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Employee Handbooks: Friend or Foe?

12/24/2015

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If you're an employer, putting together a comprehensive employee handbook should be a priority. It doesn't have to be leather-bound and full of colorful illustrations, but it should cover all your bases when it comes to:

  • everyday office behavior
  • employee obligations
  • payment and benefits information
  • state and federal employment laws
  • miscellaneous employee policies

In addition to the guidance and clarity it provides employees, the handbook can also clear the employer of liability in certain situations. 

If this exhaustive process seems intimidating, know that LBMC Employment Partners develops employee handbooks for our human resources' service clients. Handing over this important project to a professional is the best way to take out the guesswork. If you're handling this in house, here are a few important things to keep in mind when drafting an employee manual.

Office Basics

Make basic expectations clear from the get-go. Work hours, dress code, use of office machinery, drug and alcohol policy, lunch hours, and break room rules should all be spelled out clearly. Don't forget to include how the company handles pay periods, overtime, how to fill out time sheets, and any other pertinent payment information. 

Vacation and Leave

Address office policy for vacation days, sick days, jury duty, funeral leave, discretionary leave and parental leave. Make sure you're in compliance with state and federal laws (generally a good guideline when it comes to any policy you record in the handbook). This is especially important when dealing with leave that pertains to workers' compensation or ADA issues. If you want, you can use the handbook as a place to print relevant employment-related laws.

Sexual Harassment 

Make it clear early and often that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. List the punishments and fines for violators of the policy, and make it known that all complaints will be investigated. It's critical that you make sure employees know the proper channels for reporting sexual harassment and do not feel intimidated to use them. 

Discrimination

Similarly, your handbook must state that discrimination based on nationality, race, color, disability, sex, age or religion is unacceptable. It should also include the proper procedure for reporting incidents of discrimination, and also mention that retaliation is prohibited as well. This section is another good place to print laws by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Benefits

The employee handbook is not the place to include every last detail about health insurance, 401(k)  contributions and other benefits as you will have separate materials for that. You should cover some of the basic provisions here though.

Grievances 

It's also important to let your employees know that they can report work-related grievances without retaliation from management. If their complaints are registered and they feel like they have recourse with work-related issues, it creates a much less tense work environment. 

Social Media Policy

Employers need to be extra careful when drafting restrictive social media policies for their companies. It's illegal to ban employees from talking about the company or co-workers on their personal pages. Some states have instituted laws limiting employers ability to access employees social media accounts. 

Other Considerations

  1. Review your company’s handbook on an annual basis, ensuring it is up to date. And if you find it is not, be sure to reflect any policy changes and redistribute to your employees. It's also a good way to refresh your memory and ensure you're following your own policies. 
  2. Have an employment lawyer take a look at your handbook to make sure you're in compliance with state and federal laws.
  3. Hand out the company handbook to every new employee, and require that they sign upon receipt.
  4. Though you should certainly list disciplinary policy regarding certain behaviors, give yourself a little leeway as well. Put in writing that you reserve the right to punish behaviors that detract from work that aren't listed in the handbook. You can't cover every potential problematic situation that might arise.
  5. List early on in the handbook that it is not a legally binding document, and it does not supersede state and federal employment laws. This could prevent unwanted litigation.