January 22, 2008

Plain English Employee Manual

Last week, the Tribune Company, which owns the Los Angeles Times, distributed a new employee handbook written in plain English. At 3,663 words, the new Tribune manual is about a third as long as the dense, 11,519-word edition it replaced. The document is nothing like the mind-numbing, lawyered jargon in most corporate manuals. It opens with two rules: Rule #1: Use your best judgment; Rule #2: See Rule 1. The objective is to open communications with employees, but some lawyers warn that the plain language and jocular tone may make it a legal minefield. (LA Times; Tribune Policy Manual.) As an ombuds, who frequently reads employee manuals and urges better communication, I hope this is a harbinger.

Footnote: Just days after the new handbook was announced, the editor of the LA Times was forced out after disagreeing with plans to shrink the newsroom budget. (LA Times.)

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