5 Signs Your Employee Handbook Needs Updating

Jan 1, 2022

people gathered around a table

When it comes to an employee handbook, it’s not a document that’s one-and-done. While it can be easy to push it to the back burner and not think about it until a problem arises, we want to encourage you to proactively be looking for the signs that your handbook needs to be updated.

Your employee handbook can probably be considered one of the most important documents your business will ever have. For new employees, it’s their first introduction to your company’s policies and procedures. For current employees and managers, it provides a basis to understand what’s expected of them and how the organization runs. It also serves as vital legal protection against any legal claims that might be made against your company.

As the world and your company evolve, your handbook should too. Having an out-of-date handbook can sometimes be riskier than having no handbook at all. Here are 5 main signs that your handbook needs updating.


1. Handbook policies don’t reflect what’s happening in real life.

Like we mentioned earlier, for new employees, your employee handbook might be the first introduction to your policies and procedures. A bad match between what’s written in your handbook and what’s happening in the day-to-day may cause some confusion or a feeling of deception in new hires.

This can also affect current employees and managers. Having outdated information to reference may cause performance issues. Employees and managers should be able to understand what’s expected of them so there isn’t any confusion.

Your handbook should align with how your company operates and everyone should be on the same page about how things work. An updated handbook helps create a cohesive workplace and avoids confusion. All managers must be trained on any new content every time it’s updated to provide consistent application and interpretation of handbook policies.


2. Your anti-harassment policy is non-existent or weak.

While all sections of your entire employee handbook are important, there is a big piece to make sure you haven’t neglected: your anti-harassment policy. Depending on the state (or states) your business operates in, you may have different requirements for your anti-harassment policy.

It’s important to look at your specific state to determine what anti-harassment training and handbook policies are mandated (if any). A best practice to make sure you’re fostering a safe, respectful workplace is to train all employees and include a substantial anti-harassment policy in your handbook, no matter if it’s mandated in your state.

Generally, anti-harassment policies should include the following: a statement that any form of harassment will not be tolerated, a description of prohibited behaviors with examples, guidance for how employees who have experienced or witnessed harassment can report harassment, assurance that all harassment reports will be dutifully investigated, and details on how an investigation will be approached.

The EEOC has a great checklist for employers on what should be included in an anti-harassment policy. It’s a good best practice to have legal counsel look at this to make sure you’re compliant with state and federal laws about anti-harassment policies in your employee handbook.


3. It hasn’t been touched in a year or more.

This is a big one that many companies are guilty of. We know that things can get busy and updating your handbook might slip your mind. But it’s best to get into a habit of, at minimum, updating it annually. We recommend doing it more frequently, depending on if you’re experiencing a lot of change in your business or industry.

Why so often? You may ask. Well, there are many changes to state and federal laws that can quickly make your handbook outdated. Employment laws are constantly fluctuating, meaning your handbook content should update with it to accurately reflect the changes. Some key areas to pay attention to include (but aren’t limited to): PTO, sick-time requirements, overtime regulations, and drug policies.

Stay in tune with your state and local laws for changes to sick leave laws, anti-harassment policy mandates (mentioned earlier), marijuana legalization laws, and COVID-19-related policies (i.e. remote work policies).

We know that it can be a lot to keep track of all state and federal employment law changes. But it’s very important to make sure your handbook includes everything that it should per the law. You should have your handbook reviewed by legal counsel every time you update it to make sure you’re compliant with all legal requirements. Failure to properly update your handbook exposes your company to liability.


4. Employees don’t know where to go for information or can’t understand the verbiage.

Your employee handbook should be the go-to for questions they may have about the company. If your handbook is out-of-date and/or isn’t readily available to reference, employees might not know where to look if they’re confused about something.

Employees may be forced to turn elsewhere for the answers to their questions. Odds are there will be inconsistencies with the information they receive. Leaving too much room for confusion and inconsistencies leaves the door open for legal risk.

The same goes for if your handbook is riddled with details and legal jargon. While we absolutely encourage legal counsel to review your handbook regularly, make sure the language remains accessible. Too much detail can cause readers to be inundated and too much legal jargon gets to be downright confusing.

Keep your employee handbook concise and easy to understand, while also reflecting your company’s culture. Make it so your handbook is the place employees go to for their questions and can easily find the answer they’re looking for.


5. The handbook isn’t specific to your industry or business size.

So, your business has grown quite a bit recently…That’s awesome news! But don’t forget that your handbook should evolve alongside your business. As your business grows, you might be subject to legal and policy requirements that only apply to companies of a certain size. Once you grow past a minimum number of employees, you’ll need to make sure to update your handbook to reflect this.

It’s also important to keep your finger on the pulse for changes in tech, industry trends, and economic conditions. These things can make a difference in which policies are relevant to your business and should be introduced into your handbook.

Again, we get that it can be difficult to keep track of all these changes. After a quick Google search, you can find a ton of pre-made employee handbook templates. But we want to extend a quick word of caution to only using a template. While these off-the-shelf employee handbooks might be convenient and cost-effective on the surface, they open you up to legal risk. These are usually made without any consideration for specific laws and policies related to your industry, state, and unique practices.

Employee handbook templates can be a wonderful place to start but won’t suffice on their own without any additional work. Make sure to add in any necessary policies required for your company before thinking it’s complete. Plus, you want to make it your own and help your company culture shine through too!


Need help with updating your handbook? HR Annie can support your revision and teach you how to do it in the process. Or explore our range of customizable employee handbook templates for sale on our online store. Reach out to us for more information on our employee handbook services!

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