• Sasha Struthers

Your Employee Handbook is Garbage & Here are 7 Ways to Make it Better

Harsh, but true. Employee handbooks are often times at best a formality. They exist. You give them to an employee (maybe). They sit in a filing cabinet somewhere and the only time you pull it out is when you are being sued and your attorney asks for it. I often get told "yea I have an employee handbook somewhere, I'll find it." Employers do themselves a major disservice neglecting their employee handbook. If and when a lawsuit comes around, an employee handbook is only as valuable as its actual implementation in the workplace. A handbook you don't implement, follow or enforce cannot be a good defense later on.

Here are 7 things you should do with your employee handbook.

  1. Read it. If you take anything away from this blog please, pretty please, at least go and read your handbook so you know what is in it. If you don't know what your workplace policies are chances are no one else does.

  2. Update it annually. Employment laws change multiple times a year in many different aspects and industries. From year to year an employer can be subject to entirely different wage and hour laws, harassment, discrimination and retaliations laws and health and safety laws. Further, laws change at a federal, state and local level. Local laws being the most strict. Here in Los Angeles you have LA City, LA County and other cities in Los Angeles that are not LA City or LA County! Reviewing your handbook once a year is a must. In 2021 employers need to consider work from home, anti-harassment, COVID-19 and drug-testing policies that don't conflict with state and federal law. If you have no idea what legal updates you'd need to consider then call an attorney, like myself.

  3. Remove "For Cause" termination clauses you don't want. I did a blog explaining "At Will" employment which talked about how employers often have "For Cause" policies in their handbooks they don't even know about. "For Cause" termination policies come in many forms, often a "3 Strikes" rule or a list of the reasons an employee can be terminated. But what employers miss is that when you have a clause that states an employee can only be terminated for cause then you can't just terminate them at will any more. Employers usually have no idea this is even in their handbook, but they are bound to it. If you don't want to do away with "At Will" employment, make sure your handbook doesn't have language otherwise.

  4. Enforce probation periods if you offer them. I can tell you this from many a lawsuit- employers sense a bad seed employee a mile away and they do nothing about it. Then that bad seed employee later sues. It is an intuition many ignore because they need the help and don't have the time or energy to vet out replacements. A probation period is a time for employers to really see if an employee is suitable for long term employment, ie. they show up on time, they are trainable, they work well with others, etc. I've learned when employers are too gracious with employees and don't discipline they get taken advantage of.

  5. Make it specific to your industry. All industries very in what is customary and usual in the course of business. Your handbook should be mindful of that. Because each industry and even workplace are different you want to make sure your rules are something you can stick to and still operate efficiently.

  6. Remove inapplicable policies. Most employers get a template handbook that is either from an old business, a friend or they bought from an HR company years ago. These are template for a reason, they are meant to be expanded up or reduced depending on the business itself. Employee handbook don't need to be dense and very long. Having filler policies or template policies that don't apply to your business makes is useless and can bind you to rules you don't need to be bound to.

  7. Train Employees. Employee training is a huge missed opportunity for employers. Employee training is required for safety reasons, to do a specific job and sometimes mandatory such as sexual harassment training. But employers rarely train on the employee handbook. They give the employee a copy, have them sign an acknowledgment and think that is enough. If you really want an employee to follow the rules then train them on the rules. Don't assume employees know the rules simply because they signed the acknowledgement. No employee has ever really read the handbook!

An employer is free to change their handbook when they want, with few exceptions like employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements, in which you can't necessarily unilaterally change your rules. It is always advisable to have an attorney look over your employee handbook to ensure it is relevant, applicable and legally up to date. I offer this, and many other affordable preventative care services to employers- pricing information can be found here.

If you have any employee issues, employment law questions or questions regarding this post feel free to reach out to me. You may contact me by phone at (818) 306-0686 or by email at sasha@struthers.legal

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The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.