I frequently hear reasons why employers avoid handbooks, such as:
- “Our company is too small, we don’t need a handbook.”
- “My employees won’t read it anyway, so why bother.”
- “A handbook will simply give my employees ideas about ways they can sue me.”
- “I need to be flexible when managing my employees.”
- “Handbooks are too expensive.”
- “Why do I need a handbook, I’m an at-will employer?”
In fact, there are many advantages to having an employee handbook. A well-written and up-to-date handbook allows an employer to confirm the at-will relationship with its employees. A handbook sets the stage for consistent and uniform management practices, and advises all employees of the company’s policies and rules – without written policies, past practice becomes policy. A handbook saves employers from having to answer the same employee questions over and over, and helps to ensure a uniform response. A handbook is a convenient way to provide your employees with information that you are obligated to provide by law. And an employee handbook is a convenient place to include one absolutely indispensible employer policy – an EEO and sexual harassment policy with a complaint procedure. Such a policy may be the employer’s only defense to a hostile environment claim.
But having a handbook is not without some risk. For example, a poorly drafted handbook can be worse than no handbook at all. Similarly problematic is a well-drafted but rarely or inconsistently enforced handbook. Moreover, using an inexpensive, canned handbook that has not been tailored to the needs of your company may cause you more trouble than it’s worth.
The key is obtaining a well-drafted handbook that is tailored to the specific needs of your company, training your management staff and supervisors prior to the introduction of your handbook to your entire workforce, and ensuring consistent enforcement of the policies contained therein. You can avoid the most common mistakes by following these rules:
- Do not use a canned handbook or a handbook used by another company without consulting counsel.
- Do not include a non-competition policy or an arbitration policy (these need to be in separate, written agreements).
- Review other documents to avoid inconsistencies.
- Train your supervisors before rolling out your handbook.
- Ensure that you obtain a signed acknowledgment of receipt and understanding from each employee.
- Ensure that each new hire is provided with the most recent version of the handbook.
- Periodically review your handbook to ensure compliance with current laws.
- Train your employees.
- Follow your own policies.
- Carefully document a legitimate business reason if you must stray from policy for any reason.
Some specific policies you may want to consider for inclusion in your handbook include:
- A description of the employer-employee relationship (i.e., at-will employment)
- The company’s policies, rules, and regulations
- Employment classifications; equal employment opportunity policy
- No harassment, discrimination or retaliation policy
- Guidelines for prevention of and handling complaints of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation
- Health and safety
- Benefits (insurance, vacation, holidays)
- Leave policies, including, Family and Medical Leave (for employers with 50 or more employees), military leave, extended leave, bereavement leave, jury duty leave, and administrative leave
- Rules of conduct
- Customer and employee information privacy
- Internet, e-mail, voicemail, instant messaging, and blogging policy
- Cell phone usage
- Violence in the workplace
- Weapons policy
- Confidential information and files
- Drugs and alcohol in the workplace
- Inspection of property
- Bulletin boards
- No distribution/no solicitation policy
- Hazard communication policy and procedure
- Working together union free
- Complaint procedures