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 how we've structured the ConnectsUs Employee Handbook. The handbook does form a contract, but only a part of it.
All policies that deal with an individual's conduct or actions that could impact your company or other employees' rights, are grouped into one section of your handbook called 'Staff Policies'. This restricts the terms and conditions of the contract to this one section in the handbook and separates it out from the rest.
A signed employment agreement and Employee Handbook Acknowledgement Form create a contract that lays out what you will do as a company, and what the employee agrees to do, and that includes adhering to Staff Policies.
The employee signs and agrees to:
- Provide services in good faith;
- Adhere to the policies set out in the Staff Policies section of the handbook. (ConnectsUs provides this Staff Policies Agreement template)
Your company signs and agrees to:
- Provide the employee with pay for their services
- **Adhere to the policies set out in the Staff Policies section of the handbook
- Adhere to the law as it relates to the workplace (understood)
- Provide any other benefits outlined in the employment agreement. (which may point to individual policies outside of Staff Policies in the handbook - such as health benefits vacation or sick days)
**Notice that the company's obligation stops at the Staff Policies section of the handbook. This means that the remaining sections outside of Staff Policies:
- Won't form additional company obligations
- Aren't a guarantee by your company of the conditions and benefits that are described within them
- Aren't a promise by your company of specific treatment in a specific situation.
These non-Staff Policies may include topics such as training and development or processes for performance improvement plans. Because these topics weren't included in the contract, they are known as 'guidelines' and your company has some flexibility to revise them during unfavorable business climates, without deeming the revision a change in terms of employment. It also means that the company doesn't have to provide employees with additional 'consideration' to adhere to them when they do change.
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, discriminination, hararassment, 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. In many cases, the policies are written to comply with rules laid out by legislation, which often requires explicit—and sometimes ‘wordy’—language.
- Being explicit in this respect, however, 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.