Horrifying. Blood curdling. Hair raising.
These are just a few of the adjectives that can be used to describe six of the scariest things your nonprofit can do (or fail to do). As a lawyer who regularly works with nonprofits, trying to protect nonprofits and help them succeed in pursuing their mission, these six items literally haunt my nightmares.
Failing to have an employee handbook with necessary policies.
Seriously? How can you NOT have an employee handbook? An employee handbook (even if you have but a single employee) makes clear the rights and responsibilities of both the employer and employee. So many disputes can be avoided by a clear, easy-to-read, and direct employee handbook.
Merely copying a handbook off the Internet or “borrowing” it from another nonprofit.
This is about as bad as not having a handbook at all! Just grabbing a random handbook and adopting it as your own makes as much sense as picking up a random hitchhiker on a foggy night. Others’ employee handbooks may have provisions you don’t need, or worse, ones you don’t want.
I once reviewed a handbook for small-but-sincere nonprofit that worked with the homeless. Several times in the handbook, quite specific medical terms came up—there was a HIPPA provision, there was talk about medical certifications, medical training, and proper handling of medical records. I realized, with a shock, this nonprofit had “borrowed” a handbook from a hospital.
How much faith or confidence will employees have in an employee handbook that’s filled with irrelevant stuff that clearly doesn’t apply to them at all? This is scary stuff, folks, very scary stuff.
Failing to have an appropriate disclaimer in your nonprofit’s employee handbook
An employee handbook may constitute an employment contract! If you think about it, an employee handbook has all the elements of a contract—it’s written, it’s specific, it “promises” certain things will (or won’t) happen. It’s even “signed” by the nonprofit/company.
So, an employee handbook could actually be considered a unilateral employment contract unless the employer includes an appropriate disclaimer. Make sure you do so.
Not having adequate job descriptions
Job descriptions are so important – for the same or similar reasons that employee handbooks themselves are needed. Job descriptions lay out in writing what is required of employees.
Job descriptions are also helpful in relation to what is now-called the American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Job descriptions demonstrate the “essential functions” (as opposed to non-essential) job functions of each position.
Also, strongly consider job descriptions for board members.
Failing to have an acknowledgement page in your nonprofit’s employee handbook
It is critically important your employee handbook include an acknowledgment page that the employee signs and returns. The acknowledgement page should state that the employee understands it is his or her responsibility to both read and follow the policies. The acknowledgement page should be able to be separated from the handbook, so that it can be signed by the employee and saved in the employee’s personnel file.
Not making absolutely clear that your new employee handbook supersedes other, older policies
Your nonprofit’s new employee handbook must make clear it trumps other, older policies and provisions. The employee handbook needs a “superseding” provision. This provision must state unambiguously this employee handbook is indeed the most up-to-date guidance on your nonprofit’s policies.
Wow, that was super scary!
After writing this post, I probably won’t sleep well tonight. But, if you follow these six pieces of advice you’ll rest easy knowing that you’re more likely avoid the nonprofit graveyard. If you’re facing these spooky scenarios (or any other challenges) don’t hesitate to reach out by phone (515-371-6077) or email to schedule a free consultation.