The Unexamined Employee Handbook Is Not Worth Having

By Mary Lisa Mireles
Friday, May 31, 2019

Even considering the time commitment required to maintain a quality employee handbook, there is little question that employee handbooks can be priceless in solving problems, resolving issues and providing benefits to employers and employees alike.

For employers, the handbook provides standardization of personnel and benefits policies, decreases administrative time from repetitive and unnecessary acts of managers and reduces misunderstandings by providing written expectations about items such as work schedules, leave, dress code and similar policies.

This benefit, however, not only presumes management possesses and maintains familiarity with the employee handbook, but consistently enforces the policies contained therein. For employees, an employee handbook that is written in straight-forward, simple language and sets forth the company’s expectations, compensation and general office policies is an enormous tool and not simply a stack of paper to be thrown in the back of a desk drawer.

Consistency is key. Upon hire, best practices require providing new employees with a copy of the employee handbook and maintaining a signed acknowledgment of the employee’s receipt of the handbook. Even the most comprehensive employee handbooks, however, must be reviewed, revised and updated to ensure compliance with state and federal laws in the workplace; it is imperative that employees be notified of all changes.

When business owners fail to enforce their own policies or update policies in accordance with current state or federal laws, the results can range from significant to catastrophic. For example, employee handbooks often state that unused paid time off (PTO) is forfeited upon termination of employment. If an employer compensates an employee who is leaving on good terms for accrued PTO, but fails to compensate a fired employee for accrued PTO, per the written policy, the employer’s failure to follow his or her own written policy can create liability. When the fired employee makes a claim with the Texas Workforce Commission, the company may incur not only the unpaid PTO fees, but potential costly litigation and other expenses. An owner and/or management’s failure to follow the employee handbook’s practices and procedures limits the applicability of handbook’s protections, the very reason for the handbook’s existence.

Lastly, an effective handbook requires periodic review for accuracy. Ensure the handbook accurately reflects your company’s practices and culture, including the company’s desired image. If the handbook was created for a significantly smaller company, confirm the policies properly take into account the current number of employees. Verify your employee handbook is in compliance with state and federal laws. Employment laws change frequently, especially in areas such as: nondiscrimination/EEOC requirements; FMLA; standards of conduct; wage and hour; PTO; internet usage/social media; firearms; protection of nursing mothers; proper separation in employee files; and dress code. Generic employee handbooks derived from a form on the internet are just that — generic — and will not ensure your company’s individual concerns are addressed.


Mary Lisa Mireles

Regular maintenance of employee handbooks is crucial to safeguard the liability protections for which the handbook was designed. Ensure your employee handbooks are straight forward and easy to understand, and be consistent in your company’s application of the handbook’s policies to all employees. Update employee handbooks for changes in your business and for compliance with all state and federal changes in the law. If you or your management team has not recently reviewed your employee handbook, it may be time to look. You just might be surprised by what you find.


Mary Lisa Mireles is an Associate Attorney at Rosenblatt Law Firm. In her five years at Rosenblatt Law Firm, Mireles has frequently worked on the transactional side of employment matters — ensuring her clients are hiring, firing and maintaining employees in order to protect their assets and minimize litigation. For more information, visit rosenblattlawfirm.com or call Rosenblatt Law Firm at 210-562-2900.