A policy handbook, or manual, is a vital tool and resource for any business. But owners and HR managers often find creating them a challenge.
According to some experts, many small businesses do not have a policy manual, or handbook, an employee orientation process or proper termination procedures. Yet these tools and processes can be the first line of defense in avoiding a costly employee lawsuit.
Initial Considerations for Your Employee Handbook
One of the first things you will want to establish is what you will call your handbook. While the conventional approach is to simply refer to this document as an employee, or company, manual or handbook, this is not required. A bit of creativity can be used to make the document more accessible and interesting.
Some suggestions are "Team Guidebook", "Company How-To Guide" and "Company Culture Manual". The point is to come up with a title that engages your staff and reflects the prevailing culture of your organization.
Another suggested caveat is to preface your handbook with the company mission. This establishes up-front why you do what you do and provides a relevant context for the content of the handbook. Your company's stated mission, along with an articulated list of company values, will set the stage for more meaningful policies.
A third item to keep in mind is that the policy handbook is just for that: policies. Too many organizations try to put too much information into this document under the rubric of "Policies and Procedures". But procedures should have their own document apart from the company policies. Keep it simple!
Policy Manuals and Compliance With Labor Law
A common HR management question is whether employee policy manuals, or handbooks, are required by law. The state of California, for example, does not require businesses to have a handbook.
However, keep in mind that in California, if a manual or handbook is created then there are policies that must be included.
According to CalChamber,
Certain policies are mandatory and must be included in your employee handbook. For example, California employers must have a written harassment, discrimination and retaliation prevention policy. Including these policies clarifies for employees their rights and obligations, and protect you from potential liability.
Although a policy handbook is great for clarifying and publishing company policies, it can actually lead to potential lawsuits if it's done incorrectly. Employers must ensure that their policies do not violate any federal or state laws or override the at-will employment relationship.
HR Best Practices for Effective Handbook Building
Here are some "best practices" and tips for creating an effective employee handbook.
Avoid legal or industry-specific verbiage. In other words, clarity and brevity should be your guide with language. This is not the place for every labor law issue that might arise in your business. In addition, strive to keep the wording simple and informal. The goal is to communicate.
Be clear with expectations, but avoid "over-regulating". Company rules and policies need to be clear, concise and sensible. This means having them reviewed and reasonably critiqued. This is especially true for any sections outlining disciplinary actions that may be taken by the company. And avoid trying to create a policy for everything. Expect adults you employ to possess a degree of common sense and ethical integrity.
Acknowledge and define digital conduct. The ubiquitousness of digital media and the constant need for security means this is a high priority item for company policies. Providing clarity and a comprehensive overview of digital use and practices is essential. For example, include policies for Internet use while at work, and what can be posted on behalf of the company, or as an employee.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers some general steps for developing an employee handbook.
- Review and revise company policies
- Create an outline of what to include
- Create summary statements of each policy
- Add summaries according to outline
- Review policy handbook
- Submit final version for legal review
- Distribute approved handbook
While every company handbook will be unique due to the unique nature of policies, etc. there are some common items that should be included, as well. According to the SHRM,
Important factors to consider are legal mandates for federal and state laws that affect employees, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, COBRA, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) anti-discrimination laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. If an employer fails to communicate these in the employee handbook, there may be confusion and noncompliance with the laws.
One last thought: despite the appeal of relying solely on a digital resource, providing a printed, bound copy for every employee is a great way to ensure that they literally have the policies "at hand" and it adds a sense of weight and legitimacy to the company policies.
Getting Professional Help with HR Practices
An updated and streamlined reporting strategy will help your organization meet its obligations, while providing accuracy and timeliness. So take time to understand the new laws and prioritize accurate record keeping. In this way, you will make compliance a sure thing.
Another key step in maintaining HR compliance and increasing your company's cost-effectiveness is to consider outsourcing. A professional agency such as Accuchex can provide much-needed help with Human Resources needs and questions.
Accuchex is a full spectrum Payroll Management Services provider offering expertise in Time Management, Insurance and Retirement issues, as well.