Do you know what to include in an employee handbook? Is your employee handbook a complete and comprehensive tool, something fully integrated part of your company’s new hire onboarding process? It really should be…

Misunderstandings are a part of human nature, particularly in an employment setting. A manager may think he or she communicated something clearly only to find out later that the employee interpreted it in an entirely different way. This is a primary reason why having a clear, well-written employee handbook is so essential, regardless of the size of the company. Without one, a company could easily face unhappy employees which will at a minimum, impact employee morale … at most, you may get a lawsuit.

Essential Items to Include in an Employee Handbook

Clear expectations are the key to avoiding conflict between management and employees. It also fosters goodwill among employees, which can reduce turnover and all of the expenses associated with it. As a part of your onboarding process, you should communicate information that is unique to each employee, such as job title, pay rate, whether the position is hourly or salaried, and daily work schedule. When the expectation applies equally to everyone in the company, that information should be included in the employee handbook. At a minimum, the handbook should include the following topics:

  • Employee review and pay raise policy: The company should state how often performance reviews are conducted and the requirements an employee must meet to receive a pay raise or be eligible for a promotion.
  • Safety expectations: Employees should understand the specific safety rules they are expected to follow as well as the consequences for disregarding them. They should also be instructed on what to do in case of an accident on the job.
  • Workplace bullying and sexual harassment: The employee handbook should make it clear that this type of behavior is never tolerated. It should also outline specific actions that constitute verbal, physical, or sexual harassment.
  • Attendance policy: Employers should clearly indicate company policy regarding excused and unexcused absences, tardiness, and leaves of absence. This section should address how an employee should notify his or her manager of unplanned time off in addition to consequences for missing too much time.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse policy: Even though most employers perform drug tests before making an offer of employment, it’s still important to state the company expectations in this area. Employers should indicate if they perform random drug tests or routinely screen for the presence of mind-altering substances after an employee has an accident.
  • Social media and electronic communication policy: With so many people active on social media, it’s essential for employers to have a firm stance on its use during the workday as well as employees’ off-hours. For instance, workers are free to use social media at home but are prohibited from posting anything derogatory about the employer or that may reflect poorly on the employer. The policy should also discuss accepted uses of company email, telephone systems, and other forms of communication.

Protection from Lawsuits

If your business already has an employee handbook, you should always avoid language that promises an employee indefinite employment as long as he or she abides by company policies. As an employer, you decide the extent of the employment relationship between you and the employee. You can also run into this problem by not having an employee handbook at all. In either scenario, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to fire an employee without good cause. This situation leaves a dismissed employee free to sue his or her former employer for unlawful termination.

Further, if a court determines that an employment contract existed, the company may be forced to pay back wages, severance, or even re-hire the employee in the same role. All of this can be avoided by clearly stating in the employee handbook that all employment is at-will and can be terminated at any time and for any reason by either party.

In terms of handling employee discipline, having an employee handbook that outlines that you have a discipline plan in place can help employers avoid expensive and sometimes frivolous lawsuits against them. It’s important to outline that you will take disciplinary action against employees who break the rules which could lead to termination. However, do not spell out a progressive disciplinary policy unless you want to take progress discipline in every situation. An employee may claim discrimination if the employer can’t prove that he or she was repeatedly warned about showing up late or turning in substandard work. The company must be able to demonstrate in writing that all employees are subject to the discipline policy and that it made every effort to allow the employee an opportunity to improve his or her job performance.

When in Doubt, Refer to the Handbook

Employee handbooks not only protect employers from lawsuits, they govern everyday workplace behavior. A well-written document holds everyone accountable to the same standards and provides clarification in the event of a dispute. However, employers should reserve the right to change the employee handbook at any time to better reflect the goals of the organization.

Imagine your workplace if all of the confusion over HR matters was easily explained!

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