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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 manuals, you'll create a safer, happier workplace. At the same time, you'll significantly reduce your chances of being sued.

In addition to laying out company policies in your employee manual, you can also give your staff an idea of the company culture. Consider handing your manual out to all new hires and getting them to sign an acknowledgment form. Inform your staff of any updates to the staff manual on an ongoing basis. Keep human resources staff informed of policy changes.

Contents of an Employee Handbook

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

  • Company overview: Begin your handbook by describing the company's history and overall philosophy or vision. Include a mission statement and a list of the core values on which you built your business.
  • Pay: Be clear about how you pay your employees, whether hourly or salaried. Also, set forth your policy for how you determine compensation and raises.
  • Hours: Set forth your regular 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 you offer and how employees qualify for them. Even if you have a separate document on employee benefits that you provide to staff, it could also help to mention the basics in your staff handbook.
  • Vacations: Lay out the vacation policy in detail. Let your employees know how much vacation time they can take and if unused days roll over to the next period.
  • Attendance: Let your employees know how important it is to be on time and the consequences 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. Also, describe the dress code, if you have one. Don't forget to cover your social media policy.
  • 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 experience or hear about, and provide the contact information of the person that takes harassment reports. Finally, let employees know that any such report will be kept confidential, taken seriously, thoroughly investigated, and dealt with appropriately. Sexual harassment policies and discrimination policies are important because they deal directly with employee rights and federal laws.
  • Drug policy: Set forth your substance abuse policy and describe how you'll deal with any violations. Many companies also offer employee assistance programs, where employees 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 check that you comply with your local laws.
  • Safe workplace: 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 the process 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 type of discipline will result. Always state that the list of behavior and options for discipline is not exhaustive but serves as an example.
  • 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 not to even imply it by avoiding words like "permanent" and avoiding phrases like "without good cause."
  • Don't imply that your staff handbook 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 specializing in employment law before writing your company's employee handbook.

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