Do You Need an Employee Handbook?

employee handbook

An employee handbook defines and documents your company’s policies and procedures. It protects both you and your employees, and provides a written reference for employees, supervisors, and managers about their responsibilities and the expectations your company has for them. Putting your policies in writing in an employee handbook can help resolve disputes before they arise and avoid litigation. 

Most states do not require businesses to have an employee handbook but may require any company that does create an employee handbook to include certain policies. For example, although California does not require employers to create an employee handbook, the state does require employers to have written policies on harassment, discrimination, and prevention of retaliation which must be included in the employee handbook if the company chooses to create one.

What else can you include in your employee handbook?

Culture and Benefits

Employee handbooks contain background information about your company, its origin and culture, its vision, mission, and goals. Because of this, they are useful tools for introducing employees to your business culture.
In addition, employee handbooks communicate the benefits available to employees, such as:

- Flexible work schedules
- Reimbursement for employee expenses, including travel
- Vacation time, company holidays, bereavement and sick leave
- Health benefits
- Profit-sharing, 401(k), or other retirement benefits

The handbook should also cover how, when and with whom employees should communicate to obtain or apply for those benefits.

Employee Performance, Code of Conduct, and Discipline

Your company’s code of conduct outlines the expectations for employee behavior, within the bounds of the current law, and sets forth information about how employees will be disciplined. 

This portion of your employee handbook might include information about  attendance requirements, meal and rest breaks, personal conduct standards, dress codes, and promotions. It might also include a confidentiality policy stating that employees are prohibited from misusing or disclosing confidential information not otherwise available to those outside of the company.

If you are a company with an at-will employment policy, termination is at the employer’s discretion and can happen for any reason, with or without cause, as long as it is not illegal. If your organization wishes to forego a detailed description of your disciplinary procedure, it can opt for a statement providing that the violation of any company policy can lead to employee discipline or termination and that the handbook itself doesn't serve as a binding employment contract. 
But if your company has a contract with a labor union that covers collective bargaining for employees, or if your business is in one of the states that recognize established exceptions to at-will employment, you may be required to show “just cause” to fire or discipline an employee, and you may need to modify your at-will statement or disciplinary policies accordingly.

Employee Rights and Safety

Your employee handbook should also advise employees about their rights, including those contained in federal, state, or local statutes, and those that outline your business’s safety policies. 

This portion of your handbook should include policies on:

- Discrimination
- Sexual and other forms of harassment
- Workplace safety
- Drugs and alcohol
- Entitlement to leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Jury service
- Emergency procedures

The handbook should also provide employees with information about how to make complaints, report workplace violations, and get answers to questions, and who they should report to for these issues. Making it clear that your company has already designated a place for employees to go within the company to address these issues limits the chances that the employee will seek help outside of the company—with the EEOC, for example—which could lead to an outside investigation.

Final Thoughts

Distribute the handbook to all employees, and establish a policy that the handbook be provided to each new employee when hired. Require all employees to sign the employee handbook to acknowledge that they received it and that they understand the policies and procedures it contains. If discipline or termination becomes necessary, this acknowledgment provides evidence that the employee was aware of the rules.

Your employee handbook is a legal document; if you decide to develop and distribute a handbook, keep it up to date and to consistently enforce the policies contained within it. Failure to consistently enforce those policies can lead to litigation. 

If you do offer an employee handbook, consult with a labor and employment lawyer to help you draft it or otherwise help ensure that it complies with local, state, and federal regulations. Similarly, if you want to make changes, ensure that you follow the appropriate guidelines for doing so and for notifying employees of the changes and their effective date. Go to our site to get an employment lawyer to help you develop or revise your employee handbook.

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Posted - 10/18/2017