April 16, 2019

Why “Borrowing” Employee Handbook Policies Is a Bad Idea

google search field suggesting searches for employee handbook templates

So, you know you need an employee handbook but you aren’t sure where to start (for the record, we suggest you start with our Employee Handbook Guide). You ask a few colleagues about the process they used to build their employee handbooks, you comb through online forums for insight and advice, and you do a little Googling to see if you can get the ball rolling on your own. And — to your great delight — you discover a ton of resources that have you excited about your ability to get this job done quickly and cheaply.

There are several handbook “templates” online that claim to be able to solve your problems with a “custom” solution for a small fee. Then there’s the peer guidance — multiple doctors claim success after sampling preexisting policies from handbooks made for similar businesses, including a few that have even been given the “all-clear” by at least one lawyer.

Energized by your findings, you pick a template and start cobbling your handbook together from a sea of pre-made parts. But — consider yourself warned — the result of that process is not likely going to be the legally compliant employee handbook you’ve been dreaming of. Rather, the final DIY product is most likely going to be a Frankenstein’s monster that sets your practice up for a legal nightmare at some point down the road. Here’s why:

Many handbook templates and DIY solutions include policies that are flat-out illegal.

In 2015, we decided to look into some of these so-called handbook “templates” for ourselves. We shelled out the $49 for one of the most popular options on the market and what we found was startling: illegal policies about discussing salaries, illegal policies about social media, illegal policies about email, as well as a basic failure to address things like breaks, meal periods, and privacy in the workplace.

Though it might seem like a good idea to spend a few bucks for a quick and easy handbook “solution,” unless you are an employment law attorney or an HR expert you will not be able to adequately address the contents of the template you decide to employ for legal compliance, which can leave your practice vulnerable to legal challenges.

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Few (if any) generalized handbook solutions are built with the dental or healthcare industries in mind.

Using a template that was not built with healthcare or dental professionals in mind is a serious gamble. Handbooks that were written for other industries are likely to include policies that are not relevant to your business. And, even worse, they are also likely to exclude policies that could protect your practice in the event of a wage and hour claim by an employee or former employee, or an audit by the Department of Labor (DOL).

You can’t expect a handbook meant for a restaurant or retail store to include guidance on how to handle protected health information (PHI) and comply with HIPAA, or to make mention of potential exposure to the presence of hazards like nitrous oxide or x-rays. You’ll want to make sure such issues are covered in the event that an employee becomes or intends to become pregnant, for instance, among other reasons.

You don’t necessarily know where that handbook has been…

There’s a reason we’ve previously compared borrowing third-party policies for use in your own employee handbook to using a stranger’s toothbrush. When sampling policies to use as your own, or taking them as-is from a template, it’s hard to know for sure where the policy originated, when it was last updated, or if it is (or ever was) legal to use for your business.

Employment laws are constantly changing (we learn about new state and local laws several times per month) and, unless you’ve got a professional constantly watching for those changes, it’s almost impossible to be sure that a handbook (or handbook template) has been kept compliant year after year.

Further, there’s a lot more to creating a legally compliant handbook than making sure you touch on each federal employment law on the books. Which brings us to our next point…

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Many laws apply differently to different businesses.

In addition to making sure that your handbook includes policies specific to your industry, you also need to make sure that it’s covering applicable laws appropriately.

Many states have (very) specific sick leave laws that apply only to businesses in that state. And, in several of those states, there are additional guidelines that apply depending on which city or county your business resides. A policy written for one city, county, or state therefore may not be legal in any other jurisdiction.

A template or policy that was meant for use by a business that is larger or smaller than your own could also prove damaging to your business. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law, but only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. One of the most common handbook mistakes we see is small businesses promising FMLA to its employees. Unfortunately, by doing so those employers are tying themselves to the complicated FMLA rules until they correctly remove it from their policies.

A template doesn’t account for your company’s culture.

Your employee handbook, if used to its maximum potential, is a great way to introduce new hires to your company’s culture. Reading that document in full should give employees an idea of your company’s priorities, how to handle issues as they arise, as well as how employees are expected to behave on a day-to-day basis.

By using another company’s policies, or policies made for a generalized template, you are likely missing out on the opportunity to demonstrate what makes your company and the people who work for it unique, and this could translate to a failure to help new employees feel welcome, or to properly set expectations for new hires.

Are you a dental or medical professional with an employee handbook you’d like CEDR to review for free? Click here to claim your FREE EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK EVALUATION! 

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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Please note: CEDR Solutions specializes in providing expert HR support to owners and operators of independently owned medical and dental practices.