As your business grows, a strong employee handbook is a manual for what your employees can expect from your company and what your company expects from them. So, unless you’re your business’s sole employee – or you’re running a family business with only you, your sister and cousin as employees – you need an employee handbook.
Not having clear policies can mean big problems. Employees often look for loopholes when they try to justify behaviour outside your expectations, and they look to your employee handbook to find them. Your employee handbook should provide guidance to reinforce your policies.
As you begin writing, or updating, your employee handbook, keep it simple, straightforward and relevant to your particular business. Outline the policies that affect your employees.
Here are six areas that can help you kick-start a strong employee handbook.
- Code of conduct
Your business’s code of conduct is the first place employees should look when they have questions about ethics and compliance. It’s a roadmap of how they should act, and it speaks to your company culture.
Some of the basic information you’ll want to include in your code of conduct includes:
- Code of ethics
- Dress code and grooming standards
- Workplace safety
- Attendance requirements
Spell it all out for your employees. Set expectations and establish the consequences for not meeting those expectations.
For example, if an employee is consistently late to work, you should be able to refer them to their handbook for specifics on their working hours, as well as the protocol you determine for excessive tardiness. Or, if male employees are expected to wear suits and ties, but a rogue employee insists on preceding the tie, how willing are you to relax some rules?
Maybe you could offer casual Fridays as a compromise. Whatever you decide, will set you and your staff up for success by including this information in your employee handbook.
- Communications policy
A clear communications policy may have been optional in the past, but it’s more important than ever in the current technological environment.
Do you provide your employees with laptops, cell phones and other devices? Do you know how those devices are being used? How often are your employees using company equipment to surf the net, make personal phone calls, store photos, text friends or post on social media?
Your communications policy should explicitly state your expectations of appropriate use of devices and behaviour on those devices. Employees should have a clear understanding that when they use company equipment, they’re acting as a representative of your company. Tell them, for example, that sending bullying texts to someone on company equipment can get them fired.
- Nondiscrimination policy
This is a must for any employee handbook. You want employees to know that your organisation will not tolerate discrimination or harassment in any way, shape or form.
Keep in mind that discrimination isn’t always overt or on purpose. Even good managers can slip and unintentionally discriminate among employees. Are employees complaining about the perfect, five-star rating one employee received on his review when no one else did? Maybe they believe it’s because he and his supervisor are lunch buddies.
Chances are, the manager is just trying to help his friend get the annual salary increase – and doesn’t realise he may be discriminating against the rest of his team. Regardless, this is a huge area of potential liability, and a strong handbook can be a good defence if charges are filed against your company.
In the meantime, good managers aren’t born – they’re made. Make them aware of your policies and provide supervisory and leadership training on nondiscrimination.
- Compensation and benefits policy
Employees don’t always remember all the perks you talked about during their interviews. You can use your employee handbook to remind them about employee benefits, including general information and vacation time.
You also want to cover your legal bases by explaining things like payroll deductions, overtime, leave and the workers’ compensation policy.
Keep things simple and high-level. However, there are no absolutes in business, and a change in circumstances, benefits or policies will mean you need to update your employee handbook.
For instance, you might want to outline your benefit and compensation philosophy without naming specific carriers or plan options.
You can also outline how often employees will receive performance reviews without mentioning specific pay increases. You don’t want to outline the specifics of yearly merit increases and then find you can’t provide them because of business demands. Be careful about the details you include.
- New hire and separation policy
Provide the basic terms of employment and what employees can expect if and when they terminate, including:
- Eligibility for benefits – is there a waiting period? How long?
- Frequency of pay periods – weekly, bi-weekly, monthly?
- Transfers and relocation – if employees quit or move, how much notice do you require? Do you provide relocation assistance for employees who transfer to another office within the company?
- Referrals – do you offer monetary rewards to employees who refer talent that you hire?
- At-will and discipline – do you have a progressive discipline policy? If employees are terminated by you, are they paid for vacation time (if not required by state law)?
- Acknowledgement of receipt
Be sure your employees understand everything in your handbook and require that they sign an acknowledgement of that understanding. Make two copies. Give one to the employee, and keep the other in their employment file – whether it’s a hard copy or electronic document.
If an employee termination becomes contentious, and policies are being contested, having on file the employee’s signed acknowledgement of receipt can be your strongest defence.
Your employee handbook is a manual of information that your employees need to function within your organisation. A good handbook will:
- Set the tone for your organisation
- Summarize rules and policies that affect your company culture
- Provide a consistent message for your employees
- Strengthen your position when you need to terminate an employee
For instance, a manufacturing firm may not have a critical need for a communications policy. Likewise, if you have employees who travel for business, address the issues surrounding that, e.g., per diems, expense reimbursement, etc.
In addition to policies, your employee handbook should include information about who to contact should an employee need to report policy violations.
Expect to update your handbook every one to two years. Be sure you include key state legislation and policies, and realise that new laws and regulations mean revisions to your handbook to remain compliant.
Remember always to make sure your policies are clear and don’t assume that everyone will read their handbook cover to cover. Try to keep your handbook to a maximum of 30 to 40 pages, if possible. If it’s too long, it may not get the attention it deserves.
By: Eric Cormier