Guest post by Jeri Johansen of Crimcheck.com (learn more about the author at the end of this post)
The basic function of an employee handbook should be as a communication tool. Many positive conversations should be found in your handbook such as an explanation of your culture, benefits and your corporate mission and vision statements. It should not be overly complicated with legalese and in general it should be an easy read.
Of course the necessary laws and legislation must be addressed, such as timekeeping/payroll and standards of conduct, as well as compliance issues such as harassment and discrimination. These vary based on the size of your company and the industry. Your legal department will review the finished product and will of course have their say in some of the standard language. It’s the HR department’s job to make sure the finished product is not too intimidating and is user friendly, especially for the onboarding employee.
If you are a small HR department and are just starting out on the journey to create the perfect employee handbook, just follow this sample outline to begin your work:
- Introduction to the Company
- Benefits and Leave Policies
- General Employment Policies/Standards of Conduct
- Compensation/Timekeeping and Work Schedules
- Safety /Security/Computers and Technology
Every company is different and should tailor their handbook to their specific needs, but this is a good starter outline. There are many resources that can be found on the web regarding employee handbooks, some of them good; many not. A great place to start is SHRM.org, where reliable information on practically all HR topics can be found. Also, the Small Business Administration has a good starter manual.
Over the years, I have seen many company handbooks and found these mistakes most frequently:
Mistake #1: Combining a Procedure Manual with the Employee Handbook
This is especially important for a small business, but the temptation to combine the procedure manual with the employee handbook should be avoided. They’re two completely different animals.
A procedure manual should be filled with techno-jargon related to your company and industry. You may even need to include a list of definitions in your procedure manual. The employee handbook however, should be something an onboarding employee can read and understand. It should showcase your mission and visions, explain benefits, payroll and timekeeping rules, and deal with compliance issues such as harassment and grievances, and discrimination. By separating these two, your employees will know where to go to for guidance and expectations (handbook) and where to look for instructions (procedure manual).
Mistake #2: Not Including a Disclaimer
Always include the disclaimer that an employee’s status is at-will and that the employee and employer may terminate the employment relationship at any time without notice or cause. This is standard employee handbook verbiage, but varies from state to state. Courts have overturned disclaimers when the language in the manual seems to override it so pay particular attention.
Mistake #3: Incorrect Wording when Describing Employment Status
Watch out for wording that appears to grant contractual rights to an employee such as “permanent employee.” Another mistake is being too specific with a list of actions relating to termination – this should be left rather open. Also, make sure to review employee classifications -– exempt/non-exempt.
Mistake #4: Not Reviewing Regularly
Set aside some time at the beginning of every year to review and make changes. Keep up to date throughout the year on various legal changes that may affect your handbook.
Mistake #5: Neglecting to have Legal Review
There are too many legal specifics that must be addressed in an employee handbook. Don’t just follow Google’s advice on this. Have a legal firm that is familiar with employee handbooks and your company’s state and industry legislation review the handbook before release.
Your employee handbook is an essential part of your business and can help provide guidance to employees and managers alike. It will detail the company expectations as well as the employee’s rights and is the first line of defense to an employer faced with legal action.
About the Author
Jeri Johansen, PHR is the HR Blogger and Manager of Human Resources at Crimcheck.com, and employment screening and background check company. She is also Chair of the 2014 Northern Ohio Human Resource Conference. Jeri’s expertise includes benefits, communications, employee relations, recruitment, legal, organizational development, and training and development for this growing company which is a national provider of corporate pre-employment screening services. She holds a PHR certification from the Society for Human Resource Management, a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Western Governors University, and an AAS degree in Security Administration.