A well-written employee handbook benefits both the employee and the employer. Yet, it’s written by the employer with the goal of establishing policies, procedures, and expectations for employees. Without making the handbook sound like a legal document, you’ll want to identify and clarify the company’s position in areas of the employer/ employee relationship that could make you vulnerable to lawsuits.
It’s important to identify the rules of the road for employment without focusing too heavily on negativity. There’s a place for what not to do. However, you should begin by welcoming the new employee and defining the company’s goals and core principles.
What Is an Employee Handbook?
Your employee handbook is a written communication that welcomes new employees and provides some background about the company. But keep in mind this is a business document. If you describe your company as a family, you could be implying indefinite employment. It’s important to make it clear that employment is at-will, which means the relationship can terminate with or without cause by the employer or the employee.
Having made the employment status clear, the handbook can then focus on policies specific to the company. These might include but are not limited to the use of company property, drug use, social media, dress code, and expense reporting. If there is disciplinary action for policy violations, those actions should be clearly stated. A well-written employee handbook will include provisions required by federal, state, and local laws. At the end of the handbook, written acknowledgment of receipt should be signed by the employee.
Who Uses an Employee Handbook?
Both parties to the employee handbook:
- The employer who creates it to define the relationship with employees;
- The employee who refers to it for clarity, make use of it, especially when it’s well-written.
Having policies in writing provides the consistency that benefits all. Employers who offer a menu of benefits can use the handbook to provide information about each benefit, like 401k, health insurance, and eligibility requirements. If you have an extensive benefits package, you want to ensure your employees understand the offerings. These clearly stated perks go a long way toward retaining your most valued employees.
In the case of a dispute or legal claim, the handbook is used by the employer to show their stated position on the most common employee concerns. So, by having a signed acknowledgment of receipt in the employee’s file, there’s documentation that the employee was informed.
Ways in Which a Complete Employee Handbook Can Help Your Business
Businesses that operate without the benefit of an employee handbook are shortchanging themselves in critical sectors that could otherwise increase profits, productivity, and employee retention. Benefits include:
- The very act of writing an employee handbook forces you to think about the legalities of hiring employees. It pays to research the employment laws in your state and ensure that you’re in compliance. If not, you can fix it. Stating your compliance to applicable laws in your employee handbook makes it part of your company policy.
- It also forces you to clearly define company policies regarding things like paid time off, payroll schedule, and family leave.
- Expectations and responsibilities on both sides are clear.
- At-will employment is clearly defined, fording off legal challenges.
- By including how and to whom employees can report workplace violations, complaints can be handled in-house.
- Including a basic time line for performance reviews and sticking to it provides opportunity for coaching.
Managers and supervisors deal with questions and decisions regarding company policy, and if everyone is looking at the same handbook, their actions will be consistent. It will also be a powerful document in case of a legal challenge from employees past and present.
5 Tips for Writing a Flawless Employee Handbook
1. Commit to Outlining Each Policy in Positive Terms
Do this before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. One of the purposes of an employee handbook is to encourage positive behavior by both employer and employee. The introduction to the handbook is your opportunity to explain the company’s vision.
2. First Decide Which Policies Are the Core Handbook for the Company
This suits best if you have multiple business sectors. Once the core document is complete, you can add specific policies for the various business sectors. Sales doesn’t operate the same as manufacturing. This is especially if they have a union, and research and development often operates under more security.
Addendum to the core document should be added and identified as specific to a particular sector or facility.
3. The Company’s Compliance with Federal and State Employment Laws Should Be Clear and Up Front
Examples of these would be:
- Family medical leave policies;
- Equal employment and non-discrimination policies;
- Worker’s compensation policies.
If you’re not sure which policies to include, state labor departments have listings on the websites. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has loads of advice and even offers an employee handbook template.
4. Write Down the Main Topics
Take this action as you consider what you want to include in your employee handbook. These can be:
- Attendance policy;
- Sick leave;
- Vacation time calculation;
- Dress code;
- Performance review policies.
Envision each category as an item in the table of contents. Make it intuitive so that employees and managers alike will be able to scan the list for the information they’re looking for. There are many templates available online. They can provide as much or as little guidance as you need when it comes to organizing the various sections.
5. Think of Those Who Leave
It’s inevitable that situations will arise when an employee will leave the company. Then, the guidelines should state:
- How much notice is necessary;
- When final paychecks will be issued;
- What company property they should return;
- If you have a policy requiring an exit interview, this should be clearly stated as well
- The at-will employment policy should appear in this section.
To the End
Businesses who choose to operate without an employee handbook will often find themselves coming up with answers on the fly. Therefore, the lack of consistency leaves them open to legal action. By creating a handbook that answers employee questions before they’re asked and writing it in a positive fashion, employees will feel respected. Company managers are comfortable knowing they have a resource to answer questions and how to deal with difficult situations.
If you’re in the process of writing an employee handbook and have unanswered questions or lessons learned, feel free the leave your thoughts.