Avoiding confusion in your employee handbook

Your employees are an essential resource. When you clearly communicate your policies and expectations, you are more likely to have employees who do excellent work.

Your employee handbook can be a great resource when your employees have questions about company policies. It can help them come to you with specific questions, rather than vague requests. Unfortunately, using the wrong term can cause employee confusion and legal difficulties.

Here are two terms you should avoid when you are writing your employee handbook.

Permanent position

Employers do not hire people with the expectation to fire them, so it is tempting to refer to them as “permanent employees.” This is an exceptionally easy trap to fall into when you have temporary or contract employees. Since some employees are labeled “temporary,” it makes sense to call the others “permanent.”

Rather than call employees “permanent,” call them “regular.” Using the term “permanent” suggests that their employment is guaranteed regardless of performance or disciplinary issues, while the term “regular” still creates an at-will relationship.

Probationary period

When you hire new employees, your handbook should refer to their starting period with terms such as:

  • Onboarding
  • Introductory period
  • Orientation
  • Training period

The term “probationary period” suggests that their status will change after getting through the designated period. The employee is still employed at-will; they have just completed the initial stages of employment. They have not transitioned to a “permanent” position.

Check your employee manuals for these and other similarly confusing terms. Terms that were once standard practice can be a potential liability.