Employee handbooks – getting a handle on your policies
While there may be no state or federal law requiring an employer to have a handbook, there are a number or reasons why they are in an employer’s best interest.
- Usefulness. It is beneficial for there to be one definitive source on the terms of employment. If an employee ever has a question as to what is acceptable or not, they know where to turn.
- Communication. An employee handbook gives an employer the opportunity to speak clearly on important issues. Handbooks can be a podium for employers to speak out against issues like sexual harassment, workplace violence, bullying, or drug use.
- Clarity. Employee handbooks create consistency and uniformity in an environment where many people may be involved in the management process. Uniformly enforcing policies cuts down on discrimination claims by ensuring that all employees are treated equally.
- Protection. In the case of a trial, jurors have been found to favor companies that have clearly communicated and enforced company policies – even if the employee didn’t follow them. The fact that the employer has communicated their disapproval shows an act of good faith.
A job worth doing is worth doing well
A handbook isn’t necessarily a get out of jail free card. Like any tool, if you don’t use your handbook properly it can end up hurting you.
- Keep your employee handbook up-to-date. If your polices are outdated, they may prove inaccurate and useless. Say you have a policy that only prohibits talking on a cell phone while driving, but doesn’t mention texting. An employee has the right to assume that behavior is permissible, and you might be found at fault if an accident occurs.
- Be sure to avoid promissory language. If your handbook discusses specific timelines, creates expectations of benefits, or doesn’t clearly outline that employment is at-will, courts can find that it acts as a binding contract.
- Don’t make the handbook into an encyclopedia. Outlining how employees should file for unemployment benefits or workers’ compensation claims can do more harm to your business than good. Avoid discussing any internal practices, and just stick to the rules and regulations your employees need to know about.
Where to start
While there are any number of policies an employer can chose to include in their handbook, there are a few that are must haves.
- Introduction to the handbook/at-will employment statement
- Equal employment opportunity policy
- Harassment policy
- Family and medical leave policy
- Conduct policy
- Acknowledgment form