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How to avoid big mistakes with your employee handbook

Crafting your first employee handbook for your small business can be an intimidating process -- but it's a smart move. A well-written employee handbook can improve communication, set expectations, protect your company legally and avoid major misunderstandings.

With that in mind, however, it's important to avoid certain mistakes:

Expecting not to update it

This may be your first handbook, but it certainly won't be your last. As you update policies, make clarifications and have new legal notices that you're required to give, make sure you update your handbook. You don't want your handbook to get outdated and rely on memos and notices posted in a break room to keep your employees informed and yourself in compliance with the law.

Forgetting to include disclaimers

Your handbook needs a prominent disclaimer that lets employees know that nothing in the handbook constitutes a contract or changes the at-will nature of their employment. If you forget, that could leave you vulnerable to a lawsuit for breach of contract.

Trying too hard to dictate social media behavior

Social media is a huge part of American life and every company these days should address it. However, an overly restrictive policy could violate your employee's rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Don't try to control every negative thing that your employees may say about the company.

Creating a far-too-formal disciplinary policy

On one hand, you want to be fair to your employees and tell them what to expect. On the other hand, you don't want to create a disciplinary policy that boxes you into a series of steps you can't deviate from under any circumstances. There's bound to be something come up that requires a more immediate approach to discipline. Without some leeway in your policies, you could be a target for an unfair dismissal lawsuit.

It's often wisest to get some experienced legal advice when you're writing an employee handbook. An attorney can also advise you about additional steps you can take to better insulate your company against litigation.

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