10 Must-Haves for your Employee Handbook

Earlier this month, we talked about the top 10 mistakes organizations make when they’re writing and updating their handbooks.

In this second half of the series, I want to talk about the other side of the coin: must-haves when it comes to your employee handbook.

This isn’t intended to be an all-inclusive list — there may be certain things that are unique to your organization— but it’s a great starting point. If you don’t have some of the items on this list, you likely have an inadequate handbook.

We’ll start with the beginning and end of the handbook before we get to the meat in the middle.

In the beginning, you’ll always want to start out with a general at-will disclaimer if your state is an at-will employment state. Make it known to folks that nothing in the handbook constitutes any type of contract for employment.

The end of the handbook should wrap up with acknowledgement of receipt— that the employee has read and understands the content. It’s critical to ensure you have documentation that not only was the handbook given to the employee but that he or she is committed to reading and understanding it.

Okay, now let’s get into the meat of the handbook! In no particular order, here are 10 things that should be included to have an effective employee handbook:

1. Equal opportunity employment policy. This is a statement that you are committed to equal opportunity that applies to all facets of employment from the time of application to hires, promotions, compensation, and ultimately termination.

Certainly, in today’s environment, no handbook is completely without an anti-harassment policy. I suggest that the policy include zero tolerance language and samples of prohibited behavior. Things you prohibit may not necessarily be illegal behaviors. They could just be unprofessional, like joke telling or attire that’s inappropriate for the workplace.

Equally important in the policy is a complaint procedure with several avenues for reporting issues. We can’t just have one HR person as the go-to person. The handbook should lay out at least 3 different routes for filing complaints, perhaps to HR, their immediate supervisor, and another management person. The policy should also make it clear that the company does not retaliate against anyone for filing complaints.

2. Employee classifiers, if applicable. Do you employ regular full-time, regular part-time, seasonal, or per diem types of folks? You may want to address how you view overtime and whether certain employee classifications are allowed to work overtime.

You don’t want any language that indicates a probationary type of employee. I prefer to use the term introductory to describe someone who is new in their role or new in their job with the organization. They have an introductory period where they learn the job and the company, as opposed to a probationary period.

3. Employee benefits. This category encompasses numerous policies, and you’ll want to include what makes different employee classes eligible.

Benefits may be modified year to year, so you don’t want to be too specific with these policies (stating things like copays). Generally, I like to talk about the benefits that are offered but refer folks to master documents for specific inquiries about eligibility, costs, and what’s covered.

4. Hours of work. What are normal working hours? How do you handle inclement weather? Are there ever instances where overtime is mandatory? How does scheduling work if you’re in a swing shift environment? Do you offer telecommuting and flex time? If so, what are the policies and procedures around how those work? All of these questions should be answered in this section.

5. Payroll practices. How do folks record and report time? What are pay periods? When are bonuses and commissions paid out? Your employees should understand everything they need to know about their pay from this section.

6. Time away from work. This includes things like attendance and punctuality, vacation, personal sick days, or paid time off (PTO) if you lump them all together. Include accommodations you may be willing to make for disability, religion, sabbatical, or anything else.

You’ll want to address anything that would require someone to be away from work. Heck, I’ve even seen organizations write in a deer hunting policy and how folks are allowed to take off on the first day of deer hunting season! Include any unique circumstances, like deer hunting season, for your geography or workforce here.

7. Specific state laws. Most of the handbook will cover federal policies like family and medical leave, the Whistle Blower act, and benefits continuation. But we can’t forget about specific state laws.

Certain states have employment laws that are much more strict than federal laws, so we can’t rely simply on adhering to federal law. You must know your own state laws and may need to specifically outline them.

8. Employee conduct policies. This could include workplace violence prevention, employee dress code, discipline policy, confidentiality issues, and drug and alcohol use. Especially make sure to cover any random drug testing as well as pre-employment and post-accident testing.

9. Tech policies. Let employees know there is no expectation of privacy in the workplace. Let them know that you may access any emails sent through the company server and that you may monitor phone records and internet usage.

If you’re encouraging people to use social media, let them know what acceptable use is during working hours and in off hours when it comes to referencing the company and the company position on something. If you’re providing devices, what is acceptable use and care of these items?

10. Termination of employment relationship. How do you handle final paychecks? Do you do exit interviews? What’s your position when it comes to providing references?

I often have clients who don’t understand why this should be in an employee handbook. I say, let’s make it easier on ourselves and avoid any problems in the future by being as clear and upfront as possible right here.

As you begin to compile and finalize your employee handbook, you now know the mistakes to avoid and the types of policies to include.

Your next step is to finalize your handbook and have an employment attorney review it. You want to make sure it’s sound, that you’re not committing to things you can’t or don’t want to commit to, and that the language is neither too loose nor too restrictive.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to roll the policy manual out to employees! Make sure it’s not just handed to them. You’ll want to train your management team on what the policies mean and how to enforce them, and you’ll want to let your employees know exactly how they’ll be enforced. You may want to have a meeting to review key items in the handbook.

But most importantly, commit to enforcing it! You put a lot of time and effort into creating this manual as a guiding document for you in governing employee behavior, and the last thing you want to do is not enforce it.

I hope you found this series helpful. Of course, if you need help pulling your handbook together please give me a call at 717-314-3680 and let’s discuss your needs!