Posted on / Updated on / in Blog & Employee Handbook & Employment Policies /

If you were asked to look at your company’s employee handbook right now, would cobwebs be attached when you pulled it out of the drawer? Would you have to blow through a thick layer of dust to identify it? Would it create enough of a breathing hazard to send all the asthmatics home for the day?

If this is the story at your company, it’s not only the case that your policies aren’t being used to your company’s advantage, but you could also be setting your business or organization up for significant liability (which can be very costly).

Many companies have an employee handbook because it’s “something they are supposed to have,” but after all of the work they did to develop it, they never take it out of the drawer. If this is the case they obviously don’t follow the policies within. This happens all too often, especially in smaller businesses who are unaware of the dangers that come with not following standard company policies.

Here are Some Common Reasons Why Employers Fail to Use Their Employee Handbooks:

  1. Change in Command – The employee responsible for policy deployment leaves and is not replaced or is replaced by someone less capable.
  2. Obsolete Policies – The handbook has not been updated in years, and rather than spend the time to update it, the company operates on verbal practices instead (very risky business).
  3. Relying on Word of Mouth (aka neglect) – Some managers would rather ask someone about a policy than look it up in the handbook. Depending on who you ask, you can get conflicting answers. This type of communication ultimately leads to every employee having a different view of what the company policies are.

If you Aren’t Going to Use Your Employee Handbook, You Are Better Off Not Having One at All.  Here’s why:

  1. Inconsistent Application of Employee Handbook Policies – If you don’t follow your policies consistently, you run the risk of applying them differently for different employees. This will breed complaints of unfair treatment, which can and most likely will give rise to unlawful discrimination lawsuits. It’s just a matter of time.
  2. Making Promises That are Ultimately Not Kept – If certain benefits are promised in the employee handbook and are not followed through on, one savvy employee can start a ruckus and you could end up with a mutiny on your hands. Make sure you know your benefits, and if a benefit is discontinued, send out a notice, and then remove it from the handbook at update time.Think about this as an example. What if your employee handbook contains a policy that employees are to receive a raise each year following a good performance review, but this never happens. How is this going to make your employees feel about the job they are doing? They’re going to think something is wrong, and they’re going to spend a significant amount of time worrying about that rather than doing their jobs.Not following your own policies is a surefire way to demotivate your employees.
  3. Outdated Policies – If your handbook is not used consistently and is not updated regularly it will not reflect the latest changes in employment law and company policy, therefore causing confusing, inaccurate, and in some cases, illegal practices.If your employee handbook hasn’t been updated in the last two years we recommend taking care of this right away.

Here’s What You Can Do to Encourage the Use of Your Employee Handbook (and make sure it is your ally, not your enemy).

  1. Update Your Employee Handbook Regularly – I recommend to my clients to update their handbooks at least once every two years and when significant changes in employment law or company policy occur. When laws or policies change in the interim, send out notices to employees, have them sign receipt of the notice, and include in the next handbook update.
  2. Train Your Employees on Your Policies – This goes for their initial hiring as well as every time your handbook is updated. You should conduct roll out meetings to inform employees and managers of the changes and have them sign acknowledgement forms that they have read the policies within. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and aware of company policies.
  3. Schedule an Employee Handbook Review – Always ask a Certified HR Professional or an attorney, preferably someone who is familiar in employment law, to conduct a cursory legal review to make sure your handbook does not contain language that can cause you legal problems down the road.

So What’s the Lesson Here About Your Employee Handbook?

Use it!!! Just having an employee handbook isn’t enough. You have to use and follow it to reduce your risk (assuming it is written well). Conduct annual training for managers on policies and procedures and use the employee handbook as the textbook – that’s one of its main purposes.

Encourage managers to consult the handbook first before contacting HR for answers. Making sure everyone is educated about your employee handbook policies not only cuts down on lost productivity, but also reduces risk of costly employee relations issues.

Is Your Employee Handbook As Safe As You Think? 

Many employers make the mistake of creating an employee handbook once and never touching it again.

Unfortunately, laws change. And that means so must your employee handbook, at least once every two years.

Download Our Free Employee Handbook Analysis Toolkit to ensure your employee handbook is up to date and that you’re doing all the right things with your company policies.

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.