Remember when you got your first job and they handed you the employee handbook to read? You probably paged through, glossing over most parts, noticing the dress code and the paycheck schedule. What you didn't know was how long your employer worked to develop the policies in that handbook. Now, as an employer or member of a Human Resources department, your company's employee handbook is your guide to interactions with employees.

 

Why have an employee handbook? There is no federal law requiring employers to create an employee handbook, but it's a good practice. An employee handbook serves a few key functions:

•         It welcomes new employees, introducing the organization and explaining expectations.

•         It groups various employment policies together, making it easier for an employer to ensure that each employee receives copies of all relevant policies.

•         It is a centralized place for employees to look for answers to frequently asked questions.

•         The handbook, along with signed acknowledgments stating that employees have read and understand the policies within the handbook, can help in an employer's legal defense if needed.


How does an employer create an employee handbook? The handbook can be made up of existing policies or new policies, or a hybrid. It should be written in a positive and professional tone. Policies should be organized by topic for ease of understanding. All of the policies should work together - it is important that there are no contradictory policies to avoid confusion.

 

What goes into an employee handbook? Every handbook should be individualized to the specific business and company. Note that an employee handbook is not an employment contract. There should be an opening disclaimer stating that the handbook is not a contract. General policies in an employee handbook may include equal opportunity employment, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation, accommodations policies, payroll and benefits policies, and standards of conduct. There are literally dozens of different policies that you may wish to include, depending on the size, complexity, and type of business you operate. Discussions with an attorney can help you decide which policies you want or need to include.

 

Handbook acknowledgments. The last page of the handbook should be a signature page for the employee to sign and for the company to keep on file. Employee acknowledgments are a crucial part of protecting the business and showing that employees are aware of and have access to the company's policies.

 

Updates. A handbook should be reviewed every year for compliance with applicable laws and to address any changes or concerns that may have come up within the company. Whenever there are updates, the updates should be posted or distributed and employees should sign a new acknowledgment regarding the update.

 

This is a very brief overview of employee handbooks, meant solely to encourage employers to think about instituting or updating their handbooks. An experienced business attorney can be invaluable in crafting and updating policies, and making sure the policies are properly distributed and acknowledged.