Employee handbooks, policy and procedure manuals, and other guidelines given to employees can be a very effective way for employers to communicate their expectations to their employees and show that an employee’s bad behavior was in violation of company policies. Yet, employee handbooks can also be a liability to the company by implicitly carving out protections granted to employers. Therefore, employers may want to approach employee handbooks carefully and revisit them often. For example, below are three ways that employers may take proactive steps to reduce the liability that may be contained in employee handbooks, policy and procedure manuals, or other documents governing employee behavior.
1. Tailor the Handbook to the Actual Needs of Your Company
Though it may save on initial time and expense, it may not be wise to copy and paste an online template to use as your employee handbook. Instead, handbooks that are written in easy-to-read language and include policies that reflect the unique needs of the employer are more easily followed by employees. After all, policies and procedures that are full of legal jargon and not followed by employees may not be of much help to the company.
2. Try to Emphasize the At-Will Relationship
Some courts have interpreted policies and procedures manuals to set forth standards that justify an employee’s belief that he or she may not be terminated without cause. This risk may be reduced by removing any language promising continued employment if the employee follows certain policies and by inserting reminders that the employment is at-will and may be terminated by either party, with or without cause, at any time.
3. Consider Revising the Employee Handbook Annually
Each year brings courtdecisions and legislative changes to employment laws that can quickly render your policies and procedures outdated. For instance, sexual harassment policies are coming under scrutiny in some jurisdictions for failing to provide an adequate or clear channel for employees to report sexual harassment. Policies that only list one person for whom employees may report instances of harassment are increasingly being found insufficient by courts. Further, annual review of an employee handbook may keep policies and procedures fresh in employers’ minds and allow them to evaluate how well the company and its employees are complying with them.
Therefore, employers may want to carefully consider drafting new employee handbooks or revising already-existing policies and procedures to limit potential liability to the company