How to Write an Employee Handbook and What it Should Include
An employee handbook (or manual) is a critical aspect of managing human resources. While it is not required by the U.S. Department of Labor, it is the law to ensure that all employees have written access to their rights. There is the added convenience of having a central place where employees can locate routine information 24/7 -- which is especially important for employees who work remotely and can’t see the labor law posters displayed onsite. An up-to-date and compliant handbook can also provide some protection should the company’s policies or practices ever be challenged in a court of law. Most employers decide that a corporate handbook is the best solution for these reasons.
What makes up an employee handbook?
The employee handbook contains an organized collection of documents and policies that provide information and guidance to employees. This can vary slightly depending on each state because employees have different rights, such as minimum wage, work hours, and payroll matters. A well-designed employee handbook covers everything from attendance to workers’ compensation. The handbook can be delivered electronically or in printed format.
Writing an employee handbook
Whether you are just getting started or you need to update an existing employee handbook, follow these guidelines to make sure it covers everything.
Start out your employee manual with a warm welcome to employees. Include brief information about the company’s history, it’s founders, mission, and vision. Make sure employees know how much they are valued.
The next section lays down the rules about how employees should conduct themselves as representatives of your organization. This section should include the corporate dress code, behavioral guidelines, diversity and inclusiveness, workplace safety, and other core values of the company. Be specific and share examples so that employees have a greater understanding of what’s expected of them. Include disciplinary process and when the company determines termination should occur (example: theft, violence, etc.)
Employment Laws and Rights
This section should include all of the federal and state employment laws and rights. These include Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), federal and state minimum wages, sexual harassment, work hours and overtime rules, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA), and the E-Verify & Anti-Discrimination Notice. It is also important to have an updated substance abuse policy that is appropriate for your state, as some have made cannabis legal.
If you are a federal contractor, you must also include the following in your employee handbook EEO is the Law Notice – includes GINA, OSHA Employee Whistle-Blower Rights Notice, Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act, National Labor Relations Act Notice (NLRA), You Have the Right to Work Notice
Employee Pay and Classification
Define what exempt and non-exempt employees are, including what your company considers part-time and full time. Use this section to also detail payroll policies and include the direct deposit form. Layout the payroll periods (one week, two weeks, starting and end days and times). Provide instructions on how employees are to log their work time and when timecards are due. This can be another good place to list working hours, what constitutes overtime, and who to contact with any payroll questions or changes.
Provide a brief overview of the corporate benefits, including health insurance, supplementary insurance, life insurance, retirement savings plans, health and flexible savings plans, paid time off, disability insurance, education and training, and any onsite perks. If you offer access to a fitness center, provide some guidelines and hours of operation, including rules for using the facilities. The same goes for onsite childcare, mailroom services, dry cleaning services, or use of the corporate cafeteria.
Make sure to include your company’s attendance policy and what constitutes tardiness and absences. Detail what employees should do if they need to take an extended period of days to recover from a health matter. Include the rules about unexcused absences and the company’s disciplinary policy up to and including termination.
All employers need to include some basic safety information as part of the employee manual. Give some examples of proper lifting, storage of office chemicals, protecting sensitive information, avoiding equipment injuries at work, and keeping the work environment safe. Detail the company policies on workplace safety equipment and protective wear. GIve instructions on what to do if there is a fire and how to safely leave the building if the alarm is activated. GIve instructions to employees about what to do in the case of a workplace violence event. Share the steps that an employee must take if he or she becomes injured while at work, including completing a work injury report and where the nearest emergency room is.
New Hire or Termination
Share a checklist of what a new hire needs to review and sign off on before starting his or her first week on the job. So too, create a checklist for employees departing the company to do before leaving the worksite on the final day.
The final element in the employee handbook is the employee acknowledgment by which the employee signs off that he or she has read and understands all of the information found in the handbook. Put a signed copy in the employee’s folder. Provide a contact person where the employee can get more information if needed.
This does seem like a lot of information, and it is. There are HR outsourcing companies that can help employers develop and write their internal employee handbooks. If you decide to do this on your own, you will still want to have it reviewed by an attorney familiar with workplace laws. The good news is once you complete your employer handbook, you can simply update it on an annual basis.