The Case for an Employee Handbook Acknowledgment Form

It takes a lot to craft an employee handbook– and your finished product is almost irrelevant without an employee handbook acknowledgment form. Here’s why.

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You’ve worked hard to develop your Employee Handbook. It contains a wealth of information on the company, culture, benefits, rules, and procedures. With all the effort put into the book, it’s useless unless employees read it and understand its contents. An employee handbook acknowledgment form confirms that staff members have not only been issued the handbook, but comprehend its terms. That’s critical for all businesses, large and small.

A good employee handbook gives staff members the information they need to be a productive, valued member of the team. It can include daily routines, like start times or how to call in sick; details about time off, benefits offerings, enrollments, and other perks. It must include information about employee rights, legal compliance, and how to file complaints and inquiries. Perhaps most important to protect the business, the handbook must include company policies, procedures, and rules.

You wouldn’t ask your team to play a game without knowing the rules: they won’t know how to win. Productive employment at your company follows the same logic: if they know exactly what’s expected of them, they’ll know how to play to win.

Knowing the rules, and knowing they apply to all employees, levels the playing field and assures everyone is on the same page. Issuing the Handbook is important: verifying everyone has read and understood it is critical. That’s where the employee handbook acknowledgment form comes in.

The employee handbook acknowledgment form

Many companies issue paper handbooks with a tear-out page at the end: the employee signs off that they’ve been issued the handbook and understand its terms. Electronic handbooks work in the same way: an employee signs off electronically. But a simple signoff of receipt may not be enough. Include bullet points on the signature page to verify employees understand these critical points:

  • I agree my employment at ABC Company is at-will: ABC Company or I can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, providing no violation of applicable federal or state law has occurred. (Do not include if prohibited by state or local law)
  • The ABC Company Employee Handbook outlines rules that prohibit illegal, inappropriate or unprofessional activities and behaviors. I understand violation of these rules may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination, even for a single offense.  
  • The ABC Company Employee Handbook provides guidelines for employees to perform their duties acceptably. I understand violation of these guidelines, or other workplace performance issues can result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination, even for a single offense.  
  • I understand the ABC Company Employee Handbook does not establish a contract of employment: it contains guidelines, policies, and procedures. The ABC Company reserves the right to modify, change or amend the contents of the Handbook at its discretion.

How does an acknowledgment form protect business?

A signed employee handbook acknowledgment form protects your company in several ways. First, it outlines rules and performance expectations employees must follow. It warns what will happen if rules are violated or if performance issues occur. In the event an employee files a claim or sues the company, a signed Acknowledgement Form verifies the staff member knew the rules and expectations, along with the consequences of violation.

A signed acknowledgment form can insulate a company from liability for certain infractions

Further, a signed acknowledgment form can insulate a company from liability for certain infractions. A strong policy prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, for example, should be outlined in your handbook. If a staff member violates the policy, behaving inappropriately, the policy, and any disciplinary action it provides and was imposed, may shield the company from liability in the event of a claim or lawsuit.

No employee should be surprised they’re being fired. They should know it’s coming and have had an opportunity to correct poor performance or behaviors. That begins with an employee handbook they’ve read and understood. It outlined what infractions could lead to progressive disciplinary action and which may be grounds for immediate dismissal. Acknowledgment of the handbook is necessary: adhering to its terms for all employees is critical.

When it comes to infractions, initiating progressive discipline may prompt a problem employee to start looking for another job: easily accomplished in today’s tight applicant market. That can be the difference between a contentious (potentially volatile) termination meeting and an exit interview that wishes them well on their career path. Without acknowledgment that they knew the rules and ramifications, however, you could be arguing policy as well as performance as you attempt to correct behavior or sever the employment arrangement.

How do you handle an employee who refuses to sign the form?

Some employees could refuse to sign off on an employee handbook acknowledgment form. For these staff members, options are available.

In advance of a problem occurring, consider whether signing the acknowledgment should be a condition of employment. If a new hire, or even an existing staff member, refuses to sign, you might wonder whether or not they should be a part of your team. Unless there is a legitimate reason not to sign, acknowledgment should generally be mandatory.

If an employee refuses to sign, but separation is not possible (as with workers under a collective bargaining agreement), businesses do have other options. An HR representative can note on the form that the employee refused to sign, but was issued a copy of the handbook and notified all policies in the handbook apply regardless of their refusal to sign.

Another option is to have two staff members, one from Human Resources and a manager from the employee’s department, go over the contents of the Handbook with the staff member, answering any questions about rules and policies.

At the end of the meeting, both will note on the employee’s acknowledgment page the staff member refused to sign. They should also include the date, time, names and signatures of those who discussed the handbook and its contents directly with the employee.   

All employees should be notified of the terms and conditions in the handbook apply to every staff member, with or without their signature. Remember to include all signed (or unsigned) forms in the employee’s personnel file. An employee handbook acknowledgment form is an important tool for businesses and employees. Make sure yours is current and your employees understand what it holds.

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