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Guide to Creating Employee Handbooks

Employee handbooks aren't just good for communicating your company's vision and policies, they are also a great way to set employee expectations and can be extremely helpful to your case if you are ever sued. By clearly communicating your expectations and rules to employees through employee handbooks, you'll be creating a safer, happier workplace, and at the same time you'll greatly reduce your chances of being sued.

Contents of an Employee Handbook

All employee handbooks should cover certain basic, essential topics. Here are some of the recommended topics for your employee handbook:

  • Company overview: Begin your handbook by describing the company's history and overall philosophy or vision.
  • Pay: Be clear about how you pay your employees, whether hourly or salaried. Also, set forth your policy for how you determine pay as well as how you determine raises.
  • Hours: Set forth your normal working hours, and define which employees they refer to, such as full-time employees versus part-time employees, etc.
  • Overtime: If you allow overtime, describe what qualifies as overtime and how it will be compensated.
  • Benefits: Use this section to explain the different benefits that you offer and how employees qualify for them.
  • Attendance: Let your employees know how important it is to be on time and what the consequences are if they are repeatedly tardy.
  • Professionalism: Tell your employees that you expect them to treat their coworkers and customers with respect and civility at all times, and that you expect them to always behave in a professional manner that reflects well upon the company.
  • Harassment: Remind employees that harassment at the workplace is both illegal and will not be tolerated. Let employees know that they should report any harassment they either experience or hear about, and give the contact information of the person they should report harassment to. Finally, let employees know that any such report will be kept confidential, taken seriously, thoroughly investigated and dealt with appropriately.
  • Drug policy: Set forth your policy for drugs and alcohol in the workplace and describe how any such violations will be dealt with. Many companies also offer employee assistance programs, where employees having difficulties with chemical dependencies can turn for help without fear of retribution.
  • Smoking policy: Outline your smoking policy, including whether employees can take smoking breaks, where they can smoke, etc. These policies must comply with state and local laws, so make sure to check that you comply with your local laws.
  • Safety: Let employees know that safety is your first concern, and set forth who they should contact if they become aware of any dangerous conditions.
  • Complaints: Clearly outline what the process is for filing a complaint, who they should talk to, what the steps are for resolving the complaint, etc. Designate certain people within the company to receive employee complaints, and make it clear to your employees that they won't be retaliated against for filing a complaint.
  • Discipline: Outline the kind of conduct an employee can expect to be disciplined for, and what kind of discipline will result. Always state that the list of conduct and options for discipline are not exhaustive, but simply serve as examples.
  • Other conduct: Acknowledge that no employee handbook can cover every possible workplace situation. Let employees know that the examples provided are just that, examples, and who they should contact if they have questions about conduct not covered in the handbook.

What Not to Include in an Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks are very helpful for establishing guidelines and setting policy, but that can turn against you if you aren't careful. Courts and employees may view your employee handbook as having created legal obligations, so it pays to be very careful about what you do and do not say in your handbook. Here are some things you should avoid doing in your employee handbook:

  • Don't promise job security: Promising job security isn't limited to an express promise, be careful to not even imply it by avoiding words like "permanent" and avoiding phrases like "without good cause".
  • Don't imply that the book is comprehensive: Always be very careful to let employees know that the conduct and policies you list in the handbook are not exhaustive, but are merely representative examples. If you don't, an employee may think that if it's not in the book, then it's ok.
  • Don't lock yourself to a course of action: While you should set out potential causes of action, especially for disciplining, don't bind your hands by making an overly rigid system. Each situation requires independent judgment, so make it clear that any punishments described are simply examples, and that you as an employer are free to choose from a variety of other potential remedies.

Finding an Employment Law Attorney 

Employment law is complicated. Be sure to consult with an attorney who specializes in employment law before writing your company's employee handbook.  

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