3 Myths About Employee Handbooks

Posted June 7, 2017

You probably got a copy of your employee handbook when you were hired. You may have had to sign a paper saying you received it and understood it, but did you page through the handbook at all? Your employer probably wishes you would: A recent survey from Gusto, an HR software developer, found that only half of companies with 50 employees or more think those employees understand their policies extremely well.

Handbooks are 1 of the main ways employers communicate with employees.

“Many lawsuits and HR complaints are brought because an employee simply does not understand what their rights are under the law and what benefits the employer has conferred to them above and beyond what the law provides,” says Douglas Lipsky of the law firm Lipsky Lowe.

Handbooks can eliminate a lot of the confusion around duties and expectations, he says. Here are 3 myths about handbooks that workers often fall for.

‘It’s a Waste of Time to Read It’

Even though handbooks aren’t legal contracts (in most states), they serve as a general guideline for anything that affects all employees. They’re go-to documents for HR if you have a question, so check there first if you need to know about workplace policies.

“An employee handbook loops together all the rules you need to be successful at work, along with reasons why working at your current company rocks,” says Katie Evans-Reber, head of HR at Gusto.

It’s especially helpful for new hires so they can warm up to the company quickly, she says: “A good employer will include the story of the company and the expectations they have from employees, as well as their rights and responsibilities.”

‘They Guide Only Employee Actions’

You may think the employee handbook only has rules for how you need to conduct yourself, but there’s often plenty in there about what your employer should do, experts say.

“An employee handbook not only sets forth policies and procedures that an employer can expect its employees to follow, it also creates a set of guidelines that employees can, and should, hold their employer to,” says Melisa McKellar, who practices employment law at Fleming PC.

The anti-discrimination and reasonable accommodation information included in a handbook is meant to inform employees about the legal standards an employer must meet.

“It’s important that employees read and understand the contents of their employer’s handbook so they can hold their employer accountable to its own policies, such as meal and rest breaks, compensation and paid leave,” McKellar says.

‘They’re the Final Say’

In some cases, you may find that policies haven’t been updated to reflect current employment law or accepted practices within the company. In these cases, you need to know that the handbook isn’t necessarily the final or ultimate authority.

“HR policies are intended to guide employers in the handling of employment and administrative decisions, performance management, employee relations and the general management of their employees,” says Nancy Saperstone, senior HR business partner at Insight Performance, an HR consulting firm.

But changes in management and culture can make information in the handbook obsolete; if you see a conflict between what’s written down and what’s actually done, bring it to HR’s attention.