Getting Employees to Sign off on Employee Handbook
We're all familiar with the following language in Canadian employee handbooks: "This handbook does not create a contract, and can be changed or revoked at any time".
Then what's the point of getting employees to sign off on an employee handbook? The employee nor the company are contractually obligated to adhere to it.
But what if only a section of the employee handbook creates a contract? That's exactly how we've structured the employment offer process.
We've extracted all the Conduct Policies, (the policies that protect your company where most are not legislated) and placed them in a new document called 'Staff Policies'. Signing off on these policies does form a contract.
|Staff Policies Manual
Table of Contents
All policies that deal with an individual's conduct or actions that could impact your company or other employees' rights and safety, are grouped into the Staff Policies document and becomes an addendum to the employment agreement.
A signed employment agreement and Staff Policies Acknowledgement Form create a contract that lays out what you will do as a company, and what the employee agrees to do. You can also forego the Acknowledgment Form and include the Staff Policies sign-off language clause directly in your employment agreement.
Before the employee's first day of work:
The employee signs and agrees to:
- Provide services in good faith
- Adhere to Staff Policies.
Your company signs and agrees to:
- Provide the employee with pay for their services
- Provide any other benefits outlined in the employment agreement
- Adhere to the law as it relates to the workplace.
**Notice that the company is not making any other promises than above. The employee is not provided with your employee manual before hire and your company doesn't promise anything that's included in the employee manual. This means that any topic that is in your employee manual that the employee may gain access to after hire:
- Won't form additional company obligations
- Isn't a guarantee by your company of the conditions and benefits that are described within them
- Isn't a promise by your company of specific treatment in a specific situation.
These topics in your employee manual or handbook may include topics such as training and development or processes for performance improvement plans. Because these topics weren't included in the employment agreement, they are known as 'guidelines' and your company has some flexibility to revise them during unfavorable business climates, without always deeming the revision a change in terms of employment.
You'll also notice that the Legislated Policies are likewise outside of Staff Policies, including important policies such as Legislated Leaves and Workplace Violence or Workplace Safety. These are legislated policies and the company has to adhere to them by law - even if they're not in written form, and they don't need to be signed off by staff.
What does need to be signed off by staff is that they won't engage in acts such as workplace violence, discrimination, harassment, and those are dealt with in the Code of Conduct policy which points to detailed definitions of each formal term. The Code of Conduct policy is included in Staff Policies, and is therefore part of the contract that the employee signed and agreed to adhere to.
More about Staff Policies
- Wherever possible, Staff Policies are written in plain, everyday language. Some could even be considered ‘direct’ to avoid dancing around the meaning. ‘Legalese’ isn’t really conducive to readability, but there are some areas where it’s necessary.
- Where legalese is required, being explicit in this respect is a best practice for any well-run company. Staff Policies aren’t meant to restrict an employee's personal rights. Rather, you’ll notice that most Staff Policies are in place to protect employee rights and ensure they have a comfortable working environment.
- In some cases, Staff Policies are also intended to protect staff and the company from those rare individuals who defend their inappropriate actions by claiming ‘they didn’t know’. (We call them the NOTMICS) As a result, some of the explicit language may come across as formal or distrusting, which isn’t how most companies want to operate. Rather, the intent is to provide those rare individuals with crystal clarity about what’s appropriate and what isn’t as an additional measure of protection for both Staff and the Company.