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An employee handbook can be the foundation of employee performance or it can be a ticking time bomb that confuses employees. It all depends on how well it’s written and put to use.

Churches face many hazards if they try to whip up handbooks on the fly. Too often, handbooks are inconsistent with the way the church is actually conducted, or they mistakenly imply that workers have certain rights.

Each year, new employment laws go on the books and courts write thousands upon thousands of decisions interpreting old laws. Yet, year after year, many HR professionals reach up onto a dusty shelf to hand new employees the same old employee handbook someone wrote years ago—too often without a second of consideration whether the contents still pass legal muster.

Your handbook shouldn’t be a legalistic tome with detailed instructions to managers and complex benefit specifications. Keep it simple; write in plain English.

To preserve the “at-will” status of employees whom you may hire and fire at will, include provisions in the handbook that say employment is at will and that nothing in the handbook should be considered a contract or guarantee of employment. Document employees’ agreement to this by having them sign and return an acknowledgment form.

The 10 most common mistakes

  1. Using form handbooks with provisions unrelated to your church.
  2. Meshing policies and procedures, which may confuse employees.
  3. Including a probationary period, which implies that anyone who stays with the organization beyond that time is then a permanent employee.
  4. Being too specific in descriptions and lists, especially those involving discipline.
  5. Not being consistent with other church documents.
  6. Not adding a disclaimer, or not having enough disclaimers in the right places.
  7. Sabotaging disclaimers by what you do or say, especially by reassuring employees that their jobs are secure and they’ll be fired only for a really good reason.
  8. Not adapting the handbook for each state’s laws. You may need more than one version of the handbook if you have employees in several states.
  9. Failing to update the manual frequently for changing laws.
  10. Being unrealistic about what your employees or supervisors will buy into. Don’t include policies you can’t or won’t enforce. 

Learn how to create a new employee handbook

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Clergy Financial Resources serves as a resource for clients to help analyze the complexity of clergy tax law, church payroll & HR issues. Our professionals are committed to helping clients stay informed about tax news, developments and trends in various specialty areas.

This article is intended to provide readers with guidance in tax matters. The article does not constitute, and should not be treated as professional advice regarding the use of any particular tax technique. Every effort has been made to assure the accuracy of the information. Clergy Financial Resources and the author do not assume responsibility for any individual’s reliance upon the information provided in the article. Readers should independently verify all information before applying it to a particular fact situation, and should independently determine the impact of any particular tax planning technique. If you are seeking legal advice, you are encouraged to consult an attorney.

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