It can be beneficial for all businesses, regardless of size, to draft and distribute an informative employee handbook. When used to communicate the policies, procedures, rules, and benefits of a business, a thoughtfully prepared and up-to-date manual is a valuable tool for all employees, while also helping to protect employers from potential liability.
Although the length of an employee handbook is relatively unimportant, it should provide a basic outline of each employee's responsibilities, as well as an explanation of their rights and privileges. When a business has several levels of management, an employee handbook can help establish common guidelines across the organization. Without consistent standards to guide them, supervisors may unknowingly show bias, which can lead to resentment toward the employer and friction among employees. Establishing a formal set of rules and practices can help to clarify expectations regarding appearance, performance, and behavior in the workplace. A handbook can also help to ensure that both managers and employees are aware of their legal obligations and of the potential consequences of noncompliance.
Employee handbooks typically include the following information:
- An introduction that may consist of a welcome letter from the owner, a brief history of the company, and a mission statement.
- A summary of the company's hiring and recruitment policies, including a statement that the firm is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate and a guarantee of confidentiality that employees' personal information will be protected.
- An outline of the management structure, and job descriptions and classifications, including information about probationary periods and other relevant personnel issues, such as promotion policies and performance reviews.
- An explanation of the company's pay and overtime procedures as they apply to specific groups of employees, as well as policies regarding work hours, tardiness, and absenteeism.
- A section that details the benefit offerings, including health insurance, retirement plans, sick leave, paid holidays, and any additional perks. If vacation time is available, explain how paid leave is accrued and the proper procedure for requesting time off.
- A section that outlines workplace policies, such as dress code, health and safety procedures, the use of workplace technology, and expense reimbursement procedures.
- An outline of the firm's discrimination and harassment policies, instructions for filing a complaint, and an explanation of complaint investigation procedures. This section may remind employees that certain behaviors will not be tolerated in the workplace and help protect the business from liability.
- A statement of disciplinary procedures, including definitions of the behaviors that could result in disciplinary action, such as drug and alcohol use, unapproved absences, or the violation of specific rules. This section may also contain an explanation of grievance procedures.
- An employment at-will statement, which explains the right of the employer to terminate the employee and the right of the employee to resign employment.
A statement to be signed and returned to the employer by each employee acknowledging that the handbook has been read and understood.
There are also some legal points to consider when drafting an employee handbook. Be sure to include the proper legal disclaimers, which may state that the policies, procedures, and standard practices outlined in the handbook represent guidelines only, and that the employer reserves the right to amend its procedures and practices at any time. Before finalizing an employee handbook, employers are advised to seek legal review of the contents.
In addition to creating a safety net for employers, a well-designed handbook can provide business owners with the opportunity to clarify their expectations of employees, as well as to detail any incentives offered for hard work and loyalty. Business owners may want to consult with employees when composing the manual, asking for feedback on its content, tone, and relevance. An employee handbook can also help to demonstrate to potential investors that the business is well organized and takes its relationships and legal obligations seriously.