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Creating an Employee Handbook

January 13, 2011 at 3:39 pm

It is highly recommended that employers use a well-crafted employee handbook to provide clear communication to employees regarding the company policies and practices, rules and regulations, and employee benefits. It is a guide to life at your workplace. Of course, every company has its own unique culture. In addition, you must consider both state and local laws and regulations that affect your business. Therefore, it is best to have an experienced employment attorney work with you in crafting your handbook. If you have sufficient HR resources, you may wish to create the first draft yourself and then have employment counsel review the handbook before you publish and distribute it.

The following are helpful guidelines for developing your employee handbook.

Welcome and Introduction to Your Company
The handbook serves multiple purposes. First, it gives you an opportunity to warmly welcome new employees and to set the tone for their employment experience. A sincere note from your President or CEO should be the first thing the employee reads. The welcome letter may be followed by a mission statement that sets out the company’s view of itself and its place in the world. These two sections of the handbook should provide the employee with a reasonably good understanding of the company’s culture and a feel for what it is like to work there. Of course, it is important that the welcome and the mission truly reflect the reality of the company. Providing a warm, glowing welcome and a lofty mission statement for an employee, then having the employee discover that reality is quite the contrary will breed discontent.

Click here to to find out what your employee handbook should contain.

We strongly recommend that you have multiple loose-leaf handbooks if you have both exempt and non-exempt employees and/or unionized employees. Following these introductory pieces, the handbook should contain the following:

Getting Started: This section features essentials. It should cover work hours, dress codes, information on any probationary period, and similar information that an employee should know the first day on the job.

Policies and Practices: Next, the employee should be informed of the “rules of the road.” This section will address guidelines on use of company computers, fax machines, and photocopy machines; smoking policies; drug free workplace provisions; and similar rules that govern the employer’s workplace. Creating your handbook will also provide you an excellent opportunity to consider other company policies such as privacy and rehire policies. All such policies should go into the handbook so employees are informed about them.

Benefits: In the benefits section, you can briefly describe employee benefits such as health insurance, 401(k) plans, and the like. We recommend that the details of the plans be set out in an appendix to the handbook and/or a separate booklet.

Employee Leave: Here you can discuss vacation policies, sick leave, and other paid and unpaid leave. You should also address the FMLA leave (and any local variations), military leave, jury duty policies, and all other practices related to leave.

Equal Employment Opportunity: In this section you must set out your sexual harassment policy, any affirmative action policies, and a statement of your compliance with all employment discrimination and related legal requirements. If you are subject to state or federal prohibitions on employment discrimination, this section is essential to help protect you in the event of sexual or other harassment in your workplace by fellow employees and persons not employed by the company.
Discipline and Discharge: Here you may describe a progressive disciplinary policy and other standards related to discipline and discharge.

Essential Provisions: Your handbook should contain two essential administrative components. First, is a written acknowledgement by the employee that he or she has received the handbook and read it. This form must be signed, submitted to you, and placed in the employee’s personnel file.

Second, if your employees are to be employees at-will, you must clearly state that fact. In addition, you should include a disclaimer in the front of the book that specifically states that the handbook is not an employment contract and should not be construed as a contract. This statement should be in bold type or some other format that makes it stand out.

* This article was written by employment lawyer Kenneth A. Sprang, Esquire, DC International Counsel, 5335 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Suite 440 Washington, DC 20015, 202-683-4090

Categories: Human Resource Consulting.