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Do I Need an Employee Handbook?

Question:

Do we really need an employee handbook? We operate in an at-will state, why would I lock myself in with restrictive policies? I have always been told the less I have in writing the better.

Answer:

An Employee Handbook is an effective tool used to communicate policy to employees. For new employees it serves as an introduction to the company and outlines its values and mission statement. It gives the employee a quick reference for commonly asked questions such as “when am I eligible for vacation” or “how do I call in sick”.

Moreover, constructed properly, the Employee Handbook serves as:

  • A legal statement of policy on behalf of the employer
  • The inclusion of certain policies and positions (i.e. an “at-will” statement, workplace harassment policy, or even how you define hours worked and overtime)
  • A defense should a company ever find itself in litigation or fighting an unemployment claim.

Even though you operate in an at-will state, it is still important that an employer is consistent in the application of its policies. Having those policies in writing and available to all employees helps to ensure they are adhered to and applied consistently.

However, even if you have a comprehensive handbook, the book can be used against you. As stated above, being “constructed properly” is the key. An employee handbook is significant for what it includes, as well as what it does not include.

  • Be careful that the wording of policies and statements cannot be construed as creating an implied contract of employment.
  • Avoid statements such as “permanent employees” or promises of “hiring from within”. Use of the word “may” versus “will” also is a vital distinction.
  • Provide yourself with enough policy direction that it supports your actions but does not paint you into a corner with no flexibility.
  • A well constructed handbook will actually include the statement “this handbook is not a contract” and a statement reserving the right to make changes.
  • It is also essential not to include things in the handbook that you are NOT doing. Don’t say you are going to review employee performance every year if you haven’t reviewed anyone in five years. Attorneys will be quick to point out that the company is only following some of the policies in the handbook and potentially win a case against you, using your own policies against you.

Finally, as with any HR resource, make sure to review your handbook every year to ensure it is up to date and accurate. Don’t put a policy in your handbook that only applies to companies with over 50 employees because you think you might be over 50 employees within the next 3 years. Also, make sure you have YOUR attorney review your handbook to ensure he/she is comfortable defending you, should something ever go to court, based on what is written in the handbook. For an additional resource, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) published an article that gives 5 Employee Handbook Issues to Watch in 2018.

 

We’ve never heard employees complain that their employer communicates “too much”. Communication is the backbone of a satisfied and productive workforce. However, providing adequate communication to a diverse group of employees who may require differing forms of communication isn’t always easy. strategic HR inc. has years of experience creating written communication for employees – including employee handbooks and newsletters. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.