The Importance of Employee Handbooks

Your business is more than just your livelihood, it’s your baby. It is important for you, as a business owner, to detail your employee expectations in a clear, unambiguous manner much like you would for a babysitter who is looking after your child. Employees also need to have an idea of what to expect from your company. It is imperative to go beyond verbally detailing these expectations to new employees. Both you and your employees need a reference to refer back to in case any questions, concerns, or problems should arise in the future. So what kind of all-inclusive document can you use to cover all of these bases? You guessed it, an employee handbook.

Your employee handbook should serve as the bible that your employees are expected to act in accordance with, and should also provide details about every aspect of “life” with your company.  Thus, the following is a list of items, or sections, that I recommend you include in your employee handbook in order to cover all bases.

General Employment Information:

This section will include an overview of company policies, employment eligibility, job classifications, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and union information. It is likely that you will need to divide this section into subsections in order to create a clear, concise, and easily accessible document for people to refer to. Remember, employees should not have to read between the lines; the items in this section need to be worded in an unambiguous manner so that there is no alternate way to interpret them.

Standards of Conduct:

It is important to consider the kind of atmosphere and culture that you wish to foster within your company when creating your standards of conduct section. What’s your dress code? There is a fine line between what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior; where is that line drawn? It is extremely important that this section reminds employees of their legal obligations. This is the section that will cover your behind in the event of harassment accusations and the like, so again, be as unambiguous and concise in your phrasing as you possibly can when writing it.

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Conflict of Interest Statements:

While you are not legally required to have NDAs and Conflict of Interest Statements, it would be wise to consider them. By having employees sign NDAs and Conflict of Interest Statements you protect your trade secrets and company information against getting into the wrong hands. Yes, that’s right. You can have your OOmpa Loompas sign a legal document that protects your carefully guarded Gobstopper recipe from getting into Slugworth’s hands; because hey, not everyone is as honest and respectable as Charlie Bucket.

Safety and Security:

The safety and security of your employees is extremely important. In order to ensure the safety of your employees is preserved, you must provide details on your company specific policies for creating a safe and secure work place. Laws set forth by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, require employees to report accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, and other health and safety related issues to management. Be sure to detail your company’s compliance with these laws.

Anti-Discrimination Policies:

By law, you must comply with all equal employment opportunity statutes that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, religion, gender, and sexual preference. This includes the Americans with Disabilities Act. Provide details about these laws, as well as any company specific additions, in this section.

Work Schedules:

Are your employees expected to work 9am-5pm? If punctuality is imperative to things running smoothly, be sure to detail your policy on showing up late. What is your attendance policy and what is the procedure for reporting absences? If it is possible for employees to work from home, provide details and policies regarding flexible scheduling and telecommuting in this section. Be sure to include details about how your company will handle violations of these policies, as well as all others.

Leave:

There are both state and local laws regarding family medical leave, jury duty, and military leave that you need to comply with. All must be clearly documented in this section, along with your company specific policies relating to vacation, holiday, bereavement, and sick leave.

Compensation:

While each employee’s exact salary may differ, it is important to provide details regarding federal and state tax deductions, as well as voluntary deductions for any relevant benefits programs. This section should also provide details about your company’s legal obligations relating to overtime compensation, pay schedules, salary increases, breaks, and bonus compensation.

Employee Benefits:

This section is extremely important. The last thing you want, as a business owner, is a law suit over a misunderstanding about disability or worker’s compensation. In this section you must detail thoroughly all of your company’s benefit programs and eligibility requirements; this includes those that are required by law such as disability insurance and worker’s compensation. Health insurance options, retirement plans, tuition reimbursement, business travel, etc., it all goes here.

Computers and Technology:

Concerns regarding the misuse of technology extend far beyond the temptation for employees to check their Facebook and Twitter accounts during work. Company computers and software contain personal information about customers, confidential company files, and countless other items that need to be safe and secure. Your handbook must provide a detailed policies regarding appropriate, and inappropriate, computer and software use. This includes steps employees should take to secure this electronic information.

Media Relations:

It is extremely important for your business to maintain a positive image. Thus, your business should have a single point of contact for all media inquiries in order to avoid any unwanted media attention. Having a strict policy on media relations will protect your company from being misrepresented in the media as a result of false or otherwise fallible information being released by an unapproved employee.

Integrity, consistency, and employee satisfaction are imperative to running a smooth business operation. By creating a thorough, detailed employee handbook that covers every policy and expectation that you have for your employees, you effectively maintain integrity, consistency, and employee satisfaction by providing set-in-stone guidelines for them to follow and refer back to in case any questions should arise.

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