooks contain provisions that are either unlawful or inconsistent with the general direction of the law.  In other cases it’s obvious that an employee handbook doesn’t match the general policies of the business.

If you have any queries about whether your employee handbook complies with relevant laws and legislation speak to a business lawyer or consider getting fixed-fee online legal advice.

Lachlan McKnight

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