Like any business owner or manager/supervisor, you depend on dedicated, upbeat and hard-working employees to keep things running smoothly. But every new hire needs to understand what defines “ideal behavior” in your workplace. There’s no better way to achieve this than by creating a handbook that clearly sets out your policies and expectations – thus creating a strong work environment now and avoiding conflicts and misunderstandings in the future.
A well-designed employee handbook serves as a reference source for employees to consult if they have questions about work conditions or policies. It’s also very useful to have in the event of any legal situation involving a disgruntled employee later on.
In general, an effective employee handbook should be:
- Fairly short, but accurate
- Clearly written, without jargon or flowery language
So what are the employee handbook essentials?
Start with a disclaimer. Industry experts maintain this is an indispensable element because it clearly states that the handbook “is not a contract of employment”. It should be provided “for guidance only” to assist with questions of policies and procedures.
General policies. All employee handbooks should cover the basics: pay periods, time sheets, dress codes, proper use of telephone, email and internet.
Define “employee,” “work week” and “taking leave.” These commonly used terms don’t mean the same thing in every business setting. It’s important to make a distinction between full-time, part-time and contract workers (avoid using “permanent” as it has potential legal implications).
Zero tolerance and disciplinary action. Many problems can be avoided if your policies on undesirable behavior are made explicitly clear in the employee handbook. This includes a clear-cut, zero tolerance policy for drug use, sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. What constitutes “employee misconduct” should be crystal-clear, as well as the consequences for failure to follow the rules (including warnings and cause for dismissal). To cover all the bases, experts advise additional language such as “other behavior considered detrimental to the company”.
Complaints and resolutions. Employees expect and deserve to be able to voice complaints (and report infractions) without facing unwarranted consequences. Procedures should be spelled out in the handbook so that work-related conflicts can be resolved quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction.
Employee benefits and leave policies. Although this information is generally covered as part of individual employee contract, it’s helpful to spell out the policies here as well. This includes all types of leave, from vacations and sick days to jury duty, maternal or funeral leaves. Any restrictions or “special circumstances” should also be noted.
After you’ve completed a draft of your new employee handbook, what’s next?
Get a legal review. Without exception, your employee handbook should be reviewed by a legal expert who can advise on proper wording and ensure you’re following all federal and state employment laws.
Make sure everyone gets a copy. The handbook isn’t meant to be left out on a conference table or on a shelf in the lunch room for voluntary perusal. Every employee should have a copy and be requested to read it. (Some experts suggest that employees sign a statement acknowledging receipt and review of the handbook’s contents.)
Finally, introduce the employee handbook in a way that emphasizes its value as a protection and guidance for workers, not as a book full of rules and regulations. Understanding what’s acceptable in the workplace and what’s not goes a long way toward ensuring focus on the most important things: hard work, productivity and high morale.