People go to see thrillers in a movie theater because they love surprises. Who is the villain? How will the hero escape to save the day? Uncertainty in a movie helps to keep us interested. Unfortunately, uncertainty in the workplace doesn’t have the same effect when employees spend their time worrying about company policy rather than doing a great job for your customers.
By developing an employee handbook and making it accessible to your employees, you let your team know what the “rules” are in your company. More importantly, they will understand that the policies within the handbook are fair, forthright and apply to everyone. That certainty puts workers at ease, improving both employee retention and the overall workplace culture. Other benefits to the company include increased privacy, reduced absenteeism, easier employee reviews and an improved legal position in disputes.
So how do you get started with developing an employee handbook – and what should be included in it? First of all, decide if you have the time and resources to put together an employee handbook yourself. There are many online resources that can get you started (including the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website at sba.gov) if you are going to write the handbook yourself. On the other hand, if you decide to enlist the help of an HR professional, be sure to ask for references. It’s also a good idea to have your attorney look over the finished handbook, just to be safe.
According to sba.gov, employee handbooks typically include the following topics:
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Conflict of Interest Statements
Although not legally required, having employees sign NDAs and conflict of interest statements helps to protect your company’s proprietary information.
Business owners must comply with the equal employment opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment. Employee handbooks should include a section about these laws and how your employees are expected to comply.
Clearly explain to employees that your company must make required deductions for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for the company’s benefits programs. Also, outline your legal obligations regarding overtime pay, pay schedules, performance reviews, salary adjustments, time keeping records, breaks and bonuses.
Spell out your company’s policies regarding work hours and schedules, attendance, punctuality and reporting absences.
Standards of Conduct
Describe your expectations of how you want employees to conduct themselves, including dress code and ethics. Also, remind your employees of their legal obligations, especially if your business is engaged in an activity that is regulated by the government.
General Employment Information
A company’s employee handbook should include an overview of its business and general employment policies covering employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation.
Safety and Security
Outline your company’s policy for creating a safe and secure workplace, including compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s laws that require employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions and health and safety related issues to management.
Computers and Technology
Lay out policies for appropriate computer and software use, as well as steps employees should take to secure electronic information, especially information you collect from your customers.
Detail any benefit programs and eligibility requirements, including all benefits that may be required by law. This section should also outline your plans for optional benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans and wellness programs.
Carefully document your company’s leave policies, especially those you are required to provide by law. Family medical leave, jury duty, military leave and time off for court cases and voting should all be documented to comply with state and local laws. In addition, you should explain your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement and sick leave.
Also, it’s good to include a disclaimer.
Employees need to sign this document that acknowledges that they have read and understood the contents of your employee handbook. Have them give this back to you and place it in their employment file.
Finally, include a page that explains that the handbook doesn’t necessarily cover every policy at your company. Give each employee a copy and make sure to review it frequently, looking for anything that needs to be updated due to a change in company policy or government regulation. When a revision needs to be made to the handbook, make it to everyone’s copy at the same time (using three-ring binders can speed up this process a lot).
While this may seem like a lot of work, the truth is that an up-to-date employee handbook will save you time and money in the end. When management and employees share a common understanding of company policies, then everyone on the team can focus their energy on doing a great job. That’s good for you, your customers and your employees themselves.
To learn more, visit sba.gov/content/employee-handbooks