Which of These Employee Handbook Writing Mistakes is Your Firm Making?

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Employee handbook mistakes
I have seen and helped write my fair share of employee handbooks during my years at Enform HR. Some manuals are so choke-full of legalese that you have to be a lawyer to decipher them, while others go the extra mile to be reader-friendly. Both approaches to writing have their pros and cons.

Stiff, Professional Manuals

A long and wordy employee handbook developed by an HR consulting firm can be comprehensive in educating new workers and protecting your organization against many kinds of lawsuits. But if it is longer than necessary—Forbes warns against 100+ pages long handbooks—, needlessly long-winded, or irritatingly detailed, it will generate consternation among your employees, and they will shun reading it.

Super-Cool Handbooks

On the other hand, an employee handbook, like Valve’s, brings a smile to anyone’s face. When you discover an upbeat note—A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.—on page one, you can be sure the rest of the manual will be a pure joy to read.

Nordstrom takes reader-friendliness to the extreme. The company, renowned for its customer service, writes the entire employee handbook in less than 40 characters. That means you can tweet, “Use good judgment in all situations.” and still have 240 characters left for tags and sharing your personal take on the handbook.

Although clever, the ability of such manuals to withstand a legal challenge remains doubtful.

Avoid the Extremes

In my experience, it makes sense for most firms to avoid the extremes and come up with an employee handbook that’s formal and readable.

Either your human resource department can craft a manual, or you can outsource the work to an HR consulting firm like EnformHR.

In our previous blog, we covered the most common elements in a handbook. This time, we are going to talk about the mistakes that should be avoided.

Adopting a Template Blindly

A quick search on Google provides hundreds of employee handbook templates. Do not make the mistake of using anyone wholesale. Each company is different, and each employee handbook needs to be tailored to its particular situation to be legally meaningful. For instance, you cannot overlook the law of the state you are in, or the multiple ordinances applicable in your city.

Confusing the Handbook for a Contract

Although a well-written employee handbook can protect you from a slew of lawsuits, it is not a contract. Avoid including anything—a severance agreement, an arbitration agreement—that requires your workers to agree with you to be legally binding. A sensible approach will be to avoid getting into too many details and focus on the ones that matter, such as equal employment opportunity.

Letting Your Handbook Go Stale

It is imperative to update your handbook if the nature of your business changes. For instance, you may acquire a manufacturing unit or open shop in a new state. Both instances will need some updates in the handbook for it to remain meaningful. Letting your handbook go stale can lead to multiple legal problems.

Not Making Discrimination and Harassment Policies Explicit

For organizations employing more than a certain number of individuals, it is mandatory to explicitly state that they do not discriminate against people because of their age, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin, or other characteristics falling under federal, state, or local laws. Failing to do so increases the risk of employer liability when things take a turn for the worse.

Not Getting an Acknowledgement from Your Employees

Oftentimes, employees don’t even know that their employer has an employee handbook. Do not be such an employer. Make your employees aware of your manual and create an acknowledgement form where your employees can write that they have read and understood the handbook. An acknowledgement form can prevent ugly scenarios where your employees excuse themselves by saying they were not aware of policy A or B.


The mistakes listed in this blog are the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other pitfalls in creating an employee handbook. The smartest way to avoid them all is to team up an HR consulting firm experienced in drafting employee handbooks.

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Cristina Amyot

Cristina Amyot, SPHR, the firm’s President, leads the HR Services Group. Ms. Amyot graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree and Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management from Rutgers University. She holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and a Life, Accident, and Health Insurance License from the State of New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.

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