Even though it isn’t a state or federal law requirement, many employers have an employee handbook/personnel manual. While in many cases a company means no harm by not having a formal employee handbook, the lack of a formal set of documented personnel policies can potentially lead to costly litigation.
Employee handbooks can be a useful business tool when they’re developed correctly. They can (1) describe the employer’s expectations of employees; (2) set forth the rules of the workplace; (3) be used as a management tool for supervisors; and (4) provide the company with an “affirmative defense” to litigation should the need arise. They also improve employee morale by ensuring consistency among employees and reducing workplace friction.
Employee handbooks can also provide a venue for a company to inform its employees of company values, describe benefit plans, and provide day-to-day guidance, such as employee dress codes.
I develop handbooks for clients on a daily basis. I always inform my clients that it is their company’s handbook, and thus, they can include, or not include, almost anything they want, so long as it is lawful and makes good business sense. However, there are a few things that must be in an employee handbook. This is true no matter the size of the company. This includes the following:
- “At-will” disclaimer. A statement explaining to employees that employment isn’t guaranteed, and the company can terminate their employment with or without cause at any time is vital. The “employment at will” statement should be included in a handbook so that the handbook cannot be interpreted as an employment contract.
- Equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement. This statement outlines the company’s commitment to prohibiting all forms of discrimination against all categories of employees protected by law, and reiterates that the company will not discriminate in any employment-based decisions (e.g., hiring, training or promotions).
- Anti-harassment policy. Harassment policies should include a procedure for employees to report unlawful harassment and discrimination. The anti-harassment policy should clearly spell out multiple avenues employees can use to report inappropriate behavior. Most importantly, when you receive a complaint, you should take it seriously and investigate it thoroughly. A policy is only as good as its implementation.
- Computer and phone privacy. Your handbook should include a policy to inform employees of the company’s right to monitor calls and e-mails on company-provided equipment. A good communications policy will eliminate any expectation of privacy.
- Acknowledgment form. Regardless of whether your handbook is electronic or a hard copy, it’s absolutely vital to get all employees to sign a statement saying they have received the handbook and understand that they must abide by its policies.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policy. Employers that have fifty (50) or more employees are required under federal law to provide their FMLA policies to employees in writing. There is no better place for it than in the company’s employee handbook.
It is important to make sure your employee handbook is written in clear language, without legal terms, company “jargon”, or acronyms that may not be understood by a new employee. Since this document is one of the first things a new employee will receive, it should contain a welcoming statement from the president or chief executive officer of the company. It is also important to review the employee handbook on a regular basis. Not only may the company’s internal policies change, but federal, state and local employment and labor laws are constantly changing as well.
The bottom line is a well-crafted employee handbook is a business necessity for companies of all sizes.