Many employers understand the need for employee handbooks but don’t know how to write one or where to find one they can rely on.
Others take the “ostrich approach” and assume that because they haven’t had any problems to date, they won’t have any in the future, so they don’t need one. In either case, labor attorneys are strongly suggesting that all employers have an employee handbook that is current and contains policies you intend to follow.
Employee handbooks are designed to be part of the foundation of the employment relationship. They set the tone; they reflect your values and your culture. They also fulfill certain very important requirements, both legally and practically. Five of the most critical requirements are these:
#1. The handbook reinforces the “at will” nature of the employment relationship.
What does that mean? The Labor Code in most states says that employees work for employers “at their will” and employers hire and retain employees “at their will.” Either may end the relationship at its will with or without cause and with or without notice. It is very important that this be communicated to employees to reduce the potential for a charge that an “implied contract” is the basis of the employment relationship thereby making it harder to terminate employees.
#2. They state your intent to abide by federal and state law.
Even if a supervisor makes a mistake in the handling of an employee issue, you can point to the handbook as evidence of your company policy. Examples include:
- Equal Employment Opportunity
- Policies stating your position against Sexual Harassment and Discrimination.
#3. They fulfill the requirement to notify employees of their rights under law.
Policies explaining employees’ rights to certain types of leaves of absence, such as family medical leave or pregnancy disability leave, are required by law. It is not enough to offer these leaves if you haven’t given your employees information about when they are eligible and how to request them.
#4. They communicate details and eligibility information about benefits.
Handbooks are the best place to spell out your vacation and sick leave policies, identify which holidays the company offers, whether or not the company pays for continuing education, etc. You may wish to briefly describe other benefits the company offers such as health insurance and pension plans and identify someone who can be contacted for further information.
#5. They advise employees of your expectations.
Policies that communicate your expectations may include:
- A Drugs and Alcohol policy
- Attendance and Punctuality
- A policy on Electronic Communications to reduce the expectation of privacy.
Employee handbooks written by Human Resource Advisors have been reviewed by labor counsel and meet the requirements under current state and federal law, and they are customized to reflect your company culture. The process is very educational and when a handbook is finished, you have a manual ready for dissemination and an education on how to implement it with your employees.