Top Reasons You Need an Employee Handbook and What Should Be In It

By Lorena E. Ahumada

Well-written Employee Handbooks are an important tool for companies (and employers) to protect their business and promote a fair and successful working environment. Here are the top reasons why your business needs an employee handbook:

  1. To Set Employment Expectations and Guidelines

An Employee Handbook should set forth the employer’s expectations and set clear rules and guidelines on what happens when those expectations are met or ignored. For example, establishing rules about prompt arrival to work, how to call out sick, and professionalism in the workplace are important to note. A Handbook is a good way to convey expectations to your employees. Likewise, informing your employees about what will happen if they are continually late to work, call out of work frequently or behave in an unprofessional manner reduces non-compliance and can clarify employer standards for conduct.

  1. To Ensure Fair and Consistent Treatment

Everyone strives for fair and consistent treatment in the workplace, and a Handbook goes a long way to meet this goal. A Handbook that establishes a clear set of consistent rules is a useful tool to foster a fair working environment. Treating employees differently or on an “ad hoc“ basis can lead to complaints of discrimination. A well-written and concise Handbook that is applied to all employees can help to minimize these complaints and potential claims.

  1. To Sell the Benefits of Employment at Your Company

Your company has spent a lot of time, money and resources to recruit and train the best and brightest people. Retaining these employees is good business. Use your Handbook to continue to sell the benefits and rewards of working for your company.

  1. To Defend Against Legal Actions

Certain provisions included in a well-written Handbook go a long way in defending against potential employment actions. For example, the Supreme Court has held that an employer’s anti-harassment policy must include certain specific provisions in order for the employer to assert an affirmative defense to harassment claims. Failing to have an anti-harassment policy or leaving out these key provisions can be very costly and can damage a company’s finances and reputation. Similarly, an employer may defend itself in workers’ compensation matters if it sets forth specific requirements regarding on-the-job accidents.

So what should be in your Employee Handbook?

You know that you need a well-written Employee Handbook. Now it comes down to getting the details right. We caution employers against downloading a basic template from the Internet. Every company is different and every Handbook should be tailored to the particular organization’s needs and requirements. A well-drafted Handbook, at a minimum, should include the following:

  1. At-Will Statement – Include clear disclosure that employment at your company is at-will and that nothing contained in the Handbook alters that at-will status.
  2. Equal Employment Opportunity Policy – Include a statement that you do not and will not discriminate based on any characteristic protected by local, state or federal law.
  3. Reporting Procedures for Harassment and Discrimination – Set clear reporting channels when an employee believes he/she or a co-worker is subject to discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
  4. No Expectation of Privacy Policy – Make clear to your employees that there is no expectation of privacy in the workplace or while using company equipment and that the company may inspect employee files and work environment for any legal purpose.
  5. E-Mail, Social Media and Technology Policy – Caution employees that company property, including cell phones, smartphones, computers, laptops and phones, should mainly be used for company business and that employees are expected to comply with copyright laws, professionalism standards and all other company rules while using such media and equipment.
  6. Confidentiality Policy – Explain to your employees that maintaining confidentiality concerning your business is important and that your employees may not breach that confidentiality.
  7. Drug and Alcohol Abuse Policy – Let your employees know that you will not tolerate the use of alcohol and illegal substances in the workplace or permit your employees to work while impaired.
  8. Non-Solicitation Policy – Explain to your employees that they cannot canvass, solicit or seek to obtain membership in or support for any organization, request contributions, and post or distribute handbills, pamphlets or petitions on your company property or using your business’ resources, and during working time.
  9. Overtime, Attendance and Punctuality Policies – To ensure that employees are at work when scheduled and to comply with certain Fair Labor Standards Act requirements, set and include policies about attendance, punctuality and overtime rules.
  10. Leave of Absences Policies – If your business is a covered employer under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), include an FMLA policy in your handbook. State, local and federal rules also require employers to provide other types of leaves of absences, including to accommodate disabilities, for workplace injuries, pregnancy disabilities, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, military duty, jury duty, among others. Include policies that outline such leave of absences in your handbook.

So now may be the time to update your Employee Handbook. By covering all your bases you’ll have peace of mind and your employees will have a clear understanding of the policies and procedures that define your business.