How Handy Is Your Handbook?
– and – HR Mastery Groups 2016

Arlene Vernon

Arlene VernonBe sure to read the second article below if you’re interested in joining the HR Mastery Group I facilitate, which is a great group of HR professionals who meet monthly to share HR ideas, acquire solid HR learning and get free “hotline” consulting advice from me.

As I promised in my last newsletter, this edition includes a few tips from my Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ Leadership Conference presentation: Reviving Your Employee Handbook From Obscurity.

Interestingly, since then I’ve received multiple requests to audit and update some handbooks that haven’t been reviewed in over 10 years. Does that sound familiar to you? Or are you thinking, “My 5-year old handbook doesn’t seem so out-of-date, now!”

While some of you are on top of your handbook updating it regularly, many of you have that project on the back burner. With all the changing employment laws, it’s important to move your handbook from that back burner to the front and start editing and updating.

Here’s what I see as the top 6 common policy mistakes:

1. Probationary Period: Do you still use this “old” wording? First, ask yourself whether you’re really reviewing employees during their first 60 or 90 days; if not, why include this policy? Second, the opposite of a “probationary employee” is a “permanent employee,” which could nullify your employment at-will rights. So, if you are conducting reviews on your new hires, change this policy title to Orientation or Introductory Period. But remember to include that “employees may be terminated during or following the orientation period.” And if you use the term “permanent” employee elsewhere in your handbook, change it to “regular” employee so that you don’t imply employment for life.

2. Progressive Discipline is another concept that we like to follow but that we do not want to state in our handbooks that we must follow. We need an out, so that if an employee steals from us, we don’t have to give (1) a verbal warning, (2) a written warning, and then (3) terminate them. The “3 strikes you’re out” policy is more for performance than policy violations. I prefer to just list a variety of disiplinary actions we can take, and state that management has the right to determine the appropriate action depending on the circumstances including immediate termination.

3. Technology Issues are frequently ignored in handbooks. I could write volumes on this topic. So, pay attention to your internal technology and whether you’re protected. Most important is to clearly state that you own and can access all forms of Company technology as well as what’s created on that technology. So consider: how employees utilize cell phones and other personal devices, broad prohibitions of social media, laptops that go home with sensitive information, who owns your company’s Facebook/LinkedIn rights, etc.

4. Leaves of Absence get more and more complicated. It’s important to know what you are and aren’t required to grant. If you have 50+ employees, then FMLA is going to be your primary leave. Be sure to read your requirements thoroughly and use the forms the DOL has provided. In MN, if you have 21+ employees, medical leave isn’t required at all, but 12 weeks of parental leave is required. If you have less than 21 employees, you still need clear policies so that you’re not discriminating, but you have more flexibility. Bottom Line – Don’t guess on this policy.

5. 2014 MN State Regulations are still being ignored in some handbooks. So be sure that you add “familial status” to your EEO list, are up on nursing mother policies, pregnancy accommodations, sick leave definitions and no longer require compensation confidentiality. These new laws are also based on employer size, so check where you need to comply.

6. The National Labor Relations Board came out with a report in March 2015 that reverses some standard employee handbook policy language for “explicitly restricting protected concerted activity.” Basically, if it sounds like your policy is stopping employees from communicating a complaint or concern about your organization with other employees (in person and/or online), then the policy wording must be changed so that employees can’t be disciplined for activities that could result in unionization. Handbooks should be checked and tweaked regarding the list of new NLRB-required statements.

So take a strategic look at your handbook and see whether it’s compliant and provides you the depth of support and protection you need as an employer. Don’t assume good is good enough.

©2015 Arlene Vernon

HR Mastery – An On-Going Learning Process

2016 is the 10th year that I’m offering this opportunity for you to meet monthly with a small group of your HR peers to share ideas, best practices and issues as well as to learn from local HR experts who present on key topics.

Whether HR is 100% of your responsibilities or a part of your job responsibilities, this is a great educational and developmental opportunity for you.

And one of the greatest benefits of being in an HR Mastery Group is knowing that you’re not alone when you have your HR Mastery team supporting you.

For one annual fee you receive the following:

  • HRx hotline – Free access to me throughout the year for phone consultations related to any HR question or issue you may encounter
  • 2-hour monthly meetings, with custom selected topics based on your group’s interests
  • Email and phone access to your HR Mastery team
  • Laughter, support and practical information you can use immediately

If HR is not your area of expertise and you know someone who you think would benefit from this opportunity, please email this newsletter to them. To learn more about HR Mastery or any of my consulting or training services, please email me at Arlene@ArleneVernon.com or call me at 952-996-0975.
Groups will be starting in January, so the sooner you sign up, the sooner we can start planning for 2016!

About Arlene Vernon

Arlene has provided HR consulting and management training services to over 500 organizations since starting HRx, Inc. in 1992.

If you’re seeking a hands-on, practical HRxpert to assist your organization with employee relations, policy development, strategic HR activities or fun/doable management training, call on Arlene – Your HRxpert.

If you’re planning a conference, seminar or special event, Arlene specializes in keynotes, seminars and workshops to meet your talent management needs. And if you’re seeking a more lively entertaining activity, Arlene’s custom songs and musical-inspirational keynote may be perfect for your organization!

HRx, Inc., Eden Prairie, MN 55344, 952.996.0975 www.HRxcellence.com. Arlene@ArleneVernon.com

Subscriber Info

HRx, Inc. respects your privacy and does not give out or sell subscriber names and/or e-mail addresses. Feel free to pass this newsletter to your friends and colleagues as long as the entire newsletter is kept intact. If this newsletter has been forwarded to you, please sign up to receive your own copy. If you wish to be taken off this list simply send an email

Share This Article

This article is available for your use or reprinting in web sites or company communications with the agreement that Arlene’s biographical information above and a link to her website is included with the article.