Employee Handbook Common Mistakes
Courtesy of the law firm of Lehr Middlebrooks & Vreeland, here are common pitfalls to avoid when you are writing your employee handbook:
- Avoid “legalese” and jargon – Even lawyers should not write an employee handbook like lawyers. Employment policies should be written in clear, easily understandable language. Avoid jargon from your industry. Remember: the most important reader of your handbook in your new employee, who is unlikely to be familiar with acronyms or jargon.
- Avoid ambiguity – Choose your language carefully. Be sure that all of your employees will know what you’re talking about. Ensure clarity.
- Don’t overdo it – Don’t attempt to make your policies so comprehensive that a court might assume they’re intended to cover every conceivable situation. A common mistake is to draft very specific policies and then disregard them. Leave yourself flexibility in your policies and procedures.
- Don’t underdo it – Your employee handbook is your opportunity to communicate critical information to employees about their legal rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and their California counterparts – as well as other important terms and conditions of employment.
- Make sure you don’t have contracts to sign – The last thing you want is to be contractually bound by an employee handbook. The handbook is a tool to communicate with employees, not a contract. Remember that employment is presumed to be “at will” in California unless you, as the employer, do something to mess it up.
- How progressive should you be? – Many employers get caught in very rigid progressive discipline policies. Progressive discipline should reserve flexibility for you to apply any step of discipline, including termination, at any time without having applied earlier steps or given previous warnings. Always leave yourself flexibility when drafting disciplinary policies.