A well-written employee handbook specifies company rules and sets expectations for employee behavior. It also specifies your legal obligations as an employer as well as the rights of the employees. It’s an invaluable “go to” source when workplace controversies arise.
Here are some tips to creating a handbook for your company.
1. Start with an Attorney
It’s unlikely you’re familiar with local and state laws. It’s almost certainly the case that you’re not familiar enough with case law to properly describe the obligations of employees as recognized by law and your legal responsibilities as an employer. For that, you need professional assistance.
Talk to an attorney who’s skilled in employment law. Find out what’s best to include in your employee handbook. The upfront legal fees will put a dent in your bottom line, but you’ll save money in litigation costs over the long run if you protect yourself by specifying the proper provisions in your handbook.
2. Review It Every Year
Wouldn’t it be nice if an employee handbook was a “set it and forget it” type of task? Unfortunately, it isn’t.
The only constant is change. That is never truer than when it comes to local, state, and federal laws. Legislators are always making changes at the behest of their constituents and in accordance with changing times. You can expect the labor laws to change dramatically while you’re in business.
That’s why it’s important that you personally review your handbook at least once a year. If you hear about a major change in legislation (e.g., the Affordable Care Act that passed in 2009), then consult with an attorney immediately about whether or not you need to make changes to your handbook.
3. Start with the Application
You can include certain provisions about employee behavior and expectations in the application. Applicants who sign the form are essentially saying, “Yes, I agree with these provisions.” Be sure to include language to that effect.
When you do that, you’re accomplishing two things: First, you’re letting applicants know about your policies up front. That will give them an understanding of your vision for employee conduct.
Second, you’re adding a second layer of legal protection in the event that a controversy occurs. Your employee will not only have signed the form associated with the employee handbook, but he or she will also have signed the application, which lays out certain guidelines.
4. Make Your Handbook Easy to Read
It’s easy to craft a handbook that puts people to sleep. You can fill it with legal jargon, employment technicalities, and principles of conduct. All of that is tedious to read.
However, you also can create an employee handbook that is engaging. You do that by including anecdotes and illustrations.
For example, in the section about sexual harassment, you could describe specific scenarios that create a hostile work environment and are an example of “quid pro quo.”
That part of the handbook might be titled “Is This Sexual Harassment?” and then begin as follows: “Jane walks into the lunchroom when Bill is telling Jack about a sexual encounter…” At the end of the story, the reader answers whether or not the scenario is an example of sexual harassment. The correct answer, complete with an explanation, is on the next page.
A well-written employee handbook can save you countless dollars in litigation costs. It also can act as the “final word” when disputes arise. Be certain that your company has an authoritative handbook.