An employee handbook is an important tool you can use to effectively communicate information regarding your company’s policies, practices and employee benefits. A well-written handbook sets forth your expectations for your employees, and describes what they can expect from your company.
While the policies outlined in your handbook will reflect your company’s own unique culture, it is important to consider federal, state and local laws and regulations that may affect your business when drafting your employee handbook. You may want to create multiple handbooks if you have both exempt and non-exempt employees and/or unionized employees. The employee handbook is the single most important internal document that lays out the policies of your company to each and every one of your employees. As such, it is important to have employment counsel review the handbook before you publish and distribute it.
The following are topics you should consider including in your employee handbook.
Welcome and Introduction to Your Company
The employee handbook provides an opportunity for you to warmly welcome new employees and set the tone for the company’s work environment. You may want to consider adding a sincere note from your President or CEO, along with a mission statement that sets out the company’s purpose and view of itself. The goal of this introduction is to provide the employee with a reasonably good understanding of the company’s culture and a feel for what it is like to work there.
General Employment Information
Your employee handbook should include an overview of your business and general employment policies relating to employment eligibility, job classifications, employee records, job postings, termination and resignation procedures, and union information, if applicable.
As an employer you must comply with the equal employment opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Your employee handbook should include a section about these laws, and how your employees are expected to comply. This section is also a good place to set out your sexual harassment policy, any affirmative action policies, and a statement of your compliance with all employment discrimination and related legal requirements.
You should clearly explain to your employees that your company will make necessary deductions for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for the company’s benefits programs. In addition, you may outline your company’s legal obligations regarding overtime pay, pay schedules, performance reviews and salary increases, time keeping, breaks and bonus compensation.
Describe your company’s policies regarding work hours and schedules, attendance, punctuality and reporting absences, along with guidelines for flexible schedules and telecommuting, if offered.
Standards of Conduct
Make sure you document your expectations of how you want employees to conduct themselves in your workplace, from dress code to ethics. In addition, it is important to remind your employees of any legal obligations they may need to comply with on the job (for example, your company’s legal obligations to protect customer data).
It is also appropriate in this section to describe your company’s progressive disciplinary policy (if any) and other standards related to employee discipline.
Safety and Security
This section should describe your company’s policy for creating a safe and secure workplace, including compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s laws that require employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions and health and safety related issues to management.
Safety policies should also include your company’s policy regarding bad weather and hazardous community conditions.
Finally, add your commitment to creating a secure work environment, and your employees’ responsibilities for abiding by all physical and information security policies, such as locking file cabinets or computers when they aren’t in use.
Computers and Technology
Computers and communication technology are essential tools for conducting business, but employee misuse can have serious consequences for your company. Therefore, your employee handbook should outline policies for appropriate computer and software use, and steps employees should take to secure electronic information, especially if that includes personal identifiable information you collect from your customers or clients.
In your handbook, you should include details on your company’s benefit programs and eligibility requirements, including all benefits that may be required by law, such as disability insurance, Workers’ Compensation Insurance and COBRA. Alternatively, you may wish to set out the details in an appendix to the handbook and/or a separate booklet.
The employee benefits section should also outline your plans for health insurance options, retirement, employee assistance, tuition reimbursement, business travel, and any other fringe benefits your business provides to attract and retain employees.
Note that separate legal documents (such as a summary plan description) may also be required for employee benefit plans.
Your company’s leave policies should be carefully documented, especially those you are required to provide by law. Family medical leave, jury duty, military leave, and time off for jury duty and voting should all be documented to comply with federal, state and local laws and regulations. In addition, you should explain your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement and sick leave.
If your employees are to be employed ‘at-will,’ you should clearly state that fact and include a conspicuous disclaimer in the front of the book that specifically states that the handbook is not an employment contract and should not be construed as a contract.
You will also want to include in the handbook a written acknowledgement by the employee that he or she has received and read the handbook, to be signed and placed in the employee’s personnel file.
If you have any questions as to your legal obligations as an employer, or the rights of your employees, you should consult with a knowledgeable employment law attorney.