Why You Need an Employee Handbook and What Should Be in It

Dec 10, 2014

employee handbookSmall businesses with fewer than 10 employees often forgo the formality of having an employee handbook. But this is a mistake.

An employee handbook, even if short and sweet, lays out every employee's rights and the employer's duties. It's crucial for keeping employees informed and everyone on the same page.

If you've never written an employee handbook before, here are some key features and information it should have:

Keep it easy to read. There's no need to fill it with legal and human resources jargon. Instead, write it in plain terms anyone you hire will understand.

Describe the company accurately. Provide a description of the company, its services, principles, and overall culture. Be honest, because employees will know if you aren't.

Give information on hours, vacation time, sick time, and overtime policies. Also, make sure your policies are in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Have an at-will statement. Unless you hire employees based on contracts that specify a length of employment, you should tell your workers their employment is at-will, meaning they can be let go or they can leave for any or no reason. Without this statement, employees may think they can only be let go if there's a specific reason.

Provide your equal employment opportunity statement. It's important to state that you follow all federal, state, and local laws in regard to classifications of persons that are protected by law, such as age, gender, and race.

Lay out your harassment and discrimination policy. You probably hope you never have to deal with a harassment or discrimination issue, but unfortunately, these incidents happen in workplaces of all sizes. You should state that you won't tolerate such incidents, what the process is for a worker to make an official complaint, and what the follow-up action will be.

Provide a drug and alcohol abuse policy. You need to make it clear that the use of alcohol or illegal substances during works hours won't be tolerated.

Take a stance on social media. Many, if not all, of your employees will have a social media profile. There's no need to discourage this, but your handbook should state that their online activity can affect their position or count as harassment and discrimination. However, look into your state's laws on the issue. Many states discourage employers from taking actions that could be considered invasive, such as asking for employees' passwords.

Define how disciplinary actions will be taken. Do you provide warnings, or are certain offenses automatic terminations? Lay out how you'll handle worker violations.

It's important to maintain a balance between having an engaging employee handbook and one that clearly lays out the laws and company policies. Don't shy away from the fact that there are federal and state laws as well as business guidelines that all employees must follow.

Once you've developed an employee handbook, consider having your attorney look it over. This is a good time to ensure you're aware of all federal and state legislation that affects your business and employees. Additionally, go over and update your handbook at least once a year. As your business grows, your policies may change. Laws that affect your company may change as well.

It's also a smart decision to have your employees verify in writing that they received the employee handbook. This protects you from workers later claiming they weren't given the document and weren't aware of their rights or the company's policies.

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  1. 3 Paul Hilton 06 Jul
    If an employer has 15 or more employees, the handbook should contain information on the organization's compliance with the ADA. The same applies to employers with 50 or more employees and compliance with the FMLA. In the 2004 revisions to the FLSA, the DOL highly suggested a policy on exempt employee pay.
  2. 2 CEDIA 17 Dec
    HR consultant Courtney Berg also touches on handbooks in the CEDIA eCourse HR When You Don't Have an HR Department (http://www.cedia.net/Education/ViewCourse.aspx?CourseID=2180). She agrees that you don't necessarily need a lengthy handbook but says it's important to get employees to sign off on a list of policies. She also stresses the legal importance of making sure you adhere to all the policies in your handbook. Check out the course for more!
  3. 1 Eric 15 Dec
    Fully agree.  There are seven people at our company and we have two handbooks.  An technician training handbook that defines what we do and how we do it, then a personnel handbook that defines company policies and rules.  I have already leaned on them many times.  On a somewhat related note you also want to make sure and get a SIGNED resignation letter whenever anyone leaves.  We fired a tech about two years ago and shortly thereafter he tried claiming unemployment.  We forwarded the signed resignation letter to the unemployment office and the case was closed immediately.



CEDIA blog posts are intended to provide general information and should not be regarded as legal opinions or advice.

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