While employers are not required by law to provide a company handbook to employees, providing your workforce with an overview of company policies and procedures is generally considered a best practice.

An employee handbook ensures that important information (such as health benefits, disciplinary policies, and vacation accrual) is consistently shared with all workers. It also provides a ready resource for referencing such information when questions arise.

To document that all employees have received a copy of the handbook, many companies have employees sign a statement that they have read, understand, and will comply with the company policies listed in the handbook.

Some attorneys suggest, however, a simpler form that only states the employee has received the handbook and agrees to follow it, since he or she probably hasn’t read the content when signing the receipt.

So what happens when an employee refuses to sign any type of handbook receipt?

Policies still apply

Generally speaking, the policies within the handbook still apply to the employee even if he or she refuses to sign.

You may tell the employee that his or her refusal to sign will not result in an exemption from the policies contained in the handbook, and then finish by noting the date and that the employee refused to sign the receipt. The purpose of the receipt is to document that the employee was made aware of the existence of the policies, and this can still be accomplished with your notation.

The more pertinent issue, however, might be why the employee is refusing to sign. Employees refuse to sign handbook acknowledgements for a variety of reasons. Sometimes employees disagree with certain policies and have no intention of complying with them. But other times, employees don’t understand certain policies, so they don’t want to sign off that they do understand.

Even though policies apply regardless of the signature, you should ask why the employee is refusing to sign. Initiating the conversation gives you the opportunity to address any concerns the employee might have about the policies, and to potentially head off any future issues related to the policies.

Try opening the conversation with a curious, non-confrontational tone: “You are not required to sign the receipt, but you should understand that the policies will still apply to you. What is it about the policies or procedures that concerns you? The handbook is meant to be a helpful resource to you, so we want to ensure it is serving that purpose.”

The employee may expresses confusion over policies or procedures, and you will have the opportunity to clarify them. The employee may indicate that he or she cannot or will not comply with certain policies, and you will have the opportunity to discuss potential accommodations. (For example, your dress code might need to be adjusted to accommodate religious garb.)

Whatever you learn from the conversation, you will be better equipped to proactively address any future issues related to your company policies and procedures, which is arguably the point of publishing them in the first place.

Clear Writing

This is from the March 2015 issue of Inc Magazine:


While I like to think I know a little about business writing, I often fall into a few word traps. For example, “who” and “whom.” I rarely use “whom” when I should. Even when spell check suggests “whom,” I think it sounds pretentious. So I don’t use it.

And I’m sure some people then think, “What a bozo.”

And that’s a problem, because just as one misspelled word can get a résumé tossed onto the “nope” pile, one wrong word can negatively impact your entire message.

Fair or unfair, it happens.

So let’s make sure it doesn’t.

Adverse and averse

Adverse means harmful or unfavorable: “Adverse market conditions caused the IPO to be poorly subscribed.” Averse refers to feelings of dislike or opposition: “I was averse to paying $18 a share for a company that generates no revenue.”

But you can feel free to have an aversion to adverse conditions.

Affect and effect

Verbs first. Affect means to influence: “Impatient investors affected our roll-out date.”Effect means to accomplish something: “The board effected a sweeping policy change.” How you use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them, or can effect changes by implementing them. Use effectif you’re making it happen, and affect if you’re having an impact on something someone else is trying to make happen.

As for nouns, effect is almost always correct: “Once he was fired he was given 20 minutes to gather his personal effects.” Affect refers to an emotional state, so unless you’re a psychologist, you probably should not be using it.

Compliment and complement

Compliment is to say something nice. Complement is to add to, enhance, improve, complete, or bring close to perfection. So, I can compliment your staff and their service, but if you have no current openings you have a full complement of staff. And your new app may complement your website.

For which I may decide to compliment you.

Criteria and criterion

“We made the decision based on one overriding criteria” sounds pretty impressive but is wrong.

Remember: one criterion, two or more criteria, although you could always use “reason” or “factors” and not worry about getting it wrong.

Discreet and discrete

Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment: “We made discreet inquiries to determine whether the founder was interested in selling her company.”

Discrete means individual, separate, or distinct: “We analyzed data from a number of discrete market segments to determine overall pricing levels.” And if you get confused, remember you don’t use discreetion to work through sensitive issues; you exercise discretion.

Elicit and illicit

Elicit means to draw out or coax. Think of elicit as the mildest form of extract or, even worse, extort. So if one lucky survey respondent will win a trip to the Bahamas, the prize is designed to elicit responses.

Illicit means illegal or unlawful. I suppose you could “illicit” a response at gunpoint … but you best not.

Farther and further

Farther involves a physical distance: “Florida is farther from New York than Tennessee.” Further involves a figurative distance: “We can take our business plan no further.” So, as we say in the South, “I don’t trust you any farther than I can throw you.” Or, “I ain’t gonna trust you no further.”

(Seriously. I’ve uttered both of those sentences. More than once.)

Imply and infer

The speaker or writer implies. The listener or reader infers. Imply means to suggest, while infer means to deduce (whether correctly or not). So, I might imply you’re going to receive a raise. You might infer that a pay increase is imminent. (But not eminent, unless the raise will be prominent and distinguished.)

Insure and ensure

This one’s easy. Insure refers to insurance. Ensure means to make sure. So if you promise an order will ship on time, ensure it actually happens. Unless, of course, you plan to arrange for compensation if the package is damaged or lost–then feel free to insure away.

Number and amount

I goof these up all the time. Use number when you can count what you refer to: “Thenumber of subscribers who opted out increased last month.” Amount refers to a quantity of something that can’t be counted: “The amount of alcohol consumed at our last company picnic was staggering.”

Of course it can still be confusing: “I can’t believe the number of beers I drank” is correct, but so is “I can’t believe the amount of beer I drank.” The difference is I can count beers, but beer, especially if I was way too drunk to keep track, is an uncountable total–so amount is the correct usage.

Precede and proceed

Precede means to come before. Proceed means to begin or continue. Where it gets confusing is when an ing comes into play. “The proceeding announcement was brought to you by…” sounds fine, but preceding is correct since the announcement came before.

If it helps, think precedence: Anything that takes precedence is more important and therefore comes first.

Principal and principle

A principle is a fundamental: “We’ve created a culture where we all share certain principles.” Principal means primary or of first importance: “Our startup’s principal is located in NYC.” (Sometimes you’ll also see the plural, principals, used to refer to executives or (relatively) co-equals at the top of a particular food chain.)

Principal can also refer to the most important item in a particular set: “Our principal account makes up 60 percent of our gross revenues.”

Principal can also refer to money, normally a sum that was borrowed, but can be extended to refer to the amount you owe–hence principal and interest.

If you’re referring to laws, rules, guidelines, ethics, etc., use principle. If you’re referring to the CEO or the president (or the individual in charge of the high school), use principal. And now for those dreaded apostrophes.

It’s and its

It’s is the contraction of it is. That means it’s doesn’t own anything. If your dog is neutered (the way we make a dog, however much against his or her will, gender neutral), you don’t say, “It’s collar is blue.” You say, “Its collar is blue.” Here’s an easy test to apply. Whenever you use an apostrophe, un-contract the word to see how it sounds. In this case, turn it’s into it is: “It’s sunny” becomes “It is sunny.” Sounds good to me.

They’re and their

Same with these: They’re is the contraction for they are. Again, the apostrophe doesn’t own anything. We’re going to their house, and I sure hope they’re home.

Who’s and whose

“Whose password hasn’t been changed in six months?” is correct. “Who is (the noncontracted version of who’s) password hasn’t been changed in six months?” sounds silly.

You’re and your

One more. You’re is the contraction of you are. Your means you own it; the apostrophe in you’re doesn’t own anything. For a long time a local nonprofit had a huge sign that said “You’re Community Place.”

Hmm. “You Are Community Place”?

Probably not.


The start of a new year is an excellent time to pull your employee handbook off the shelf and make sure the policies are up to date legally, and that they accurately reflect your practices in the workplace.

Potential problems include:

  • Policies that violate state or federal law (like a rule against bringing firearms on company property that runs afoul of Florida’s 2008 Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act, a smoking policy that violates the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, or a rule that violates the Fair Labor Standards Act by declaring that employees don’t receive overtime pay unless the extra work hours were approved in advance);
  • Policies that are rarely enforced (lack of uniformity in enforcement can lead to claims that you discriminated or retaliated against a particular employee by selectively enforcing a rule);
  • Policies that are outdated (does your handbook include a dress code that looks like it was written in 1980?);
  • Policies that are ambiguous (leading to misunderstandings, morale issues, and disgruntled former employees who are more likely to file a legal action against the company); and
  • Policies that are simply missing (often-overlooked policies include legal rights of reservists and employees returning from active duty in the military, job protection during jury duty, and mandatory reporting procedures to be followed if an employee witnesses the sexual harassment of another employee or observes an illegal practice).

Make sure all employees have signed an acknowledgment that they have read, understand, and agree to follow the rules in your employee handbook. And make sure any third parties dealing with employee issues have been given instructions that are consistent with the policies in your handbook (for example, if you use an outside payroll company, make sure they know if any portion of PTO should be carried over from last year, or if all balances are cleared effective January 1).

Don’t wait until a problem arises. Take time now to review your employee handbook. It’s your best defense against misunderstandings and claims of unfair treatment that often lead to costly litigation.



If your company’s work environment is a reminiscent of a trip back to middle school, it may be time to update your policies and take a stand against “workplace bullying.”

Although conventional wisdom has been that rude and intimidating conduct between co-workers and even by supervisors falls outside the arena of legal liability for employers, recent court decisions have taken a closer look at workplace bullying as a component of more traditional claims like assault. An August 4 article by Cari Tuna in the Wall Street Journal notes that the Indiana Supreme Court recently upheld a $325,000 jury verdict awarded to a medical technician who was bullied by his supervisor, a cardiovascular surgeon. According to the allegations in that case, a pattern of verbal abuse culminated in a confrontation where the accused bully walked toward his victim with clenched fists while yelling at him. The jury found that conduct threatening enough to fall within the definition of assault, a finding the higher court upheld because it viewed that incident in the context of the pattern of bullying.

An earlier article in the New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope (3/25/08) reported that a surprising 37% of all workers surveyed by a national research firm admitted they had been the victim of workplace bullying.

Several state legislatures are reviewing “anti-bullying” legislation. Although none has been passed into law to date, companies may want to take a proactive stand against conduct that researchers have identified as a leading cause of workplace stress, loss of productivity and high turnover, by adding a ban on nondiscriminatory bullying to their HR policies.


Are your employees keeping loaded guns in their cars on company property? Under a new Florida law, you can’t ask. On July 1, the Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008 went into effect. Under this law, an employer can no longer prohibit its employees from bringing loaded guns onto company property – so long as those guns remain locked in the employee’s vehicle.

Certain exceptions do apply – schools, prisons, nuclear power plants, Defense Department contractors, and business that maintain explosives – but unless your company falls into one of those categories, your employees (with valid concealed weapons permits) must now be permitted to keep firearms in their cars, and you cannot take disciplinary or retaliatory action against them for doing so. The Act also applies to “invitees” to your business premises, thereby including customers, volunteers, student interns, vendors or anyone else with a legitimate reason to park their vehicle in your parking lot.

But before you begin polling your employees to determine whether they are keeping guns in their vehicles, you should know that the new law also provides: “No public or private employer may violate the privacy rights of a customer, employee, or invitee by verbal or written inquiry regarding the presence of a firearm inside or locked to a private motor vehicle in a parking lot…”

Many employers and commentators have raised concerns about the possibility that this new law may lead to an increase in workplace violence, by making weapons more accessible to disgruntled and unstable employees or customers. Although the new law is reportedly facing several challenges in the courts, for now it is the law.

Any employee handbook that prohibits employees from bringing firearms onto company premises should be revised to make an exception for firearms that are lawfully stored in an employee’s locked vehicle.


What is your responsibility when an employee is summoned for jury duty? Under both federal law and Florida state law, an employee cannot be fired, threatened with termination or otherwise retaliated against based on their service on a jury, or the length of such service. Violate these laws and your company – and individual managers as well – could be held in contempt of court and fined. Additionally, the aggrieved employee can sue the company to recover lost wages, other compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

Although you are not required to pay employees during jury service, if you do choose to pay employees you must notify them of any limitations on pay before jury service begins.

The best practice is to have a clear provision in your employee handbook stating your policy on whether jury duty is paid or unpaid leave, and explaining any limitations. (For example, some policies provide for paid leave for a specified number of days, and unpaid leave thereafter.) Require employees to notify the company when they are summoned, and provide updates as to the anticipated length of service. Under certain circumstances, an employee can be excused from jury duty if their absence would cause a hardship to the employer or the employee.