The employee handbook can be a terrific resource for the employer and the employee. There are several elements that should be contained within that relate to the company’s history/mission, values, policies, procedures and benefits. The handbook is often viewed as a means of protecting the company against discrimination and unfair employment practice claims and will provide an outline of the general expectation that the employer has for its employees.
The handbook is not a policy and procedure book. A policy is a written statement that reflects the employer’s standards and objectives relating to the various employee activities and employment related issues. There is clearly a difference. Using legal counsel will help you craft an employee handbook that is generic enough for the employees to know what is expected of them but, provide enough guidance leading them to where they can go for the actual written policies of the company (which may exist in other department specific documents and/or Standard Operating Procedure guides).
Employers should ensure the handbook is distributed to every employee within the organization (regardless of specific levels or job titles). You should always secure a written acknowledgement of the employees receiving the handbook, thus ensuring that they have read and understood the contents contained within. Once the employer receives the acknowledgment, it should be secured in each employee’s personnel file. This is a very important step. A checklist should be developed and cross-referenced to ensure that every employee’s acknowledgment (complete with signature) is received. Written returned employee handbook acknowledgments should be readily available for you but, completely secured in a location with limited access.
Handbooks should never be construed as an employment agreement; which could affect the employer’s at-will status with the employee. Handbooks should always be reviewed by legal counsel before distribution to the employees. Consult professional legal guidance for clarity in defining the differences between state and federal laws.
What if an Employee Handbook Already Exists at a Company?
If your job now includes responsibility for employee handbooks, all the employer’s policies and procedures should be re-reviewed to ensure they contain all of the provisions that the employer wants contained within as well as ensuring all applicable state and/or federal provisions have been included (or updated to comply with applicable laws). No assumptions should be made. Begin your review from scratch and cross-reference the handbook that already exists. If the policies in the current handbook don’t make sense to you, they more than likely won’t make sense to an employee once re-issued (or may be misunderstood by your current employees). Re-write the policy and provide your draft to legal counsel for review. If a policy doesn’t exist, write one; partner up with the department head to which any policy affects, have them review it first, and then partner in your legal counsel. Prepare as much of the draft as you can as this will save cost. Example: If it’s a policy that supports the payment of Paid Time Off and the Payroll Department within the organization will be the department that supports and ultimately administers the policy on a daily basis, have that department head review it to ensure it clearly conveys the intent of the policy and that it can be administered by that department in the manner in which it is written and intended to be administered. Again, the emphasis will be to ensure that your legal counsel has had the opportunity to review prior to any policy issuance to the employees.
What Else Should Be in There?
Most employee handbooks include a message from the owner of the business and/or CEO/President etc. It’s usually a welcome message and contains something about the company’s mission, purpose or intent. It’s also a great way to set and establish positive associate relations.
Of course, other important statements should be in there as well which may include, EEO, Employment At-will, FMLA, COBRA, EEOC, Anti-discrimination laws, ADA, FLSA etc. There are many other important considerations and legal mandates that could apply in certain states so it would be advantageous for you to have legal counsel review the entire handbook draft prior to issuance. Use all of the sources available to you; inclusive of any professional Human Resources organizations. If you’re not a member of any professional organization, join one that you are comfortable with. Ask other professionals within your field, they will be able to help you select an organization that you can contact for introductory information. Professional Human Resource organizations will be able to assist you with tasks that are common to professionals within your field or industry. They may also be able to provide samples, templates, toolkits or checklists of items that you may have forgotten or recommend topics and/or items you weren’t even aware of because you are new to the field or performing this particular task.
Considerations for Distribution to Employees
Posting to your company intranet is a great way to communicate the handbook however, you need to be sure that there has been a mechanism created to obtain the employee signed written acknowledgement. You’ll also need to consider how you will distribute the handbook to new employees. Create a checklist to cross reference the written acknowledgments you receive. You should receive an acknowledgement from every person (within all levels) of your organization. These should be easily accessible if you need them at a future point in time but, secured with very limited access.
Updating the Handbook in Between Cycles
So, you’ve just finished updating your employee handbook, distributed it to the employees and you have now been made aware of a new major policy—simple, create an addendum. Once you have had legal counsel review it, post the update to your intranet, re-circulate the policy to the employees and be sure to include the addendum in your next major handbook update. Check with your legal counsel to inquire if you need to obtain any written acknowledgments from the employees. Be sure to clearly reference any previous policy that is being updated; clearly conveying that the new policy replaces any other versions that may be in circulation. Make sure the addendum contains a date or current revision schematic (if you use one). It should be extremely clear which policy governs and be easily cross-referenced with the new policy.
-Partner in with department heads that are responsible for administering a particular policy. Ensure you take their feedback into consideration and have them approve any and all final drafts of policies.
-Review any and all drafts for clarity, consistency and typos.
-Use current revision schematics or calendar dates where necessary.
-Ensure a draft of the final employee handbook is provided to the Executive that you report to so they have the opportunity to ask questions or provide their feedback.
-Obtain signed written employee handbook acknowledgements from every person and level within the organization.
-File all signed written acknowledgements in a secure area; limiting access to only those who will absolutely need it.
-Consult Professional Human Resource Organizations for guidance in preparation or for best practices.
-Always obtain legal review; this is extremely important.