Typically, employers create an employee handbook to ensure compliance with applicable laws, explain their workplace policies and procedures, and minimize the risk of legal claims. But an employee handbook also serves as an employer’s toolkit, and, if written effectively, it instills and perpetuates company culture.
The Handbook as an Employer’s Toolkit
1. Organizational Tool. An employee handbook assembles all of the company’s policies and procedures, and conveniently provides a centralized way to stay organized. At the same time, it informs employees about the terms and conditions of their employment. All of this in one place.
2. Legal Tool. Employee handbooks also guide the employer on how to legally deal with difficult employee situations. Employment laws are laid out in a complex framework of federal, state, and local laws (which is why larger corporations devote an entire human resources department to deal with employment law compliance.) But let’s face it—you’re running a business here, you simply do not have the time to research, understand, and implement policies reflecting new changes in the law. That’s what we’re here for.
3. Reference Tool. Managers also use the handbook to learn about applicable laws and answer employee questions. These “guidebooks” ensure that managers consistently and fairly treat employees, as long as they uniformly enforce their policies as laid out in the handbook.
Employee handbooks should be carefully crafted. There is an art to it. You want to adequately inform employees without including too much detail. Employee handbooks, while essential for the employer, have often been used in litigation by an employee to show how an employer deviated from its articulated policy, or how an employer enforced an outdated policy. This is why it is crucial to consistently revise your handbook to ensure it complies with the always-evolving local, state, and federal employment laws. We recommend companies update their handbook annually to incorporate legal changes and delete any outdated policies.
When creating a new handbook, companies must select which policies and procedures to include. Some policies are required for all employers – such as paid sick days (“PSD”) and cell phone reimbursement – while other policies are optional and will largely depend on the particular employer. For example, some employers permit their employees to telecommute or work remotely, include a dating policy, a use of company equipment policy, and even a “dogs in the workplace” policy. Even paid time off (“PTO”) comes in different flavors— such as accrual based or unlimited.
An effective handbook goes beyond your policies and procedures. It perpetuates your authentic culture through writing style, layout, and graphics. It’s more than the content; it’s also the look and feel. It’s an authentic reflection of your values and should excite and inspire your employees about their work. In short, when it comes to employee handbooks, there’s a lot of room to play.
We’ve counseled several of our clients through selecting and enforcing policies and cultural initiatives that make sense specifically for their business, and we’d love to help you do the same. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions!
By: Jenna Macek – 11/04/16
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Photo Credit: Jackie Wonders