Employee handbooks, sometimes described as workplace manuals or workplace policies, are highly recommended for businesses that are starting up, growing, and/or see a consistent change in personnel.
Employee handbooks are particularly helpful and efficient when it comes to delineating important topics such as:
Workplace safety and injury reporting
Workplace bullying and harassment
Vacation entitlement and leaves of absence
Although an employee handbook may seem like a hefty investment for employers upfront, the beauty of this document is that the provisions of the handbook are binding on the parties as long as the employees acknowledge receipt of the document. This approach allows employers to rely on the policies and procedures in the handbook without having to enter into separate written employment contracts with each of their employees. Furthermore, employers may, from time to time, unilaterally amend their policies and procedures to suit the needs of the business, provided that reasonable notice of the change is provided to affected employees.
Of note, however, relying on employee handbooks for termination of employment could cause complications for the employer if important steps are missed, noting that courts will scrutinize: (1) how the provisions in the employee handbook were communicated to an employee; and (2) whether the employee had agreed to be bound by the handbook as a term of their employment: see Cheong v. Grand Pacific Travel & Trade (Canada) Corp., 2016 BCSC 1321; Fernandez v The University of British Columbia, 2018 BCSC 1993. In Verigen v. Ensemble Travel Ltd., 2021 BCSC 1934, the court found that the termination provision in the employee handbook was unenforceable because the document was not enclosed or otherwise provided to the employee, even though the document was referenced in the employment contract as an enclosure. On the other hand, Meszaros v. Hendry, Swinton, McKenzie Insurance Services (Westshore) Inc., 2015 BCSC 1423, is an example where the terms contained in the employer’s policy manual were held to be enforceable against the employee, as the evidence showed that the employee acknowledged receiving the manual and skimming its contents in the years after commencing employment.
Keeping all this in mind, we highly recommend that employers regularly examine their workplace policies and procedures to ensure they are enforceable and compliant with British Columbia standards. We encourage you to reach out for a consultation if you need assistance with reviewing your workplace policies or drafting employee handbooks, workplace manuals, and workplace policies.