Building your employee handbook
Learn what to include in your employee handbook.
Employers of all sizes should consider developing an employee handbook. A handbook is the single best way to communicate information regarding your company's policies, practices, and employee benefits.
Providing access to your company's written policies and procedures makes it more likely that employees will learn, understand, and follow them. In some instances, including information in a handbook or other written materials may be required by law — for example, employers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) who have eligible employees must provide a general notice about the law to each employee.
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Key topics to address in your handbook
It is important to tailor your employee handbook to meet your company's specific needs and goals, but keep in mind that your policies and practices must comply with various federal, state, and local laws — such as employment discrimination and benefits-related laws. Therefore, it is prudent to have employment counsel review the handbook before you publish and distribute it.
An employee handbook typically includes the following topics:
Introduction and welcome. The employee handbook is your chance to formally introduce employees to your company, its mission statement, and its values. Provide a warm welcome and a short overview of the company to give your employees a sense of how their work contributes to the company's overall objectives and to set the tone for a productive working environment.
Employment-at-will. The 'employment-at-will' doctrine means that, in general, an employer and employee are each free to terminate employment at any time and for any reason, absent an agreement or law to the contrary. It is important to include a conspicuous disclaimer in your handbook stating that employment with your company is 'at-will' and that the handbook is not a contract. Consult with an attorney to draft appropriate language.
Acknowledgement of receipt. Each handbook you distribute should include a written acknowledgement for each employee to sign, stating that he or she has received and read the handbook. Place one signed copy of the acknowledgement in the employee's personnel file and return one copy to the employee.
General employment information. Explain your company's basic policies relating to employment eligibility, job classifications (for example, full- vs. part-time employment), recruitment practices, personnel files, performance reviews, and termination and resignation procedures.
Nondiscrimination policies. Depending on the number of employees you have, you may be subject to various federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age (40 or older), sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity), national origin, disability, and other protected statuses. Be sure your handbook includes information on how employees are expected to comply with applicable laws, as well as a statement affirming the company's compliance.
Compensation. Clearly explain that your company will make required deductions from employees' paychecks for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for the company's benefits programs. In addition, you should outline your responsibilities under federal and state wage and hour laws regarding overtime pay, pay schedules, time-keeping records, and meal and rest breaks.
Benefits. Your handbook should detail any employee benefits to which your employees are entitled — including benefits required by law (such as workers' compensation) and any voluntary benefits you offer (such as health insurance or retirement plans). Note that separate legal documents (such as a summary plan description) may also be required for employee benefit plans.
Employee conduct. Lay out your expectations for employees when it comes to work hours, attendance, and punctuality (including reporting absences), dress code, and use of phones and computers. Explain any legal obligations with respect to handling customers' or other sensitive information. This section is also a good place to describe your company's discipline policy and standards. Written policies and procedures help ensure consistency and fairness.
Leave policies. Your employee handbook should clearly explain your policies — in compliance with both federal and state law — regarding family and medical leave, military leave, time off for jury duty and voting, as well as vacation, holidays, sick time, and personal days.
Safety and security. Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Include a statement of your compliance with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and state laws related to job safety and health protection for workers. Your handbook should also inform employees about their responsibilities when it comes to complying with safety rules and reporting accidents, injuries, hazards, and other health and safety-related issues to management.
Be sure that your company's policies and procedures apply equally to all employees and comply with applicable federal and state laws. Your handbook should be reviewed at least once a year and updated and redistributed when there is any change in the law that would affect its contents. Consult an employment law attorney if you have any questions regarding your handbook or company policies.
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