An employee handbook is a great way to streamline communication between employers and employees and serves as an effective reference point. Not only does it set clear expectations and define company policies, it also provides comprehensive information that employees can reflect on whenever questions arise. When written correctly, an employee handbook will keep everyone on the same page and dramatically reduce your liabilities.
What Is an Employee Handbook?
The formal definition is “A manual that explains a company’s major human resources and employee policies and procedures and describes employee benefits. It is a toll that communicates that firm’s policies efficiently and effectively and helps to ensure that office procedures comply with employment laws.” Simply put, it’s a resource where employees can find information on topics like:
- Company policies and rules
- Employee rights and benefits
- Your expectations of employees
- Your legal obligations as an employer
What Should Be In an Employee Handbook?
Although the specifics will differ from company to company, there are some core topics that should almost always be covered. These include:
- Policies regarding equal employment, anti-discrimination and harassment
- A guide that explains how employees should go about reporting discrimination or harassment
- Safety procedures
- Polices regarding leave (e.g. maternity leave, military leave and jury duty)
In addition, you may want to include an at-will statement, which means that you can terminate an employee at any time for any reason as long as it’s within the confines of the law. Although businesses in every state besides Montana operate on an at-will premise, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Why It’s Important
Having a comprehensive employee handbook is important for three main reasons. First, it should minimize misunderstandings between you and your staff. By having everything clearly outlined, it should eliminate a lot of confusion and help operations run smoother with less friction.
Second, it prevents you from creating obligations for yourself that could come back to bite you in the future. For example, employees will know that there are no promises of continued employment and that you have the right to terminate them.
Third and perhaps most importantly, you can keep yourself and your company out of legal hot water and avoid unnecessary lawsuits. When there’s a formal handbook in place, this can be used in your defense in the event that you’re ever sued.
How to Keep It Updated
Due to the fact that there are consistent changes to laws and regulations, you’ll want to periodically update your employee handbook. To do so, you’ll need to keep an eye on new laws and regulations or changes to existing ones that will impact your company and make the appropriate edits.
In order to stay in the loop, it’s helpful to use resources like the Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor and the Learn about Business Laws and Regulations guide. If you find it difficult staying abreast of changes, you may also want to consult a human resources outsourcing firm for help to ensure that you cover all of the bases.
Creating and maintaining an employee handbook is important on many levels. Besides keeping your company in the clear from a legal standpoint, it can improve the quality of your relationships with employees and create a more cohesive workforce.