Do you wonder whether you need an employee handbook?  Are you struggling to figure out what to write in your handbook?  In this post , we discuss when you need an employee handbook and the 8 elements of a great employee handbook.

Why have an employee handbook?

An employee handbook sets expectations for the employer and the employee.  It creates fair and consistent treatment among employees and departments.  It can limit employer liability when employers faithfully follow the employee handbook.

When do I need an employee handbook?

When should you implement an employee handbook?  In an ideal world, you would have a handbook the day you hire your first employee.

Realistically, this doesn’t happen.  So, when should you bring out the employee handbook?  Though there is not a defined guideline, as soon as you have a few employees (4 or 5), you should create and distribute an employee handbook.  (Note, some regulated industries do require employee handbooks. You may need one when you hire the first employee.)

8 Elements of a Great Employee Handbook

An employee handbook sets expectations for the employer and the employee.  The handbook defines the standards for treating employees fairly and consistently without discrimination.  The handbook establishes standards of behavior, complements the company’s culture, and creates a uniform working environment across departments.

  1. Drafting. Consult an attorney with knowledge of employment law and employee handbooks.  If your business is in a heavily regulated industry, seek an attorney with experience in that industry.   Never try to write one on your own.  This is an instance in which a small investment in professional expertise will yield a welcome return on investment.
  2. Customize it.  Though it is tempting to buy a canned employee handbook or borrow one from a colleague, handbooks are as individual as each company’s culture.  Though the basic federal and state law regulations remain the same, your standards of conduct, employee benefits, and internal procedures will be quite different from your competitor.
  3. Clear Language. Write clear, easily understandable policies.  Avoid legal jargon.  Every employee from the least-specialized position to the executive level should be able to understand the policy.
  4. Legal Compliance.  Confirm your policies comply with state and federal law.  In particular, look at the notable employment laws, such as FMLA, Americans With Disabilities Act, wage/hour laws, and OSHA compliance.
  5. Distribute it.  Distribute the handbook.  Although obvious, too often eager clients start a handbook but do not finish it.  They get sidetracked by life, procrastination, or frustration.  If you don’t distribute the handbook, how are employees supposed to know the policies?
  6. Acknowledge Receipt.  Require your employees to sign a statement that they received a handbook, read it, understood it, and had an opportunity to ask questions.  Yes, some employees will lie and not read it.  However, if an employee signs the acknowledgment statement, he is responsible for any behavior that violates the your policies.
  7. Enforce Your Policies. Hold all employees and managers to the handbook.  Allowing exceptions leads to resentment, low morale, and even legal claims of disparate or discriminatory treatment.
  8. Review and Update.  Regularly review and update your handbook.  An outdated policy can be worse than not having one.  Employees tend to ignore them.

If you do not already have an employee handbook, I strongly urge you to consider one.  If you do have one, review it and update it.  Audit your company to see if your employees and managers uniformly follow the handbook.

Concerto Law writes customized employee handbooks for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.  Call us if you are stuck, procrastinating, or want it done right.