In part one of this series, we discussed the purpose of the handbook and began to outline what should be included…such items as general employment information, anti-discrimination policies, compensation and work schedules, and standards of conduct. Our discussion of conduct and employee expectations leads to our next topic…workplace safety and security.
Creating a safe and secure workplace requires cooperation and partnership between a company and its employees…and it is a topic that should be addressed in the handbook so all parties are fully informed. Describe your policy for maintaining a safe workplace, including compliance with OSHA laws that require employees to report accidents, injuries, and potential safety hazards to management. Outline your policy for bad weather or hazardous conditions, and reinforce your commitment to a safe and secure work environment. Tell employees what they need to do to keep the workplace secure, such as locking files and computers when not in use.
That brings us to our next important topic: computers and technology. While computers and technology are essential tools for conducting business, employee misuse can lead to serious consequences. On almost a weekly basis, digital theft or data breach makes national news, potentially damaging the reputation and finances of both the company in question and its customers. You want to avoid this at all costs. That’s why your handbook must outline clear policies for appropriate computer and software use, as well as steps employees should take to secure electronic information--especially if that includes personal identifiable information you collect from your customers or clients.
You should also explain your rules for personal use of company technology along with your social media policy, if applicable.
Employee benefits and leave are two areas where your company policies may be subject to various federal and state laws and regulations. Your handbook should include details on your company’s benefits program, including all benefits that may be required by law such as workers' compensation, disability insurance, and COBRA, if applicable. If this information is extensive, you may wish to list it in an appendix or separate booklet. While health insurance will likely require separate legal documents, such as a summary plan description, you should also explain your health insurance options and programs for retirement savings, tuition reimbursement, business travel, employee assistance, and any other fringe benefits you provide to attract and retain employees.
Certain types of employee leave are also subject to state and federal law. These may include family medical leave, leave for jury duty, military leave, and time off for voting…all of which should be explained and documented in compliance with applicable law. You should also explain your policies regarding vacation and holiday pay, personal time, bereavement time, and sick leave.
Be sure to include any other essential provisions in your handbook that employees need to know about. For example, if your employees are employed “at-will” (meaning that either the employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time), you should clearly state that fact and include a conspicuous disclaimer in the front of the handbook that specifically states that the handbook is not an employment contract and should not be construed as a contract.
Finally, be sure to include 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.
As we mentioned in part one of this video, your employee handbook is one of the first—and most critical—pieces of communication given to new employees. It should be kept up-to-date and outline your compliance with a number of federal and state laws. At the same time, the handbook is also a reflection of your company: expectations, corporate culture, policies and benefit programs. As such, it’s worth your time and attention. Visit us online at HR360.com to learn more about employee handbooks, and to see a demo of our interactive Employee Handbook Builder.
As always, it is wise to consult a reliable employment law attorney for a final review of any written communication before it is provided to employees.