If your company has (or plans to have) employees, a well-written employee handbook is an essential communication resource between you and your team. An effective handbook can set expectations for new hires, outline company policies, simplify onboarding, as well as enhance training and enforcement. Ultimately, your handbook ensures that your team is not only aware of your rules and policies, but also the federal and state laws governing their employment.
You can use your employee handbook to introduce your team to your company and its culture, explaining what’s expected of them—and what they can expect from you. Though it should never take the place of employment agreements, your employee handbook can provide you with an extra layer of legal protection if an employee ever decides to take you to court.
Your handbook should reflect the way you do business, and whatever policies you include in it should be consistently enforced. Depending on the size and scope of your operation, the handbook’s content can vary widely. However, the following nine topics are a good place to start.
1) General company Information: Provide a general overview of your company, its philosophy, history, and culture. In addition to this introduction, point out that the handbook is not a contract—merely a general overview of your basic policies—and as such, it offers no promise of continued employment and is subject to change with time.
2) Attendance and time-off policies: Lay out your company’s policies regarding work hours, schedules, attendance, and telecommuting. Here, you may want to discuss sick leave, PTO, family and medical leave, bereavement, jury duty, and military leave. Also, list holidays your company observes, along with your vacation policy, spelling out how vacation time is earned and how to schedule time off.
3) Anti-discrimination policies: Include a section covering the state and federal laws related to non-discrimination, equal employment opportunity, and harassment, such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act. You should let employees know how they’re expected to comply and describe the procedures you have in place for reporting violations and/or complaints.
Having a procedure in place for documenting complaints can help protect your business from legal liability for things like sexual harassment and discrimination. Just be sure you’re aware of the specific laws in your state, as they can vary greatly depending on where your offices—and employees—are located. As your Family Business Lawyer™, we can help ensure your company is in full compliance with all applicable employment laws.
4) Compensation: Discuss the methods of payment you offer like check, direct deposit, and online pay applications, along with listing pay periods and pay dates. If applicable, lay out your overtime policies as well as any additional compensation options, such as bonuses and stock options.
5) Standards of conduct: Discuss your expectations and rules for employee behavior. Depending on your company, this can include a wide variety of issues, such as dress code, smoking policy, sexual harassment, personal cell-phone use, alcohol/substance use, and inter-office dating.
Pay special attention to policies regarding web technology like email, social media, and texting. Inform your employees that such office communications are not private and may be monitored. You should also discuss any conflict-resolution procedures and/or employee discipline processes you have in place related to managing employee behavior.
6) Benefits: Include a brief summary of the benefits you offer, such as healthcare, life insurance, dental, vision, and retirement plans. Don’t go into specific details here; refer them to the official plan documents for a full explanation. That said, you should discuss who’s eligible for benefits, when and how to enroll, as well as how benefits can be changed after certain events, like marriage, divorce, and/or birth of a child.
7) Employee safety and security: Lay out your policies for creating a safe and secure workplace. This might include your compliance with any applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws requiring employees to report accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions, and health issues to management.
If applicable, include your safety policies regarding driving company vehicles, as well as any procedures for dealing with natural disasters and/or severe weather conditions. Don’t forget that by law many states require companies to inform employees of their states workers compensation policies in writing, so it may be a good idea to include those here too.
Finally, given the pandemic, you should clearly outline any rules or policies you have related to COVID-19. This may include policies and procedures concerning social distancing, masking, remote work, vaccinations, and symptom checking.
8) Remote and hybrid work policies: If your company offers remote or hybrid work arrangements, make sure you formalize your policies. As such, your employee handbook should identify the positions eligible for remote work, provide a process for requesting and authorizing remote arrangements, and provide a process for terminating the remote arrangement. In addition, you should consider the impact remote work has on employee-related issues, such as compliance, cybersecurity, employee engagement, and liability, and clearly document any rules or policies affecting these issues.
9) Employment acknowledgement page: To verify that your employees have read and agree to abide by these rules, you should include an acknowledgement page at the end, which employees are required to sign. The acknowledgement should state that the employee has read, understands, and agrees to follow the handbook’s policies. It’s a good idea to make this page detachable, and once signed, place it in their personnel file.
Enlist Our Support From its initial creation and editing to the final approval before printing, as your Family Business Lawyer™ can help you with every step of developing your employee handbook. And given your handbook covers sensitive legal issues, it’s actually vital that you allow us to review your handbook before it’s printed.
That said, an employee handbook is no substitute for comprehensive employment agreements. We can help you draft these legal agreements for your team, and then support you to coordinate their content with your employee handbook, so you have every possible document in place to protect your business from liability and stay in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Contact us your local Family Business Lawyer™ today to learn more.
This article is a service of Hector de Jesus, Family Business Lawyer™. We offer a complete spectrum of legal services for businesses and can help you make the wisest choices on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of your death. We also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call us today to schedule.