Regardless of what it is called — Employee Handbook, Employment Policy Manual, or Employee Policies and Procedures Guide — there is no legal requirement to create and share such a document with employees. However, I maintain that as long as you have employees, it is a good idea to have an employee handbook or written employment policies of some sort for which every employee will be required to acknowledge receipt.
Why, you may ask?
- They are a great way to communicate the culture of the organization.
- Handbooks provide guidance and direction to both employees and managers.
- They help to ensure that employees are treated in a fair and consistent manner.
- They provide employees with information about working conditions and some of the policies that affect employment.
- They describe many of the responsibilities of the employee and outline the programs designed to benefit employees.
That being said, I also want to offer a few words of caution about employee handbooks:
- If you do decide to have an employee handbook there are certain topics that must be included in order for the document to be compliant with federal and State requirements. Make sure you know what these are and include them. The policies must be compliant in each State where you have employees working.
- You must ensure that the handbook itself or the wording of the policies does not create a contractual relationship with the employee(s). First, don’t make promises such as “We look forward to a long working relationship” or “You will be offered many opportunities for growth.” Secondly, be clear that this employee handbook is not a contract and that nothing within it should be construed as creating a contract. If you are in an at-will state, make sure you say that “all employment is at will” at least three times in the document.
- You need to be consistent in your application of the policies but, by wording the policies appropriately you can allow yourself room for judgment calls and occasional exceptions. Words like “generally” and “typically” work well. Stating that you reserve the right to make exceptions, is very appropriate.
Should you decide to move ahead with a handbook there are a few different options.
- You can purchase a handbook template through any office supply store or on-line for anywhere between $29.95 to $149.00+. Be aware that, as in all things, you get what you pay for. Not only do these software packages vary in price but they also vary in complexity, customization level, and effectiveness. When cacluating the cost, make sure you add in the time you or someone else will spend customizing the handbook to meet the needs of your particular organization and the State(s) in which you have employees.
- You can hire a lawyer or a human resource consultant to assist you with designing, editing and implementing an employee handbook. The benefits of this option outweigh any potential added expense because:
- From the get-go, you will be assured that your handbook is legally-compliant and that every policy has been scrutinized to ensure that it does not create a contract with the employee.
- You can feel confident that your handbook reflects your organizational culture and company-specific policies.
- You have the benefit of having the expert introduce the handbook to your employees, explain the reasoning behind key policies, and answer questions.
You may be asking yourself – I already have an Employee Handbook, how often do I need to have it reviewed?
Employee Handbooks need to be viewed as living, breathing documents. While an annual review may seem a bit much, the minimal expense and time spent will be well worth the peace of mind of knowing that your employee handbook is current and an appropriate reflection of your organization as it is today.
Let me give you an example. In my role as a human resources advisor for a small non-profit, I reviewed a draft Employee Handbook from 2011. While basically a solid document that met most of the federal and State requirements for an organization of this size, a few red flags were raised with some wording and concepts. We were able to, in a meeting with the Executive Director that lasted less than 2 hours; update this document so that it more accurately reflects the intent and goals of the organization, ensuring it conveys the new organizational culture. In addition, we ensured that the policies met current legal requirements and that we took into consideration technology changes that led to a policy statement on the use of social media in the workplace. I’m sure you will agree, two hours is not a huge investment in time and money but well worth the investment.
If you would like to discuss further how C.H.A.R.T. Consulting can help you develop or edit your organization’s employee handbook or employment policies, contact Nadine Pfautz at 781-826-0433 or by email at email@example.com.