National constitutions are the primary source of all the rules and regulations that govern a country. Similarly, an employee handbook serves as the constitution of your company. It is much more than a rulebook or a record of procedures. It is a quasi-legal document that is often considered legally binding in courts when it comes to the terms of employment at your organization.
The handbook can make or break your business when there is a disagreement with an employee or a group of employees. Read on to find out how you can build a solid handbook for your company.
13 Employee Handbook Building Tips
When it comes to building a handbook, many small businesses are sorely under-informed as to the specifics it should contain. Organizations encounter real trouble when they simply Google a template for the handbook and follow it to the letter. Remember that labor regulations change from time to time, and you may not always find the most updated result on Google every time. This is a potential lawsuit waiting to happen. When creating a handbook for your business, pay attention to these areas:
- A Specific Introductory Period Clause
- A Robust Anti-Discrimination Policy
- Disclaimer for Employment At-Will
- Incorporate State and Industry-Specific Laws
- Use Compliance Databases for Updated Laws
- Train Your Supervisors on the Handbook
- Make Handbooks Accessible
- Focus on the Language
- Avoid Online Templates
- Avoid Dense Legal Language
- Don’t Use Overly Restrictive Disciplinary Policies
- Avoid Patching Different Policies Together
- Don’t Make the Handbook a Binding Agreement
Let’s take a closer look at these dos and don’ts below.
A Specific Introductory Period Clause
An introductory period is also known as a probationary period. Having a specific clause about this helps avoid any future disputes with employees as to the length of their employment. Your introductory period clause must always use the correct verbiage to be effective.
A Robust Anti-Discrimination Policy
You must ensure that your anti-discriminatory policy is correctly worded and effective. The policy should highlight instances like employee harassment; it should also outline procedures to be followed with clear instructions. These instructions should encompass how the employee reports the incident, to whom to report it, and what official documentation to complete, if any. The same policy should define how promptly you will investigate the incident, regardless of whether or not a formal claim is submitted in writing.
Disclaimer for Employment At Will
At-will employment forms the cornerstone of business for many companies in the United States. It provides employees the freedom to end their employment at a time of their choosing. On the other hand, it also gives employers the right to terminate employment at their discretion.
Incorporate State and Industry-Specific Laws
State, local, and industry laws are just as important as federal ones when you’re creating a handbook for employees. Depending on where your organization is located, these state laws can impact the legality of specific wording or policies. If you breach these laws, you could be at risk for a lawsuit.
Related: Eight Innovative Talent Acquisition Strategies to Retain Top Talent
Use Compliance Databases for Updated Laws
Compliance databases like SHRM platforms are the best source to consult when creating a handbook. They contain updated laws and regulations with which companies need to comply. Don’t depend on a simple Google search to mine the content you need.
Train Your Supervisors on the Handbook
Supervisors and management play an important role in how efficiently the handbook is implemented in your company. Accordingly, they need to have a working knowledge of the handbook at all times. Offer senior team members training and refreshers whenever you update the handbook.
Make Handbooks Accessible
Employees need to have easy access to the handbook, as it is an important tool governing their employment. If your employees can’t easily access the handbook, it defeats the purpose of mitigating risks to your business. Encouraging workers to regularly consult the handbook is essential. It’s also smart to obtain an acknowledgment of the receipt of the most current version of the handbook.
Focus on the Language
Using the right language in the handbook is very important. Wherever possible, you should rely on an attorney to review the legality of the content in the handbook. This best practice will keep ambiguities and loopholes to a minimum.
Avoid Online Templates
Using cookie cutter online templates to create a handbook for your employees is almost always a big mistake. If you absolutely must, use a template as a starting point. If you’re writing the policy yourself, don’t underestimate the research of federal, state, local, and industry laws that will be required.
Avoid Dense Legal Language
Using “legalese” in your handbook is something you need to avoid. In real terms, your handbook is quasi-legal – it serves as the primary source of information on company culture, requirements, and expectations. Don’t be tempted to use the same dense legal language you might utilize in a contract.
Don’t Use Overly Restrictive Disciplinary Policies
Being too specific about disciplinary actions can leave open loopholes that might be exploited at a later date. In the case of an infraction, you are legally bound to follow the steps in the handbook. Not doing so can leave you vulnerable to a lawsuit or fine, or both. You should reserve the right to enforce disciplinary action based on the severity of the breach.
Avoid Patching Different Policies Together
Borrowing from different policy templates can often result in a patchwork handbook. The same goes for partially revising policies at any given time; this will result in a nightmare of contradictions and conflicting requirements. Review and update your entire policy regularly to avoid confusion.
Related: Using People Analytics to Make Strategic Business Decisions
Don’t Make the Handbook a Binding Agreement
Your handbook should clearly state that it is not a binding contract. Otherwise, problems may arise when you revise it. It should clearly state that it is subject to revision at the discretion of the employer. You should keep confidentiality and NDAs separate from the company employee handbook.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should be in an employee handbook?
It should explain company culture, requirements, and expectations.
How many pages should an employee handbook be?
A maximum of 30 to 40 pages.
What is the difference between an employee handbook and a policy manual?
The policy manual is for managers and supervisors.
How do you start an employee handbook?
Research local, state, federal, and industry laws that apply to your business.
Do small businesses need an employee handbook?
Yes, they do.
What is HR manual contents?
It contains policies on employee management and relationships between managers and workers.
How many topics are suggested for an employee handbook?
Policies, benefits, standards of conduct, leaves, safety, and security policies, etc.
What is HR policy and procedures?
Guidance and protection for everyone in the organization.
What should an employee handbook not include?
Dense legal language and specific disciplinary restrictions.
How do you distribute an employee handbook?
Use email and hard copies, as well as making it accessible online.
Is an employee handbook required by law?
No federal laws specifically require an employee handbook.
Do employees have to sign an employee handbook?
This is not a legal requirement, but acknowledgment is encouraged.
Is an employee handbook considered a contract?
No, it is a quasi-legal document.
How do I amend an employee handbook?
You can make amends at any time provided you have included the right verbiage.
What is the purpose of an employee handbook?
To give employees all necessary information about the workplace, procedures, and roles.
How often should you update your employee handbook?
Every six months.