Does your business have an employee handbook? The importance of a proper policy manual cannot be overstated! Even if you only employ a few workers, it’s in your best interest to establish clear guidelines. Putting company rules in writing sets expectations and reduces misunderstandings.

Most important, formal personnel policies protect your business in the event of an employee dispute. If an employee gets terminated for violating a policy – you have proof that the employee knew about the policy and violated it willfully.

Let’s look at four common mistakes employers make when it comes to their personnel policies.

Mistake #1 – Your handbook doesn’t cover the essentials

The first thing you need to do is check that you have the basic policies in place. Maybe your business doesn’t have a formal employee handbook – or you’ve only introduced a couple of policies to your staff. If that’s the case, then you should know that these are the “must haves” for any business:

  • At-Will Employment: Employment status generally falls into two categories: contractual and “at-will.” If no contract exists, a worker’s status is likely at-will. This means the employment relationship can be terminated at any time, by either the employee or the employer, for any reason or no reason at all. The only limitation is that you cannot terminate an employee for an illegal reason (e.g., because they’re too old, are female, have a disability, etc.). Having a written policy that reinforces your right to discharge at-will can help your defense in a wrongful termination case.
  • Payroll: Your payroll policy should include definitions of exempt (“salaried) and non-exempt (“hourly”) employee classifications, as well as details on your pay period, payday, overtime-authorization rules and any meal/rest break guidelines for hourly employees. You should also explain how payroll deductions are handled for time off.
  • Attendance: A solid attendance policy will cover work hours, start and finish times, and the reporting procedure if an employee is going to be late or absent due to illness or other circumstances. It should also define tardiness. For example, your policy may state: “If you are not at your work station within 10 minutes of your start time, it is considered an official tardy.”
  • Time Off/PTO: This policy should cover paid holidays and paid time-off guidelines. It should also answer these common employee questions: Do I have separate sick days and vacation days? How does my time off accrue? When can I start using it? What happens if I don’t use my time? Does it roll over to the next year? What happens to earned time off if I quit or I’m terminated?
  • Rules of Conduct: Your conduct policy can set expectations on everything from dress code and customer interaction to personal use of company equipment and cell phones. In addition to laying the ground rules for your workplace, your policy should include this phrase regarding conduct: “And any other management rules.” This covers you if a rule is broken that is not specifically listed on the policy.
  • EEO/Harassment: This policy prohibits discrimination and harassment of any kind. It is generally illegal to discriminate or harass workers based on gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age or disability. Depending on the location of your business, it may also be illegal to discriminate against workers based on sexual orientation, sexual identity or even political affiliation. Find out what your local laws are and make sure they’re covered.
A harassment policy can help protect you in court. Be sure to provide details on how to report a concern, including two points of contact within the company. Also, incorporate an anti-retaliation statement such as, “Retaliation against any applicant or employee for making a report, for resisting or opposing harassment, or for participating in an investigation is strictly forbidden.” Your policy should also contain this language: “We will keep your complaint as confidential as possible under the circumstances.”

Mistake #2 – Your handbook doesn’t include trending policies

Today’s workplaces are constantly changing, and employee manuals need to reflect these shifts. Addressing the latest workplace trends can help set clear boundaries in more areas. Here are some policies to consider for your company:

  • Drug and Alcohol: This is a hot topic due to expanding laws legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes. The first thing to keep in mind is that marijuana is still against federal law, so you can prohibit it and test for it. However, you must consider state laws that allow more employee rights. Your policy should address the substances you want to prohibit, any testing procedures and disciplinary measures for policy violations.
  • Workplace Violence: This policy should establish a “zero tolerance” code of conduct. It should explain that any violence targeting workers, customers, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who comes in contact with company personnel is strictly forbidden. It should clearly state your company’s commitment to a safe workplace. Finally, it should include information about how to report a suspicion or incident.
  • Weapons in the Workplace: No federal law regulates weapons at work. However, several states have enacted some form of guns-at-work laws, which vary greatly. For states that allow concealed carry with a permit, keep in mind you still have the right to prohibit workers from bringing their weapons into the workplace.

More than 20 states allow employees to keep legally obtained guns concealed in their vehicles. If your business is located in one of these states, explain in your policy how the weapons are to be stored.

  • Social Media: This policy should list confidential information that can’t be shared on social media sites. And it should cover the use of social media when at work. Be aware that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has established guidelines that should be followed.
  • Remote Workers: Many companies allow employees to work remotely from home or some other location outside the office. However, not all jobs and employees are suited for remote work, so you need to clarify the company’s position. Your policy should specify who is eligible for remote work and how the work will be monitored. In addition, you should include language saying that you reserve the right to end the ability to work remotely at any time.

Mistake #3: You’re not doing regular policy reviews and updates

Too many businesses have a “set it and forget it” mindset with employee handbooks, assuming their job is done once the handbook is created. Not so. It’s critical to review your policies and make necessary updates regularly. It’s one of the employee handbook best practices all businesses should do.

At least once a year, carefully review each policy to verify the information still applies to your business. In your harassment policy, for example, check that the designated contacts still work at your company – and that the contact details are current. And if any federal, state or local laws have changed, make those changes to your employee handbook.

Every time you update your handbook, plan to distribute the revised policies to your staff. Have employees sign an acknowledgment stating they received the policies, read them and understand their content. Keep a copy of the signed acknowledgement in the employee’s personnel file, as well.

Mistake #4: You think handbooks are a hassle

When it comes to creating and updating an employee handbook, you don’t have to do it alone – nor does it have to take weeks. The web-based Company Policies Smart App provides recommended policies for businesses to implement based on their location.

Each policy is attorney written and editable so businesses can add specific details and make changes that pertain to their unique policies. Notifying employees of new policies is simple. And you can view when employees have viewed your policies.

Key Takeaways
  • Putting company policies in writing helps set employee expectations and reduce misunderstandings.
  • Formal policies can protect your business in the event of an employee dispute.
  • The “must have” policies are at-will employment, payroll, time off, rules of conduct, harassment and attendance.
  • Your handbook should address the latest workplace trends.
  • Plan to review and update your handbook personnel policies regularly.