An employee handbook is an important tool you can use to effectively communicate information regarding your company's policies, practices, and employee benefits. A well-written handbook sets forth your expectations for your employees, and describes what they can expect from your company.

Deciding which topics to include in your employee handbook can be a challenging task. As a starting point, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) suggests including the following 8 topics:

1. General Employment Information

Provide a general overview of your business and lay out the company's basic policies relating to employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and union information, if applicable.

2. Anti-Discrimination Policies

As an employer, you must comply with applicable state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, such as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII. Your employee handbook should include a section about these laws, and how your employees are expected to comply. This section is also a good place to set out your sexual harassment policy, any affirmative action policies, and a statement of your compliance with all employment discrimination and related legal requirements.

3. Compensation

Clearly explain that your company will make required deductions from employees' pay for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for the company's benefits programs. In addition, you should outline your legal obligations regarding overtime pay, pay schedules, time-keeping records, and meal and rest breaks. Be sure to comply with any applicable state wage and hour laws, in addition to federal requirements.

4. Work Schedules

Describe your company's policies regarding work hours and schedules, attendance, punctuality and reporting absences, along with guidelines for flexible schedules and telecommuting, if offered.

5. Standards of ConductEmployee Handbook

Make sure you document your expectations of how you want employees to conduct themselves, from dress code to computer and telephone use. In addition, it is important to remind your employees of any legal obligations they may need to comply with on the job (for example, your company's legal obligations to protect customer data).

It is also appropriate in this section to describe your company's progressive disciplinary policy (if any) and other standards related to employee discipline.

6. Leave Policies

Your company’s leave policies should be carefully documented, especially leave you are required to provide by law. Family and medical leave, jury duty, military leave, and time off for court cases and voting should all be documented to comply with state and local laws. In addition, you should explain your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement and sick leave.

7. Employee Benefits

In your handbook, you should include details on your company's benefit programs and eligibility requirements, including all benefits that may be required by law, such as disability insurance and workers' compensation. The employee benefits section should also outline your plans for health insurance, retirement, employee assistance, tuition reimbursement, and any other optional benefits your company offers.

Note that separate legal documents (such as a summary plan description) may also be required for employee benefit plans. 

8. Safety and Security

Describe your company's policy for creating a safe and secure workplace, including compliance with applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws that require employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions and health and safety related issues to management. Safety policies should also include your company's policy regarding bad weather and hazardous community conditions.

Additional Considerations

If your employees are to be employed 'at-will,' you should clearly state that fact and include a conspicuous disclaimer in the front of your handbook that the handbook is not an employment contract and should not be construed as a contract. It is advisable to speak with an attorney when drafting language related to at-will employment, as such clauses have recently come under scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board.  
You will also want to include in the handbook a written acknowledgement by the employee that he or she has received and read the handbook, to be signed and placed in the employee's personnel file. 

While the policies outlined in your employee handbook will reflect your company's own unique culture, it is important to consider federal, state and local laws and regulations that may affect your business when drafting the handbook. You may want to create multiple handbooks if you have both exempt and non-exempt employees and/or unionized employees. The employee handbook is the single most important internal document that lays out the policies of your company to each and every one of your employees.  As such, it is important to have employment counsel review the handbook before you publish and distribute it.

Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration for more information on creating your employee handbook. HR360's Forms & Policies section features over 500 sample HR forms, policies, and checklists available for downloading, customizing, and printing.

And for a review of other key HR tasks related to hiring, performance reviews, and discipline, be sure to check out our "Must-Do" HR Checklist, available free for download.

Download HR360's Must-Do HR Checklist


Image Credit: quinn.anya


Topics: Human Resources, Reporting and Recordkeeping, Recruitment and Hiring

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