All About Employee Handbooks Part 1 - Human Resources Hero

All About Employee Handbooks Part 1

In this article, we’ll be talking about employee handbooks.  A good employee handbook is going to be a fairly hefty document, so we’ll be breaking this article into two parts covering the different types of recommended policies. In both articles, we’ll be outlining what we feel are the critical parts of any employee handbook and the best practices of what to include – and what not to include – in each section. Let’s get right into some details about the kinds of policies we will want to see in any handbook to maintain compliance and help your business run smoothly.

Put first things first

When organizing a handbook, you want to put the most important policies at the beginning of a handbook. It’s not uncommon for employees to stop paying attention after the first few pages and if this happens, you will have at least covered these policies.

First things first, you want to have a welcome message. The welcome message should give a little bit of background about your organization and let new hires know why they should be excited to work for you.

 Next, you will want to be sure to include a section on the at-will relationship that exists between your company and it’s employees. This is an essential policy to have in your handbook and you’ll probably find yourself reiterating it in multiple places throughout the document. At-will policies should contain very specific language that tells employees that the employment relationship can be terminated by either party at any time, with or without notice, and with or without cause, for any reason that’s allowed by law. Almost every employer wants an at-will relationship with their employees, so we want to make sure this is crystal clear in our handbook.

Title VII and other protections

Another essential policy in your handbook is the Equal Employment Opportunity Policy. Most employers are somewhat familiar with the federally protected employee classes, but you may not be aware of the entire list. Sexual orientation and gender identity, for instance, are included as part of sex according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which enforces Title VII. Genetic information is also a protected federal class as well as any kind of child or spousal support withholding. Having these classes and what constitutes discrimination in your handbook will help your managers understand what to look out for and how to best protect the company and follow these rules.

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In addition to federal protected classes, many states also add to the list. For example, many states protect lawful off-duty conduct, political affiliation, marital status, credit reports, and arrest records. Managers need to know about these additional protections to avoid putting your company at risk. For example, if managers are running credit reports on every applicant and your state protects credit reports or credit information then this is a violation of the law every time they’re running a check. By putting these policies in writing and properly training supervisors, you’ll keep these rules top of mind for your managers so they can recognize unlawful situations and and proactively prevent them from happening.

 There are many additional state and federal policy requirements and this is not meant to be a comprehensive list. For more information on what your company will require, visit our HR library or talk to an HR professional.

Employee conduct policies

Once you thoroughly cover employee protections under the law, the next section you’ll want as part of your handbook involves employee conduct. This section will cover general conduct guidelines, which is essentially a list of things you don’t want to see your employees doing at work like sleeping, stealing, or gossiping. This section should also include your sexual and other unlawful harassment policy – perhaps the single most important policy an employer can have.

 Even if you choose not to complete an employee handbook, you should at least have a sexual and other unlawful harassment policy. It’s best practice everywhere and legally required by many states. A good policy should talk about what unlawful harassment looks like and tell employees who they can go to for help or what process they should follow to file a complaint. Again, check with state and local requirements for a list of everything that must be included in such a policy.

The conduct section will also include your corrective action or your disciplinary policy. This should be a very broad policy that says the employer can take whatever steps are necessary to deal with unacceptable behavior in the workplace. You should not include  a step-by-step discipline process handbook. This can create an unwanted  contract between you and the employee. Instead, state that you will take any measures deemed appropriate by management, whether that’s coaching, a verbal warning, a written warning, and other actions up to and including termination when it appears that an employee needs corrective action or discipline.

Featured Resource:

2020 HR Services Pricing Guide

This guide is full of straightforward independent information to help you get the right service and price for your company.

In the next article, we will cover how to include your employee pay and benefits sections as well as how best to include policies that are specific to your company like employee safety and wellness, attendance, and personal appearance.

 If you have questions about how to build your company’s employee handbook, make sure to check out our training and partner resources.

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