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Your Employee Handbook is not the King James (or Koran)

king james

How many pages is your employee handbook? Count them…go on…then come back in an hour when you’re done.  The one I’m looking at is 106 pages*…God Almighty!  First of all, I understand the importance of covering our bases to the Nth degree in this crazy messed up litigious world (or country) that we live in.  It’s a pain, but it is what it is.  Employee handbooks, though, are like layers of paint in that guest bedroom you’ve been meaning to remodel. Someone put the first version on eons ago and then every HR or legal occupant since then has added their own flair and personality and style.  But they didn’t take the time to clean it up…they just piled on.  Now you have something bigger than the King James and chances are your employees – new, existing, or old – don’t come close to consulting it when they should. So here’s a little exercise in remodeling: It’s called blow it up and start from scratch.  I’m going to demonstrate how easy it really is.


5 Typed Pages…


86 Words…Don’t do drugs or drink alcohol at work or while driving company vehicles.  Don’t buy or sell drugs at work.  We retain the right to test you for drug and/or alcohol use at any time for any reason.  If you are in a work related accident, you will be required to be tested as soon as it is medically safe for you to be tested.  If you are found to be in violation of this policy, you will be subject to employment action up to and including termination


2 Typed Pages…


158 Words…”Harassment” is behavior of a nature that is unwelcome and offensive or insulting to the person or persons by whom it is received (directly or indirectly) . “Discrimination” can be the result of harassment, but is generally manifested in some detriment to you and your position in the organization on the basis of gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, disability, age, or any other group protected by State or Federal law.  We don’t tolerate either and we take both seriously.  If you believe you are being harassed or discriminated against, you have a duty to bring it to either the attention of a superior or Human Resources.  That superior then has a duty to report it to Human Resources who will then respond to the matter professionally and maturely.  If you bring said matter to the attention of the superior or to HR in “good faith” you can not and will not be retaliated against by the company or its representatives.

You get the point. And don’t copy and paste this into your handbook without having the appropriate authorities (including your employment attorneys) taking a look at it.  But challenge them on any stance they take to go much beyond this.  If a policy is more than a paragraph, the policy might as well not exist. Sure, you may cover your bases by having one. But isn’t the real purpose to have your people read, recall, observe, and enforce those policies? That’s a really hard thing to do when most of them can’t even lift the thing.

*Actual employee handbook from actual employer (not an employer I have now or in the past had any direct affiliation with).

Photo Credit: Wilson’s Almanac

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  • Tammy Colson

    Love this! I blew up a policy manual about a ear ago, reducing it from 58 pages to 32, while adding all of the safety (OSHA) protocols and and an Emergency Action Plan. The employer kept saying “but we need…” – and I finally convinced them that yes, they did need, but in language that the employees could read and understand, otherwise, what was the point?

    The old manual was definitely one for the junkyard.
    I wonder what our legal eagles will say about your post?
    .-= Tammy Colson´s last blog ..The Ripple =-.

  • Crystal Peterson

    26 pages! Straight forward, to the point, no unnecessary policies. And I’m going to keep it that way.
    Great post!

  • Charlie

    @Tammy – awesome…living proof that it can be done. we need the legal eagles, but they need to learn to ask themselves “why” even more than we do! thx

    @Crystal – love it! a model for all. again, it can be done. doesn’t surprise me you’re behind it! thx

  • Thomas

    Reviewed every year, mostly for any updates! It’s important and required by law to determine the size of your business; due to legal obligations for management harassment training issues etc. Employee numbers range under 25, 50, or 100+ are all recommended to be reviewed by legal council. Then reviewed and simplified by those of us in HR and Management for those who read English, not legal E’s.

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  • Guy Farmer

    Great post Charlie. I really like the idea of simplifying the handbook and making it a document people understand and can put to practical use. I’ve found it helpful to add another layer and challenge leaders and managers to try to work things out with their employees through positive interactions and find ways to avoid having to always run to the handbook.

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