Employee Handbook – The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Own
How would you like to be sued for millions of dollars because of something innocuous in your employee handbook? Or worse, for something that actually sounds (and is) reasonable? Nope. Not an exaggeration. No drama, no clickbait. If you wish to create your own employee manual, and have time for just one thing today, click here to read the part of this article that could potentially save you and your business.
We’re assuming you’re back after reading that part, suitably shaken and stirred. And we’re guessing you’ve already researched ways to create an employee handbook — and suffocated yourself under an overwhelming pile of information. You still have no clue how to go about customizing your expensive employee manual template. Sound like you?
Policy manuals are not done in a hurry, but everything has a deadline (even if you’re the boss). Have you extended your deadline already, trying to figure out the unfigureoutable? (For when ‘unfathomable’ just doesn’t cut it).
We’re not trying to rub it in. We feel you.
Here are almost 7000 words of everything you’ll ever need to create the employee handbook you know you want. And that includes not just another template but a 1500-word step-by-step guide to creating aperfectly safe, succinct, and effective book of company policies.
Before you dive in, however, consider a very important question:
Do you even need an employee handbook?
Employee handbook, employee manual, staff handbook, company policy manual, Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, and Partner Guide are all different names for a book of rules to inform your employees about the company’s expectations of them and to preempt possible legal issues.
Some experts would have us believe that without an employee manual, things can only get progressively chaotic.
The contrary opinion wouldn’t have you mend things if they ain’t broke. If yours is a small business with happy and productive employees, the opposing side suggests you don’t thrust a rulebook in their face.
Between 1980-81, with just one Whole Foods Market store, John Mackey was happy to simply discuss policies and procedures with his 80-odd employees. Only when he opened a second store in 1982 did he feel the need to put things in writing. An article by Inc.Com in 1989 called Mackey’s employee manual “The Best Little Handbook in Texas.”
So, what we’re trying to get at is, do not be in a hurry to create a shiny new employee handbook for your business if you’ve had little or no problem so far with your employees (and they, with you). It may be best to thrash things out in a meeting, even ask your employees to vote (sometimes people are more vocal when they can remain anonymous). Treat this like any other major business decision: Collect the data, take a good look at it, and then decide if it is time for a change. If you’ve decided you do need an employee handbook, let’s move into it. And we mean it — don’t expect the customary intro to every section — we’re diving right in. No fluff. No background. Just HOW TO.
Creating A Company Employee Handbook – Content
Chapter 1: The mandatory stuff
Chapter 2: Protecting yourself
The At-Will clause
Policies (are subject to change)
Not a contract
Chapter 3: What makes you different
Social Media, Internet & employee privacy
Dare to be different
The Valve Handbook
The Zappos Handbook
Chapter 4: Mistakes that can cost you
The Walmart Story
Chapter 5: Let’s get it done
Summary and Conclusion
Chapter 1: The Mandatory Stuff
Get to know the state and federal laws as well as local employment laws before embarking on your Employee Handbook project.
This is a good resource: http://www.dol.gov (website of the US Department of Labor).
And you will find material created especially for small businesses by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at this URL: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/smallbusiness/small-business.pdf
Here’s a helpful resource on the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) — it provides explanations to the most common issues in language anyone can understand: http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/fmla/guide-to-fmla.pdf.
However, since it is from 2016, it would be a good idea to also refer to the most recent updates at the official site: https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/fmla.htm
If you have branches in different states, you may need to create separate chapters or reference sections for the bits that are unique to each state. Otherwise, consider creating different books of policies for each of your state level branches.
We would not advise you to quote the legal aspects (unless otherwise required by law) in your manual. Laws have to be followed no matter what; no point in making your employee handbook more comprehensive than it needs to be.
Note: this article deals with the ins and outs of creating an employee handbook for a business in the US. If you have branches in other countries, you should invest in a team of legal experts to conduct a thorough audit of local culture and laws.
Write in plain language that doesn’t need a lawyer’s interpretation. You may eventually win a lawsuit if an employee claims to have not understood a certain policy because it was not written in plain language, but the cost and harassment would not be worth it.
What if you feel the need to quote certain laws? By all means, go ahead and quote, but also make sure you explain clearly what those (quoted) laws mean for your employees and how any lapses will be dealt with.
Chapter 2: Protecting yourself
While it is good practice to create a friendly handbook for your employees, you must take care to ensure your own safety. The following must be stated clearly.
The At-Will clause
This is an extremely crucial clause and no employee handbook is complete without it. You must cite this to let your employees know that employment may be terminated by them or by you at any time and for any reason and even without showing any reason. This is assuming you do not plan to give permanent status to every employee after the probationary period (if any) is over. In the unlikely event that you do, you can skip this part.
Obviously, there should be sub-clauses that mention things like a reasonable notice period from either side. But without the At-Will clause, you risk getting sued for either firing an employee for reasons that may seem valid to you but not to a judge or for not giving them permanent employee status after they have been in employment for a certain period of time.
Where you could go wrong
This clause will protect you only if you are being fair. A court of law will entertain lawsuits against you if there is reasonable cause to believe that you discriminated on grounds of color, nationality, religion, or even because of some disability an employee may have acquired while being on the job (though not necessarily because of being on the job).
There’s also the legal doctrine of promissory estoppel which could get you in trouble if anything in the employee handbook may be deemed a promise (from the employer) that an employee follows to their detriment and injustice can only be prevented by fulfilling the said promise – even if it contravenes the At-Will agreement.
A proper explanation of this doctrine with all the variables involved is beyond the scope of the present article. However, there are two ways to keep yourself safe:
- Make sure a legal expert examines the employee manual once it is drafted.
- Include a very clear statement that in case of a conflict between the At-Will agreement and anything else that may be in the employee handbook (or elsewhere in your company’s rules), the At-Will agreement prevails.
We strongly advise you examine the resources linked below for a clearer picture:
Policies (are subject to change)
You must state the following: “Policies are subject to change without notice.”
The part about changes being “without notice” means you are not bound to consult your employees while changing your policies, nor do you need to give them prior notice. It does not mean your employees will not be notified of the change after it has been put in place.
This has a corollary: Make sure you revise the staff handbook at set intervals. This will ensure you are up-to-date with both your own policies and the laws you’re expected to abide by.
Where you could go wrong
Do not go overboard and state that your policies are “merely guidelines” or “for informational purposes only.” If you do, it may be argued in a court of law that you also implied that your policies have no real value; “but does not have to deal with them” is only too open to interpretation. In any case, you will come across to your employees as being overly defensive and there is no merit in that.
You must mention in no uncertain terms that the policies and provisions mentioned in the employee manual are to be given priority in case of a conflict with any other rule or provision found elsewhere in the company documents unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Where you could go wrong
This well-advised move will help only if you remember to examine/revise/update your manual regularly.
While stating your policies, it makes sense to say exactly what you mean. For example, no smoking does mean no smoking. But what happens if an employee is found smoking? Don’t forget to outline the exact consequences for not abiding by a policy. Ensure that the consequences you outline are commensurate with the offense and not in conflict with the state or local laws.
Where you could go wrong
Too much detail can be a problem. For example, a general policy on harassment at the workplace with some clear definitions of what constitutes harassment accompanied by the words “including but not limited to” (racial slurs, unwelcome touch, for example) is good. Going beyond that and listing every possible act that may be deemed harassment? Not so much.
This is what could happen when you go overboard:
It turns out that Costco shot themselves in the foot with a “super” anti harassment policy. Specifically, their employee handbook, which they entitled Employment Agreement, stated in part that “[t]his policy is intended to assist Costco in addressing not only illegal harassment, but also any conduct that is offensive or otherwise inappropriate in our work environment.” Additionally, the policy provided that, “[a]nyone who is found to have violated our anti harassment policy is subject to corrective action up to and including immediate termination of employment, regardless of whether the violation amounts to a violation of law.
Costco attempted to argue that the language was not intended to confer any rights beyond those granted by federal and state anti discrimination laws. The court rejected this argument, noted that the handbook was a binding contract, and that it contained promises that exceeded the protections of anti discrimination laws. The court further noted that the handbook did not contain any disclaimer language qualifying its “super” anti harassment provisions as not creating legally enforceable protections beyond the protections of background law. [Source]
Also, if you try to be too specific, you could be pulled up by a judge for not having stated certain related specifics as well, which may have escaped your notice (or imagination). An offender will also have the opportunity to use your policies to interpret “harassment” to their advantage and escape punishment or even cause trouble for you.
In case of sexual harassment (or any other form of harassment punishable by law), you should give your employees multiple options for seeking redress. If “reporting to the supervisor” is the only option available and the supervisor is the one being accused of harassment, then that option doesn’t make much sense.
The handbook is not a contract
This may seem obvious but we strongly suggest you insert this statement where it would be impossible to miss. For one, you want to clarify to your employees what the handbook is not. For another, stating the handbook is not a contract where it is practically looking the reader in the face will prevent an unscrupulous individual or a particularly crafty legal practitioner from interpreting sections of your manual to suit their purpose.
Be careful of the language you use, and – by all means – ask a lawyer to review what you’ve written. In the Costco case, the judge found their language implying that the handbook is, in fact, a contract – which made things worse for them.
Where you could go wrong
Don’t get all defensive and state what the handbook is NOT where one expects the welcome address to be – that can’t be the only place in the manual where the clause would be impossible to miss. Just so you know, first impressions really do matter – so much so that we talk about it in detail in Chapter 3.
Employee acknowledgement is where your employees literally acknowledge that they have read, understood, and agreed to abide by the policies and provisions laid down in the manual; they do this with their signature. Make sure the page is detachable so that it can be filed after signing. Keep the pages safely stored. Your employee handbook will not hold water in a court of law should there be any dispute from a disgruntled employee unless you can produce their signature of acknowledgement (to begin with).
Where you could go wrong
The most logical position for the acknowledgement page is near the end of the staff manual – not at the beginning. That is, unless you want to look like you’re desperate to get your employees to sign first and read later. Here’s an image of an acknowledgement page with missing information that renders it useless:
Notice that there’s nothing about having understood what the employee has read. A legal practitioner could claim you impose policies upon your employees without requiring them to actually understand what those policies mean. Not good.
Having said that, if you have a 300-page manual, you could get in trouble even after getting everything right. The Jury could decide the average person can’t possibly remember everything they understood while wading through your compendium of policies.
No, we did not find an instance of something like that happening, but read Chapter 4 (Things that can cost you) and you will know why we advise caution. In any case, you will ideally want your employees to read, understand, and remember your policies. Keep things succinct.
In case you thought that bit about the 300-page manual was merely an exaggeration to make a point: It wasn’t. Take a look at the next chapter.
Chapter 3: What sets you apart
Size matters (sorry, couldn’t resist)
The MMSD employee handbook made us really happy with its opening address that exhibits a democratic way of forming policies.
But then, we noticed this:
304 pages? Seriously? We have something which is guaranteed to shock you even more – but in a good way. Here’s Nordstrom’s employee handbook for you:
That’s it. Two pages.
Agreed, a bit extreme, and they do have a lengthier version which they call “Code of Business Conduct and Ethics,” but even that is just 12 pages and about 7300 words.
This is worth repeating:
- You want your employees to read, understand, and abide by your policies.
- You don’t want to overwhelm or intimidate them with information.
Let’s explore the second point next – and see how it pays to be both polite and sensible.
The introduction to your employee handbook could be a history of your organization or a welcome address, but it should not be an effort to put your employees in their place. Laying down the law right after a warm welcome message is not the best way to ensure employee loyalty. Being direct isn’t a problem but don’t sound like you’re hell-bent on telling your employees, “This is what you do NOT get!”
It is a rare person who works well under constant stress of being fired. Being too overbearing will force the best workers to leave your company. You could end up with only people who are not good enough to seek better opportunities than working for you. Not the most enviable workforce, that.
Here’s an employee handbook that has the merit of getting straight to the point. And little else. There’s no welcome address and, well, let’s just say we’ve seen friendlier looking legal notices:
If you wish to be a condescending you-know-what, the employee manual of the University of Chicago is the perfect role model. It introduces the university, its history and achievements, and ends with–
Apart from the fact that the sentence, grammatically speaking, ought to have ended with an exclamation mark instead of with a period, telling your employees to their face they should feel privileged to work for your company may not be the ideal way to get them onboard.
Oh, and there’s faulty parallelism as well – “What a unique opportunity to be a part of and in support of such a dynamic and unique organization!” is how the sentence should have been structured. That it sounds convoluted even with the correct structure is an entirely different matter.
Find a good writer.
But there’s more.
Sentences like “staff members are expected to comply” smack of bureaucratic authoritarianism, and if you’re going to apprise your employees of the significance of the At-Will agreement, at least have the courtesy of mentioning that it works both ways – that they may also leave your employment without showing any reason.
Finally, since you’re throwing a 110-page policy manual at your employees, maybe you should explain to them what “for informational purposes only” implies. Or, consider not using that evasive phrase to begin with – as we discussed earlier.
A University may get away with things like this but you probably want to be a tad less high-handed if you are running a business not related to the higher education sector – and want it to succeed.
Whether it is to lodge a complaint or seek clarification, employees may want to reach out to someone in the company. It is your job as the employer to make that process as simple as possible. Mention clearly who an employee should meet with concerning what issue.
Take care to mention only the designations of the first responders since one person may not occupy the same position forever. Also verify you’ve used the correct designation: if your company has an HR Director, don’t write HR Manager.
Try not to dismiss these things as inconsequential. Anything – and we mean absolutely anything amiss on your part that makes your employees jump through hoops could mean legal trouble for you.
Social Media, Internet & employee privacy
There are two parts to the issue of your employees accessing the Internet at the workplace: usage policy and expectations (of your employees) regarding (their) privacy.
The second one first: If they are inside company premises, on company time, and especially if you have sensitive data and they signed a non-disclosure agreement, you will want to state categorically that routine or unannounced inspection of their devices is going to be the norm. They must have no expectation of privacy.
About the first one – and this may appear as if we are contradicting ourselves: Don’t impose rules on social media usage.
Obviously, you will state clearly that no one should use Facebook on company time. However, there’s this thing about employee feedback on social media enhancing the image of a business which you definitely want to take advantage of.
There’s even a name for it: Employee Advocacy. And there are apps which can help you to notify all your employees about updates that you’d like them to share on social media.
You should be able to convey the reasonableness of your policy regarding employee privacy as well as create an ambience that makes your employees feel good about their workplace so that (positive) social sharing is instinctive and natural.
Here’s an example of what happens when you prescribe stringent rules without thinking about it, first:
In an opinion issued on May 12, 2015, NLRB Administrative Law Judge Joel P. Biblowitz ruled that retailer Macy’s, Inc. fell into the “don’ts” with several of their policies – policies which some could consider less significant than others in the employment context (such as discipline, etc.). Following a union charge of unfair labor practices, the NLRB general counsel (who issued GC 15-04) issued a complaint asserting that the following Macy’s policies chilled Section 7 activity:
- confidentiality policies, prohibiting employees from disclosing information about the company or other employees, could be reasonably construed as prohibiting discussion of wages and other terms or conditions of employment;
- personal data policy, which prohibited disclosure of “any personal information about employees, former employees, and customers” could also be reasonably construed as prohibiting the discussions of wages and other terms or conditions of employment;
- intellectual property policy, which could be reasonably construed as prohibiting use of the Macy’s logo or trademark in leaflets, signs, or photos which would be protected in the Section 7 context; and,
- government investigations policy, which could be reasonably construed to prohibit employees’ participation in government investigations without notifying the Company’s Human Resources or Law Departments, and was overbroad in that it could be read as to include contact with the NLRB.
We urge you to read the full article here.
We have referred to another incident in Chapter IV (Things that can cost you) where Wendy’s had to revise their social media policies when those were deemed unlawful.
Dare to be different
In this section, we’ll simply ask you to look at two employee handbooks that are a class apart. It is up to you how far you want to go, but it is clear that employee manuals do not have to be a drab, boring affair.
The Valve Handbook
The word “exceptional” would be exceptionally appropriate for this one. We have presented a few screenshots. We insist you download the entire book of policies – and read it. Trust us, it will be an easy read, and an immensely beneficial one at that.
Can you think of a better way to describe your employee handbook?
The employee handbook is not only about putting employees in their place.
Promoting a hush-hush atmosphere at work makes everyone jittery. Do consider the value of open dissemination of information. Your sense of humor would be a bonus.
Choose whether you want to keep employees on their toes or to appear supportive and reassuring so that they perform without anxiety and, hopefully, give it their best.
The Valve Handbook is 56 pages long. This is the 55th page. At no point will any reader, employee or not, feel bored. Even the normally dry glossary section is given a novel and humorous twist. Download the Valve Handbook here.
The Zappos Employee Handbook
Do yourself a solid and watch this 2 minute 28 second video:
Don’t allow yourself to be limited by your preconceptions. There’s only one way the employee handbook is “supposed to be” – the way that helps you run your business smoothly. Don’t be afraid to lighten up. Don’t bother about serious individuals saying serious things seriously. Go ahead and create an employee handbook that YOU would love to read.
Chapter 4: Things that can cost you
The Walmart story
Recently, two Walmart employees got married in the garden center of the Walmart store they worked in. They had originally planned to get married at home but realized that many of their friends (who were coworkers) would not be able to attend since the store remains open 24 hours a day. It is good to find a workplace where employees don’t mind getting married – for whatever reason, and an employer amiable enough to allow it.
Unfortunately, where the employee handbook (or its physical absence) is concerned, working at Walmart is a different story.
Walmart’s policies are available at WalmartOne website (or app) accessible from any computer with an Internet connection, and on an intranet that the employees refer to as “the Walmart wire.” Employees are never given a physical copy of a handbook.
If, as an employee, you cannot find answers to your question on WalmartOne, the intranet is your only other option. However, the wire is accessible only when logged in at work on a Walmart computer. Employees facing harassment, for example, would not be able to seek out policies and guidelines at home or at their lawyer’s office if they wanted to come prepared with a complaint on the next work day.
OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart) was forced to create an app called WorkIt just so employees could find answers related to company policies and their own legal rights. [Source]
We’ll refer to the Valve Handbook again. Notice how the hard copy of the employee handbook is effectively paired with a virtual, editable version of it (and more) on the company intranet:
In 2015 (when Walmart was still Wal-Mart), two employees in Pennsylvania sued the company for violating its own Employee Handbook provisions. As far as we know, there was no printed copy of the employee handbook in 2015, either.
So, all of the information must have been on the WalmartOne site or on the wire.
If the purpose behind not publishing a hardcopy of your employee handbook is to avoid legal liabilities, then this approach didn’t help Walmart at all. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the complainants and ordered Walmart to pay a total of about 188 million dollars to approximately 187,000 employees who were affected.
Wondering about what gave rise to the lawsuit, in the first place?
Apparently, Walmart did not follow its own rules about meal and short break policies. Although Federal law does not require employers to provide meals or short breaks, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has a ruling that says if a company does offer meal and short breaks, it must also pay the employees for all company-endorsed short breaks. The employees claimed they were frequently denied such breaks; when breaks were allowed, the employees (hourly workers) were not paid for that period of time.
Compare Dollar General’s employee handbook:
We are guessing Dollar General was aware of what could go wrong and did not allow themselves to get into trouble. They knew that employees would need breaks in any case, so did not see any point in denying them that, or remaining silent on the issue. They also thought of something else:
- Don’t make things more confusing than they need to be, especially when they bring no substantial benefit. Consider having the policies both online and offline – for anyone who wants to read them.
- We cannot stress this enough: Consult a lawyer to comb through your policies once you’ve created the manual. Do not get caught in legal loopholes.
- Be sensible. For example, most companies allow breaks because human beings cannot possibly offer optimum service when they are tired and/or hungry. It does not matter that Federal laws don’t require you to allow such breaks.
- Follow your own rules. Make sure all your employees are aware of the rules. Which brings us back to No. 1 – make the employee handbook freely available.
In March 2015, Richard F. Griffin, Jr., General Counsel, submitted a report that pointed out discrepancies in “employer rules.” Wendy’s was referred to as an entity that had undergone fairly significant revisions to its unlawful rules in 2014. For the most part, Wendy’s was found to “interfere with employee rights.” You can find a comparison of the before and after handbook, here.
The point you should take note of is that on the face of it, it may be difficult to find anything wrong with what Wendy’s had originally stated in their employee guidelines. This, for example, does not look terribly unreasonable:
However, the General Consul read more into this than meets the average eye:
We concluded that this rule was unlawfully overbroad because it broadly prohibited any employee use of copyrighted or “otherwise protected” information. Employees would reasonably construe that language to prohibit Section 7 communications involving, for example, reference to the copyrighted handbook or Company website for purposes of commentary or criticism, or use of the Wendy’s trademark/name and another business’s trademark/name in a wage comparison. We determined that such use does not implicate the interests that courts have identified as being protected by trademark and copyright laws. Take a look at the following – who in their right mind would consider this objectionable, let alone, unlawful?
Yup. You do need a lawyer to review your handbook once you’ve compiled it.
Chapter 5: Let’s create your employee handbook
That’s what you’re here for. Let’s get it done, together.
- If you haven’t already, get the resources we’ve gathered for you. They will serve as a comprehensive source of reference while you create your rulebook.
- Take a break when necessary – you do understand what the employee handbook has in common with Rome, yes?
- Now, check out the following resources to know where the current labor laws stand. You don’t need to read every word; just invest enough time to get a general idea. Your lawyer can take care of the rest.
- Take your time and watch this rather lengthy video on the boring (but essential) aspects of an employee handbook.
How to write an employee handbook with some tips for NLRB compliance:
- Download and read the Valve Handbook cover to cover to understand how simple this job can be unless you want to make it complicated. Please don’t skip this step. Simple also means you will be less likely to get caught in legal hassles in the future. And, you will have a clearer understanding of how to make use of the considerable information you gleaned from the video you watched in the previous step.
- Click here to read the extended version of the Nordstrom Employee Handbook. It is extremely concise and will give you a very clear idea about what you absolutely can’t leave out of your employee handbook.
- Print the Valve and Nordstrom manuals for constant reference. You can skip this step if you have a large enough monitor or multiple viewports. It can get tiring having to switch between windows and apps constantly. You will work more efficiently if your resources and references are readily accessible.
Now you’re ready. And it’s time for the real thing, piece by piece – but one piece at a time, until you’re all done and it is time for a revision. Repeat: Remember to take a break when you need to – this is going to take a while.
A few words about what you expect from your employees and what they may expect from you. This should ideally be signed off by the highest-ranking office holder in your company. It might be a good idea to print a colored scan of their signature below their (printed) name – does seem to add a bit of human touch and make the introductory address look less impersonal.
There’s also a certain aesthetic appeal in a blue ink signature on a white or off-white page with blocks of text in dark gray or black. As we’ve pointed out already, an employee handbook does not have to be drab.
2. Company history
Optional. Consider putting this in a separate booklet. Your aim should be to keep things succinct and focused.
3. The At-Will clause
We have discussed the At-Will clause already. Refer to this article for further explanation and information about exceptions to the rule.
Refer also to the resources we mentioned earlier specifically about promissory estoppel:
4. Non-disclosure agreement
Remember that non-disclosures cannot restrict information about wages, benefits, and conditions of employment (including the employee handbook) because they cannot logically prove detrimental to the business if disclosed or discussed. Refer to this article for the most recent controversies and updates: http://lawthatworks.com/metoo-challenges-confidentiality-and-nondisclosure-agreements/
5. Anti-discriminatory policy
You don’t have to love employee unions, but neither can you afford to ignore them. To understand clearly how you should (and most definitely should not) deal with issues that involve an employee’s relationship or even sympathies with their employee union, refer to this resource:
For the next categories, check the latest rulings of NLRB. Policies against nepotism, self-enrichment, and disloyalty are usually permissible but the specifics may depend on the current attitudes in Washington.
- Civility in the workplace (especially when criticizing the employer).
- Photography and video recording.
- Employer’s rights regarding workers’ insubordination or non-cooperation.
Such rights cannot infringe upon the employees’ rights to join external organizations to safeguard their interests or to voice their opinion in a poll.
- Defining disruptive behavior and what to do about such behavior.
- Rules against employees disclosing customer information and proprietary information.
This may or may not be part of your non-disclosure agreement depending upon how you define and prioritize ‘’sensitive information’’ and how you define “confidential” and “proprietary.” There is no right or wrong answer to this – just use your discretion and remain consistent.
- Employer’s stand on (and rights regarding) defamation and misrepresentation.
- Rules regarding use of company logos and whatever may be deemed the company’s intellectual property.
- Rules regarding acting as the company’s voice.
This section should not chill the social advocacy program discussed earlier (which could substantially benefit your business).
- Disloyalty, self-enrichment, and nepotism.
Most administrations have ruled against these issues. But do take care to word your policies clearly.
Mention all tax deductions as well as voluntary deductions. Mention overtime.
Consult the following resources:
7. Probationary period
Make sure nothing in this section violates the At-Will clause. Otherwise, employees could lay reasonable claim to permanent employment once the probationary period is over. If necessary, reiterate your stand on the At-Will clause.
8. Resignation and termination
Again, nothing here should violate the At-Will clause which says either side may terminate the work relationship without citing reasons. If you wish to mention disciplinary procedures here, do not set a blanket rule for giving only a warning for first offenses. After all, you could face a situation where the offense committed is too grievous for the offender to get away with just a warning.
Here’s a resource to help you streamline the process of termination: https://www.laboremploymentperspectives.com/2018/08/06/termination-documentation/
It is your choice if you wish to put the provisions mentioned here in the employee handbook.
While we’re talking about resignation and termination, the Weingarten Rights, which refer to the employee’s right to seek representation, must be clarified. While the onus is on the employee to inform the employer in advance regarding representation, you will, regardless, want to inform your employees of their rights and responsibilities to preempt possible legal debates. Here’s a good write-up on the application of the Weingarten Rights.
9. Employee privacy, use of technology, and social media
We discussed this in the section on social media. How much privacy an employee may reasonably expect depends upon how sensitive your data is and how your security procedures operate. Either way, it makes sense to specify that nothing in the workplace is to be deemed private and that employees may be subject to search should the need for such an act arises. Refer to this article for further details: https://allpryme.com/employee-privacy-laws/employee-privacy-laws/
10. Leave policies
This is not a particularly tricky section if you know the laws. Visit the following links for details:
Paid Time Off (PTO) and Vacation are considered a vested wage. Would you like to force a vacation upon your employees so that they work more efficiently after a much-deserved break they may not be willing to take on their own? Or would you rather leave it to them but allow the leave to accrue? In the second case, it is probably best to put a cap on the accrual.
List all leaves and conditions as applicable so that there are no surprises. In any case, check and double check local and federal laws. It is okay to refer to websites that explain complex legal nuances in a simple language, but pay attention to the date of publication – always visit the official (government) site to make sure you have the most current information.
11. Zillion other rules and policies
We have taken you on a guided tour of the essentials required for your employee handbook. However, there are simply too many rules and policies that could be applicable to your particular case.
What you will want to consider is whether your handbook is already too full of policies. Also, consider whether you could conveniently leave out potential issues that may be addressed directly by referring to the pertinent laws.
There are laws in place for carrying a gun in the workplace or using medical marijuana, for example. Whether you really want to crowd your employee handbook with policies about such topics is entirely up to you. But we’d always advise you to keep things simple and relevant to your particular work atmosphere.
What is not relevant may either go into a separate booklet, or you could simply state that anything not covered in the handbook will be taken care of as per existing laws. It is often best to deal with issues as they arise instead of writing a thousand redundant words on what may never happen.
12. Employee Acknowledgement
You’ll want the Employee Acknowledgement page to be detachable so that it may be filed after signing.
Mention “read, understood, and agree to abide by” – don’t leave any of those out.
Repeat the At-Will clause here, and the statement about the employee handbook not being a contract.
Employee handbook: summary and conclusion
Alright, so … where are we right now? Yes, we know you haven’t actually created your employee handbook, yet. But by now you must have a fair bit of idea about how to get it done without feeling anxious or uncertain.
Let’s summarize what we’ve discussed so far.
The employee handbook is not a contract. It is a manual that must outline your policies precisely without going overboard with details. It should have an At-Will clause. You should keep it freely available offline and online. It doesn’t have to be boring or overwhelming.
We’ve also talked about what resources to consult to protect yourself, how to outline and prioritise your policies, and what to write (and not write) in the employee manual to avoid being sued. We’ve covered all essential topics including where you could go wrong while inserting each of them in the employee manual.
Additionally, we’ve discussed recent concepts like employee advocacy that change the way you frame your social media policies. And we’ve covered relatively obscure topics like the promissory estoppel and the Weingarten rights. Why? Because obscure or not, if these two provisions were to bite you in the hindmost quarters, there would be nothing relative about it.
Oh, and we’ve heavily been in favor of a friendly but firm tone of communication via the employee handbook. We’ve encouraged you to not appear either overbearing or defensive and, we’ve illustrated just about everything with real-life examples and given you precise ideas to preempt most problems.
Frankly, we’ve covered a great deal more than we can summarize! If there’s anything you need to know that we haven’t covered, let us know in the comments. Ditto if you want to add something to what is already here.
And a final reminder: Now would be a good time to download our resource package – if you haven’t already – before you sit down and get your employee book done. It will give you a clear idea about what others have done already and, more importantly, save you millions in lawsuits.
Get the General Consul report along with 51 most-searched for employee handbooks. Just tell us where we should send the download link.
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