Create Your Culture: The Employee Handbook
Updated: Feb 5
Communication and understanding are pivotal ingredients in any relationship, especially the employer-employee relationship. Misunderstandings in this relationship can lead to loss, hardship, and unfortunate legal consequences.
An employer has a few key opportunities at the beginning of the relationship to communicate requirements, expectations, priorities, and values – these may include the job description, various agreements, consent forms, and especially the employee handbook.
The employee handbook is an employer’s best opportunity to clearly define the relationship, get everyone on the same page, and to create a collaborative culture for their workforce.
In this article, I will clarify the importance of the employee handbook and provide you with sample elements and useful tips to help you on your path to creating your employee handbook.
But first… What is an employee handbook?
An employee handbook (also known as a staff handbook, employee manual, or personnel policy handbook) is a book or compilation of important organizational guidelines, policies and procedures.
For the employee, the employee handbook is a helpful orientation to the organization’s mission, values, policies, and benefits.
For the employer, the employee handbook is a necessary reference document to define the company’s culture, align conduct and decision-making, and to mitigate against the possibility of employee lawsuits and claims; such as, wrongful termination, harassment, and discrimination.
In general, the employee handbook should communicate: organizational culture and values, employer expectations, management procedures, company policies, employee benefits, legal rights and remedies, and communication or dispute resolution procedures.
Why do I need an employee handbook?
Provide an introduction and orientation: The employee handbook is your best opportunity to highlight your company’s culture, mission and values. It helps employees to better understand the purpose for your organization and their role in it. Moreover, the employee handbook offers you a chance to provide a thoughtful explanation for the goals of your group and thereby create a more cohesive work environment.
Identify expectations and benefits: The employee handbook allows your company to identify the management’s needs and wants while simultaneously informing your employees of their benefits as members of your team. It helps to clearly define the rights and responsibilities of both sides – management and employees alike.
Communicate policies and procedures: An employee handbook helps to accurately communicate your organization’s policies regarding employment, conduct, compensation, leave, and other procedures. Additionally, it provides a helpful reference for managers and employees to align their decision-making and conduct with overall company policy and practices.
Ensure compliance: Employers owe certain duties to their employees under state and federal laws. The employee handbook allows you to put those obligations and notices in a helpful written reference. Such written policies can ensure company compliance with local and federal laws, inform employees of proper procedures, and mitigate against any violations of such laws.
What should I include in my employee handbook?
Some of the basic policies your employee handbook should cover include:
Company Mission and Values
Employee Code of Conduct
Anti-Discrimination & Harassment
Workplace Safety and Security
Leave & Pay
Complaints & Discipline
State and Federal Mandates
How should I prepare my employee handbook?
Like we say, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. An employee handbook should be carefully crafted to the needs of your organization. Policies that you follow should be in your handbook, and policies that you don’t follow should not be in your employee handbook.
Your employee handbook should be well organized, clearly written, up-to-date and understandable to all of your employees. It should be frequently reviewed and revised as your company’s circumstances or the laws change.
Also important… be sure to obtain every employee’s written acknowledgment and understanding of the employee handbook.
There are many freebies and templates out there, but take caution, out-of-date policies, inappropriate procedures, or improperly revised templates could cause confusion or get you in hot water.
Remember, the employee handbook is your best chance to clearly communicate your company’s policies, so make it clear, direct, and accurate. An attorney can help you…
John Waterman is Of Counsel for atCAUSE Law Office. He provides legal advice and assistance to clients on a variety of legal and business-related matters. John has over ten years of experience working with sole proprietorships, small businesses, large corporations, nonprofits and federal agencies. He provides smart legal solutions to help clients achieve the best business outcomes.
John received his B.A. from Bucknell University and his J.D. from the University of Richmond School of Law. He also completed his M.B.A at American University Kogod School of Business and his L.L.M. with specialization in International Business Law at American University Washington College of Law.
Bar Admissions: New York (2009), Connecticut (2009), and District of Columbia (2020), only.
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