Although it may be taken for granted that every business has an employee handbook, or policy manual, that is not always the case. In fact, many business run huge risks with liability and compliance without one.
One of the first challenges a business has with this document is what to call it. The primary purpose of a policy manual is to inform and equip employees with policy information. Consequently, referring to it as an "Employee Handbook" can be a good choice.
However, your choice is not limited to 'employee handbook' or 'policy manual.' Being creative with the title is a good thing and it should reflect both the tenor of your business and the culture within your company.
What To Include In Your Employee Handbook
A challenge when developing and documenting an employee handbook is determining what should be included. There is a real possibility of putting too much information in a handbook.
Employees, for the most part, are not eager to read an employee handbook. And a thick document crammed with headings, sub-headings, bullet points and mind-numbing “corporate-speak” may simply go unread.
On the other hand, a spare document that is lacking in essential information can be more damaging than no manual at all.
Suggested Employee Handbook Table of Contents
This is a high level outline of suggested contents and not intended to be comprehensive (adapted from Insperity.com):
Introduction and Purpose of the Handbook
- Welcome Message from the President/CEO
- Company Vision
- Company Mission
- Company Values
Code of Conduct and Workplace Professionalism
This is where your employees can go to when they have questions about workplace behavior and compliance. Your contents may be somewhat different, but they should include such items as:
- Code of ethics
- Dress codes and grooming standards
- Safety and Security in the workplace
- Drug and Alcohol Use
This section will not only set the tone for your organization, but it can also provide your employees guidance by summarizing the rules and policies that most affect your business’s culture.
Harassment and discrimination policies are dictated by various state and federal regulations. These exist to protect your employees from discrimination based on factors not directly related to the quality of their work. Laws prohibiting discrimination are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
They include but are not limited to:
Communicating a policy that addresses these laws allows your employees to know how they are expected to comply with them. This section should also include information on how to report policy violations.
Company Communications Policy
Employees daily work with text messages, emails, instant messages, written letters, and even social media. As a consequence, it’s easy for personal and company information to be shared improperly.
Clear guidelines for managing personal, company and customer information in the workplace will help your company avoid awkward situations or costly mistakes.
This can also include policies regarding personal phone use during work hours and social media and Internet use on company devices or during business hours.
Employment and Termination Policy
This section typically defines the general terms of employment with your along with the standard reasons for termination. This is where you would specify any state requirements such as being an “at will” employment state.
Other employment information that could be added includes:
- Job classifications
- Introductory periods
- Vacation Leave
- Sick Leave
Compensation and Benefits Policies
Your policies regarding pay, bonuses, and benefits are of great interest to your employees. This is to be expected. Employees need to have clear communication of what they stand to gain by contributing to your organization.
In addition, this section can provide an important degree of legal support by explaining payroll deductions, overtime, the Family and Medical Leave Act, workers’ compensation, COBRA health coverage and more.
Any additional fringe benefits such as health insurance options, tuition reimbursement, and retirement plans can be outlined here.
An Acknowledgment and Signature Page
Your employee handbook should include an acknowledgment and signature page stating that they have read and understand the policies. A copy of this signed acknowledgment page should be kept in each employee’s file. In addition, each employee should have a copy along with the actual employee manual.
Employee Handbook Development Strategies
Here are some "best practices" and tips for creating an effective employee handbook:
If you are implementing a new employee handbook be prepared for some resistance to your new policies. This can be especially true if you are creating a handbook for the first time. Anything that was merely inferred previously can seem a bit strict once written down. There are some effective strategies for overcoming this.
One approach, suggested by Human Resources expert Susan Heathfield, is to have an informal employee event about a week after the handbook is implemented. This should be done simply to benefit your employees. A few weeks later, have a second event, and there you should thank them for their cooperation with the new policies.
Avoid excessive legal or industry-specific verbiage. In other words, clarity and brevity should be your guide with language. The policy manual is not the place to address every labor law issue that might arise in your business. Also, keep the wording simple and informal - your goal is to communicate.
Be clear with expectations but also avoid "over-regulating". Company rules and policies need to be clear, concise and sensible. 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 the adults you employ to possess a degree of common sense and ethical integrity.
Define digital conduct. The ubiquitous nature 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.
Follow your own policies. Having an official policy manual also means no exceptions. In other words, not only does everyone deserve equal treatment, but everyone in your organization must comply with the policies as written. The business owner and the managers must uphold those policies and the employee handbook consistently. Managers need to be trained in the handbook and fully familiarized with the policies.
The Value of an Employee Handbook/Policy Manual
An employee handbook is an important document that can protect you from liability. New laws go into effect each year and should be reflected in your handbook. If you do not currently have an employee handbook, now is a great time to create one.
If you already have one, but haven’t reviewed or updated it in the last few years, you should consider revising it as soon as possible. Done properly, your employee handbook serves multiple functions. It will provide your employees with important information about your company, its culture and policies, and the guidelines and expectations you have for them.
A comprehensive employee, or policy, manual will also help protect both you and your employees legally by clearly documenting and communicating clear expectations and standards that employees – and management – must comply with.
Getting Professional Help with HR Management
An updated policy strategy will help your organization meet its obligations, while providing adherence to the law and compliance. Take time to understand the law and prioritize these policies and procedures. In this way, you will make compliance a sure thing.
Another key step in maintaining HR compliance while 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.