Write an Employee Handbook
An employee manual, also called a handbook, outlines the company's policies, procedures and guiding principles. The purpose of the handbook is to ensure that employees have a complete, clear understanding of the company policies affecting their work, pay, and benefits. It is important that any business have a comprehensive employee handbook to avoid any legal matters that may arise and to support their employees. You can create an employee handbook that includes guidelines and rules around compensation, employee benefits, and your company's standard of conduct. You should also discuss the company's policies on the safety and security of all employees. Make sure you use an accessible tone and clear language in the handbook so it is easy for your employees to follow.
- Start with a general introductory paragraph. The employee handbook should include a general introductory paragraph that outlines the purpose of the handbook. You should welcome the employee to the company and discuss the company's goal of being a rewarding place to work for employees. You should also reiterate the importance of the employer/employee relationship.
- For example, you may state: “We at [Company Name] are confident you will find our company is a dynamic and engaging place to work, and we look forward to your contribution to our continued success. We consider our employees to be our most valuable resource. This handbook will serve as guide for the relationship between employer and employee.”
- Include a disclaimer that the handbook is not a legal contract. You should also make sure the introduction to the handbook contains a disclaimer that the handbook is not a legal, binding contract between employer and employee. This will help to prevent legal disputes and protect your company in the event of a legal issue in the future.
- For example, you may state: “This handbook only contains general information and guidelines. It is not a binding legal contract and does not act as a contractual right to remain employed by the company.”
- Note the employee can be dismissed at the discretion of the company. This is another important disclaimer that should be included in the employee handbook. You should make sure you state that your company is not obligated to retain employees and note that an employee can be dismissed at the discretion of the company. This will ensure the handbook is not seen as a contract by employees or cannot be used as such in a court of law.
- For example, you may state: “Your employment may be terminated at any time with or without cause and without prior notice by the company. You may also resign at any time.”
- Have an acknowledgement page for the employee. You should also include an acknowledgement page that needs to be acknowledged and signed by the employee. This will ensure the employee has agreed to the terms of the handbook and signifies the employee understands the policies in the handbook.
Benefits and Compensation
- Check your state requirements for employee handbooks. Most federal and state governing bodies require companies to provide a clear, detailed wage policy in the employee handbook. Each state has different employment laws and require you to include different information about employee wages in the handbook. Get familiar with your state's laws to ensure you cover all the requirements.
- You may need to check the federal laws for employers through the U.S. Department of Labor website, or your country's applicable Department of Labor website. Make sure you are clear about the requirements for your company's handbook before you outline any policies or expectations.
- Outline the wage policy. Your employee handbook should note your legal obligations on pay schedules and overtime pay. Your employees should know how often they are getting paid as well as if they get paid for overtime work. You should outline the expected work hours for your employees, depending on if they are full-time or part-time.
- Include descriptions of exempt and non-exempt employees. Exempt employees are typically upper-level management and are excluded from laws governing minimum wage, overtime, and other wage practices.
- Your description should include the definition of overtime. For example, working longer that 9 hours per day, 40 hours per week, holidays, etc. Be sure to mention that travel time or prep time to be ready for work are compensated.
- You should also note your company's policy on coffee breaks and lunch breaks, such as how long each employee is allowed for these breaks. This will ensure your employees know what to expect in terms of managing their time.
- Discuss worker's compensation. In the employee handbook you should also discuss the compensation packages your company offers its employees. This may include bonuses, stock options, and salary increases over time. Make sure you offer compensation packages that are realistic and affordable for the company, as you may need to follow through on these commitments in the future.
- Include the employee benefits. Your company may be required by state or federal law to offer employee benefits like health benefits, dental benefits, and life insurance. These employee benefits should be briefly outlined in the handbook. You should not go into specific detail as your benefits policies may change and you do not want to put outdated or incorrect information in the handbook.
- Make sure you should mention who is eligible for benefits, such as full-time employees, part-time employees, and their families and spouses. You should also explain the criteria for enrolling in benefits and when you can change benefits, such as in the event of marriage or the birth of a child.
- Your benefits guide should also include details of any company-sponsored retirement or savings plan. Make sure to include any relevant policies such as contribution matching or vesting periods.
- Describe employee reimbursement policies. For companies where employees may be required to use their personal property or travel for business purposes, you will need to outline the policy for company reimbursement of these expenses, if any. Be clear on which expenses are the responsibility of the company and which the responsibility of the employee. Outline the process of gaining approval for reimbursement and listing expenditures.
- Note the company's leave policy. Under federal law, you are required to have leave policies in place. You must have a family medical leave providing employees with up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for the birth or care of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or if the employee develops a serious medical condition. You should check your state's policies for unpaid family leave.
- You should also explain the company's policies for holiday leave, such as how much holiday time a year employees are given as part of their employment. You should outline the amount of time allowed for the death of a family member and for sick leave.
- Make sure you discuss your company's vacation leave policy, including how vacation time is earned and how to request time off. You should include a list of holidays observed by the company, with clear details about when the company closes or stays open during holiday times.
Conduct and Dress Code
- Mention the company's general expectations for employees. The employee handbook should outline the values and expectations you would like to see in your employees. You should discuss how you would like employees to behave and communicate in the workplace. You should also note a contact person that employees can speak to if they have any questions or clarifications.
- You should also maintain a positive and encouraging attitude in your discussion of employee expectations. This will keep your employees engaged in the handbook and make it feel accessible to them.
- For example, you may note, “We expect our employees to adhere to a high standard of professional conduct and integrity. As an employee, you should be respectful and courteous to the feelings and needs of others. Individuals who act inappropriately or unprofessionally may be subject to disciplinary action.”
- Discuss the dress code in the workplace. If your workplace has a specific dress code, you should include it in the employee handbook. Make sure you are clear about the requirements for the dress code and specify the company's expectations for how employees should appear in the workplace.
- For example, if your company has an office setting, you may have a business casual dress code. You may note that all employees are required to adhere to a business casual dress code and appear well groomed.
- Give visual example of acceptable clothing and grooming, since ideas may vary between social groups and generations.
- Include specific regulations about beards, visible tattoos, and head apparel that might be religious.
- If your employees are often in the field working on construction sites, for example, you may require your employees to wear safety gear or clothing at all times. You should outline these requirements in the handbook so employees are aware of how they should appear every day in the field.
- Include an equal employment and non-discrimination policy. By law, many states require companies to have a clearly stated equal employment and non-discrimination policy in their employee handbook. You must clearly state that your company prohibits discrimination in the workplace.
- You should also make sure you discuss the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which specifies anti-discrimination against people with disabilities. You can find out more about the ADA on the Americans with Disabilities website.
- Have an anti-harassment and complaint policy. Your company should also have an anti-harassment policy that clearly states that no harassment under any circumstances is tolerated in the workplace. Often you are required by federal or state law to have these policies in place for your employees.
- You should have a process in place for filing a harassment complaint so employees know how to file a complaint and who to talk to about the issue. You may have a Human Resources representative who is responsible for addressing any harassment complaints in the workplace.
- Include a policy on digital conduct and use. You should also make sure your employee handbook includes a policy on how to use company computers and software appropriately in the office and off-premise. This is especially important if the majority of the employee work is done on company computers.
- Make sure you outline how employees can secure their electronic information and protect any passwords or company information on their computers. You should also note any safety measures you have in place to protect the privacy of your employees online and your business's information.
- You should also have guidelines around appropriate use of the computer and what sites employees can and cannot access. You should make sure employees are clear on what sites the company network can be used to access and note the importance of keeping company information private when communicating through email.
- Note any security steps that might be viewed as an intrusion of employee's privacy, explaining why they are necessary for company security.
- Discuss the performance review process for employees. You should also include details about how your employees are going to be reviewed on their performance in the workplace. You may put a performance review metric in the handbook or include general guidelines on how and when performance reviews will happen for your employees.
- For example, you may note that employees receive yearly reviews and that positive reviews usually lead to a salary increase or a bonus. You may also discuss disciplinary action that may occur if the employee does not receive a positive performance review, such as a probationary period for the employee, followed by a second performance review or termination.
- In particular, note any conduct that might result in immediate dismissal, such as drug and alcohol use, theft, harassment, violence, or other serious offenses.
Safety and Security
- Describe on-site security measures. Your employees should be aware of all security measures on your premises, including security cameras, detectors, and guards. Include any operating procedures required for getting through security. Describe any off-limits or restricted-access areas, along with a clear description of who is or is not allowed to enter them. For clarity, you may wish to include a map showing these areas.
- Note if the company complies with Occupational Health and Safety laws. You may be required to comply with Occupational Health and Safety laws in your state and you should mention these laws in your employee handbook. You should note that all employees must report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, and any safety related issues to management.
- You should also have safety policies in place regarding poor weather or hazardous work conditions. This is especially important if your employees often work in the field or off site.
- Outline the incident reporting policy. You should also include a process for reporting incidents on the job, such as an injury while working or a robbery. Your employees should be aware of how they can report an incident and who they can speak to in the event of an incident.
- You may have a detailed process in the employee handbook for incident reporting or keep it more general. You may want to opt for a more general discussion if you think the reporting process may change in the future.
- Discuss a plan of action in the event of an emergency. You should also include a clear plan of action in the event of an emergency, such as a fire in the workplace or a natural disaster like flooding or severe weather. You should have an exit plan for employees to follow on a map in the handbook and discuss safety areas or points outside of the building.
Tone and Language
- Maintain a conversational tone. The employee handbook should be accessible and easy to read for every employee with a tone that is conversational rather than formal or stiff. Try to appeal to every employee by using a tone that is approachable and clear.
- You can do this by imagining the handbook is a conversation you are having with an employee as an employer. You should use a tone that is clear and friendly when you are talking to your employee, and stay away from formal or stiff language.
- Avoid jargon or complex language. Labor laws can be complex but this does not mean your employee handbook has to be littered with verbiage or jargon. Instead, go for clear language and simplified terms. Having legal terms that are difficult to understand may not protect your company legally in the end and will only alienate the employees that are reading the handbook.
- You should try to avoid using formal terms like “management” or “authority.” Instead, use “we” or “employer” so the employee does not feel overwhelmed. You want the tone to sound casual, as your employees are more likely to read the handbook in full if it appears friendly and engaging.
- Stick to achievable rules and guidelines. Avoid putting in guidelines in the handbook that are overly demanding or unreasonable. You want the handbook to act as a useful guide for your employees and do not want to create rules that are difficult or impossible to achieve.
- You should also try to keep the handbook short and sweet, with just enough information to fulfill the state requirements for employee handbooks. You do not want to overwhelm your employees with information or with strict rules that are hard to follow.
- Get the handbook reviewed by a lawyer before using it. Your employee handbook is a crucial document that could be used in a legal dispute later by your employees. You should get the handbook reviewed by a lawyer or a legal review to make sure your wording is clear and you are not making your company liable for any legal issues in the future. Once it has been cleared by the legal review, it will be ready to distribute to new and current employees at your company.
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