Your employee handbook is a road map for navigating your company. For new employees, it’s their first and most reliable way of understanding the company rules. Most of your workers will hang on to the handbook, referring to it many times over the course of their employment with you.
The handbook’s importance makes it a bit daunting to create. As you develop your first version, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Tip #1: Accept That it Will Change
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) describes employee handbooks as ever-changing documents that must be constantly updated. Your goal shouldn’t be to create a handbook that can last forever. It’s simply not possible.
Instead, view your handbook as a living document that will have ongoing updates as the company and world evolves. The moment you finish your first version, things could change with your health care plan, state employment rules, payroll structure, and much more. Plan to issue new versions of the handbook as time goes by, and date each version as it’s issued.
Tip #2: Be Careful With Language
There’s a reason most employee handbooks have the same dry, formal language: the law. If you say things that are forbidden by employment law, you’ll land your company in hot water.
For example, you might want to include something like, “Please never say anything negative about the company.” However, this can violate employees’ rights under under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Instead, you might say something like, “Behavior that is threatening, intimidating, disrespectful, or insubordinate will not be tolerated.”
SHRM offers some helpful resources for understanding what you can and can’t say. You can also engage the services of a professional HR or marketing agency that specializes in employment language.
Tip #3: Divide into Sections by Topic
There are tons of topics to be addressed in your handbook. In general, it’s a good idea to divide each one into its own section or chapter and include a table of contents. This allows your employees easy reference.
Here are some basic topics to include:
- Mission statement and background information on your company
- Equal employment opportunity, contractual disclaimer, and at-will employment statements
- Information about federal and state laws that affect your employees, like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and anti-discrimination laws.
- Policies regarding a wide variety of employment topics, from drug testing to social media use. A more thorough list can be found here.
- Specific procedures that are unique to your company, like how to clock in and where to get a company ID card.
- Benefits and time-off information
- Safety procedures
- How disciplinary measures are handled
Tip #4: Highlight Your Perks
Don’t get too bogged down by the boring legal language. Remember to promote the great perks your company offers too.
Do you give paid time off for volunteering? Highlight this in a big box. Is there an employee-of-the-month award? Explain the program and its benefits. Seize the opportunity to build a deeper connection with your employees through the handbook.
Tip #5: Run it Past Your Lawyer
OK, it’s done. You’ve created your first version of the handbook.
Before you issue it to employees, get a legal review. Your lawyer will likely catch some things that should be rephrased and add some things that are required by law.
For example, employers often forget to include a legal disclaimer that “nothing in the handbook creates a contract for employment or alters the employee’s at-will employment relationship.” Including this simple phrase can protect you from a major legal headache, in case an employee claims your handbook is a contract with them.
Tip #6: Require Acknowledgment
Lots of employers miss this step, but it’s crucial. Ask each employee to confirm that they have received and read a copy of the handbook by signing and dating a form. SHRM offers a free template here.
Employees sometimes try to claim that they didn’t receive a copy of the handbook and aren’t aware of policies. Avoid sticky legal issues by always keeping a signed copy of their acknowledgment on file.
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