HR Support Center
By Jennifer Cain Davis
Having a clear, well-organized employee handbook is a crucial element of the employer-employee relationship and business operations. A well-constructed employee handbook can protect a business during third party investigations, litigation, and other costly legal woes. An employee handbook helps all employees understand company policies and procedures. Finally, an employee handbook ensures the smooth operation of day-to-day business by establishing clear workplace rules and policies.
A must-have for every business
Although handbooks are not required by law, every employer should have one. Whether you have two employees or two hundred employees, you absolutely need an employee handbook.
Having policies documented in a handbook provides evidence that an employer exercised reasonable care — that is, showed concern for and took steps to protect employee well-being. For example, a handbook may state that the employer has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and explain the procedure an employee should follow if he or she has experienced harassment, as well as the definition for harassment.
From a legal perspective, the burden of proof is always on the employer to prove that they didn’t do anything wrong. So if an employee says, ‘I was harassed and no one did anything about it,’ one of the first places to turn for a line of defense is the employee handbook.
Elements of an effective handbook
Employee handbooks include a variety of information. They can and should contain policies that federal and state laws require employers to follow as well as policies that are just good business sense.
Here is a quick overview of the elements that make up an effective employee handbook.
Policies required by law. Federal or state laws require an employer to abide by certain policies, and these are best communicated to employees in writing. The handbook is a great mode of communication for these purposes. State-mandated policy requirements may vary from state to state, depending on where the employee is located, but these policies typically include
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policies
- Equal employment and non-discrimination policies (including harassment policies)
- Workers’ compensation policies
Clauses every handbook should have
Certain policies or clauses of an effective employee handbook are not necessarily mandated by law, but are still vital for businesses to include.
- Not a contract clause — explains that the employee handbook is not a contract or promise of continued employment. This helps to preserve the at-will relationship.
- Current handbook supersedes all previous handbook versions and policies — clause that states that the current handbook trumps all previous versions or policy documents.
- Subject to change clause — indicates that policies are subject to change. This enables the employer to update policies and the handbook itself to comply with changes in laws or company policies.
- Employee acknowledgment page — a page that indicates the employee has read and agrees to all terms in the handbook; the employee signs this page and returns it to the employer.
Business-specific clauses and policies
An employer may want to include additional clauses and policies in the handbook — for instance, benefits, paid time-off, attendance, employee behavior expectations, and others. Employers should make sure nothing in these policies violates state or federal laws.
Keeping the handbook updated
The HR Support Center recommends that employers review and update their employee handbook at least once a year to comply with changes in federal and state laws and emerging issues like social media use. Though it’s important to keep the handbook updated, doing so can be time-consuming — even more so for employers who have employees in several states. That’s because multi-state employers’ handbooks must include policies specific to employees in each state as well as policies that apply to all employees.
The HR Support Center solves that problem by offering resources that make it easy to create an employee handbook that complies with state and federal laws — and keep the handbook updated. First, all HR Support Center clients have access to the Policy Library, which contains more than 100 policy templates that users can copy and adapt for use in their own handbooks.
Additionally, HR Support Center clients who have HR on-Demand will have access to the handbook development feature. This includes basic handbook templates as well as access to human resources professionals who will review the handbook to ensure it complies with both federal and all applicable state laws.
Having an employee handbook should never be optional. Your company’s employee manual is a great tool for both you and your employees to have as a reference regarding important information they need to know in order to have a productive and harmonious work environment.
Human Resources Solutions, LLC
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Office: 617. 433 . 1062
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