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HR Tip - Employee Handbook - Common Mistake

By Rick Hughes

Jan 2008 HR Tip During 2007, we drafted over 100 employee handbooks for our clients.  For those that already had an existing employee handbook where we were simply asked to edit and revise the handbook, the most common problem that we noticed was the inclusion of detailed information on the various employee benefits offered by the Company.  Some even went as far as to include the rates and employee deductions.

The problem with including a detailed description of the benefits in the handbook is twofold.  First, the shelf-life of the handbook is severely limited since you’ll probably change some portion of your benefits package on an annual basis.  Second, the actual legal document, certificate of coverage and/or summary plan description should be the only place that contains a detailed description of the plans since you run the risk of posting incorrect information.  At a minimum, incorrect information can pose an employee relations nightmare.  At a maximum, you could wind up trying to defend your employee handbook in a court of law and you can bet that the jury is going to be sympathetic to the poor disadvantaged employee who relied on the incorrect information to their detriment and not to the Company.

Any mention of the employee benefits in the handbook should be limited to a simple statement such as…

“The Company offers a variety of benefits through qualified companies and third party administrators including medical, dental, life, disability, and a 401(k) plan.  The waiting period for most benefits is X days following the date of hire. Regular full-time employees are eligible to participate in the medical, dental, life, disability and 401(k) plans.  Regular part-time employees working more than 1,000 hours per year may be eligible to participate in the 401(k) plan following the completion of 1 year of service and the attainment of age 21.”

This way, the shelf-life of the handbook is increased and the probability of having to defend your handbook in court is drastically reduced.

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