There are topics that must be covered in this company-critical document.
By Alexandra Walsh
An employee handbook is an important tool you can use to effectively communicate information regarding your company’s policies, practices, and employee benefits.
A well-written handbook sets forth your expectations for your employees, and describes what they can expect from your company.
Deciding which topics to include in your employee handbook can be a challenging task. There are certain policies every handbook should contain—regardless of the size or type of employer. Even if you decide to create a handbook on your own, I advise you to have an employment attorney review the policies to ensure legal compliance and effectiveness.
As a starting point, the U.S. Small Business Administration suggests including the following eight topics.
1. General Employment Information
Provide a general overview of your business and lay out its basic policies relating to employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and union information, if applicable.
2. Anti-Discrimination Policies
As an employer, you must comply with applicable state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, such as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII. Your employee handbook should include a section about these laws, and how your employees are expected to comply.
This section is also a good place to set out your sexual harassment policy, any affirmative action policies, and a statement of your compliance with all employment discrimination and related legal requirements.
Clearly explain your business will make required deductions from employees’ pay for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for the company’s benefits programs. In addition, you should outline your legal obligations regarding overtime pay, pay schedules, time-keeping records, and meal and rest breaks. Be sure to comply with any applicable state wage and hour laws in addition to federal requirements.
4. Work Schedules
Describe your business firm’s policies regarding work hours and schedules, attendance, punctuality and reporting absences, along with guidelines for flexible schedules and telecommuting, if offered.
5. Standards of Conduct
Make sure you document your expectations of how you want employees to conduct themselves, from dress code to computer and telephone use. A policy and corresponding written acknowledgment for the company’s right to monitor employees’ use of electronic communications systems should be included. Telephone calls in and out of the company’s phone systems, use of its email, and use of the Internet on the business’ computers all constitute “electronic communications.”
In addition, it is important to remind your employees of any legal obligations they may need to comply with on the job (for example, state your business’ legal obligations to protect customer data).
It is also appropriate in this section to describe your progressive disciplinary policy (if any) and any other standards related to employee discipline.
6. Leave Policies
Your company’s leave policies should be carefully documented, especially leaves you are required to provide by law. Family and medical leave, jury duty, military leave, and time off for court cases and voting should all be documented to comply with state and local laws. In addition, you should explain
your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement, and sick leave.
7. Employee Benefits
Include details on your company benefit programs and eligibility requirements, including all benefits that may be required by law, such as disability insurance and workers’ compensation.
The employee benefits section should also outline your plans for health insurance, retirement, employee assistance, tuition reimbursement, and any other optional benefits your business offers.
The employee handbook is the single most important internal document laying out the policies of your company.
Note that separate legal documents (such as a summary plan description) may also be required for employee benefit plans.
8. Safety and Security
Describe your business’ policy for creating a safe and secure workplace, including compliance with applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws requiring employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions, and health and safety related issues to management. Safety policies should also include your company’s policy regarding bad weather and hazardous community conditions.
Consider including an at-will employment statement—for example, to prevent a court from finding you entered into an employment contract with an employee and breached the contract by terminating the employee.
If your employees are to be employed “at-will,” you should clearly state that fact and include a conspicuous disclaimer in the front of your handbook that the handbook is not an employment
contract and should not be construed as a contract.
It is advisable to speak with an attorney when drafting language related to at-will employment, as such clauses recently have come under scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board.
Also consider including a harassment policy covering all types of illegal harassment. Many employers mistakenly associate “harassment” with only sexual harassment. Unlawful harassment, however, can occur when an employer creates an intolerable work environment based on an employee’s protected class.
This means there can be race-based, national origin-based, or religion-based harassment because all those characteristics are protected by law. Doublecheck your manual to be sure you haven’t limited your harassment policy only to harassment based on gender.
Additionally, a harassment policy must include a clear, step-by-step guide for employees to report any harassing behavior. The policy should include actions that will be taken in response to a complaint as well as consequences for employees and managers who fail to report harassment.
There should be a zero-tolerance policy for managers who fail to properly respond to a complaint.
You will also want to include in the handbook a written acknowledgement by the employee that he or she has received and read the handbook, to be signed and placed in the employee’s personnel file.
While the policies outlined in your employee handbook will reflect your company’s own unique culture, it is important to consider federal, state, and local laws and regulations that may affect your business when drafting the handbook.
You may want to create multiple handbooks if you have exempt and non-exempt employees or unionized employees.
The employee handbook is the single most important internal document laying out the policies of your company to each and every one of your employees.