Employee Handbooks – An Overview
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Main Policies of an Employee Handbook
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Every employee handbook should contain some fundamental policies. Some of these policies include:
  • General Information About the Company/Mission Statement
    • This is generally the first substantive information in an employee handbook. It explains the purpose of the employee handbook.
    • Mission statement – tactfully craft the purpose of the company, perhaps with a history, organizational chart, etc.
    • State this is an employee handbook and that it does not supersede any federal, state, or local laws.
  • At-will Employee Statement
    • An "at-will" statement means that an employees may be terminated for no reason or any reason, i.e. the employer does not need "just cause" to terminate the employee (Please read "At-Will Employment – An Overview" for further details).
  • Hiring Rules
    • Discuss any hiring probationary periods.
    • Discuss how the company hires new employees, including any affirmative action plans.
    • State the company’s equal opportunity employment policies, e.g. hire without regard to race, disability, age, religion, etc.
  • Anti-Harassment & Anti-Discrimination clauses
    • Discuss how the company promotes and enforces an environment free from harassment and discrimination in compliance with federal, state, and local laws.
  • Compensation Structure for Employees
    • This must be hand-crafted for each company.
    • Discuss and overtime, bonuses, commissions, pay advances, raises, or other compensation structures.
  • Hours of Operation
    • Discuss any flex-time, break time, lunch time, etc.
  • Leave
    • Discuss the various types of leave, including:
      • Sick leave
      • Medical leave, e.g. under the Family Medical Leave Act
      • Vacation leave
      • Civic leave, e.g. jury duty
      • Bereavement leave
  • Performance Reviews
    • Discuss how, when, and why performance reviews will be conducted. This will set an evaluation framework for employees to know what is expected from them.
  • Benefits
    • Discuss any of the benefits that your company may offer, including:
      • Life insurance
      • Dental insurance
      • Vision insurance
      • Medical insurance
      • Pensions
      • 401(k) plans
      • Profit sharing plans
      • Fringe benefits, e.g. phones, cars, travel reimbursement, etc.
  • Health & Safety Policy
    • Discuss the workplace rules for the particular health concerns in your business.
  • E.g. food industry – importance of cleanliness and washing your hands
  • E.g. construction industry – proper equipment and gear that must be used and/or worn in certain situations
  • Anti-Violence Policy
    • Many employers choose to implement a "Zero-Tolerance" for violence in the workplace. If so, make sure to discuss this and enforce it in your workplace.
    • Example of Zero-Tolerance policy for threats in the workplace:
      • "Any threats or insubordination can be grounds for immediate discipline up to and including termination."
  • Privacy in the Workplace
    • Your company may want to monitor certain situations in the workplace.
    • However, please read "Privacy in the Workplace" for further details to make sure that you comply with federal and state laws before doing so. Otherwise, you could face some stiff penalties for violations of your employees’ privacy.
  • Workplace Conduct
    • Your company could discuss what employees can and cannot wear and/or bring to work.
    • E.g. Employees may not bring animals into the workplace
  • Disciplinary Policy
    • Many employers choose to implement a progressive disciplinary policy.
    • A progressive disciplinary policy may follow the following format:
      • First warning – oral;
      • Second warning – write-up;
      • Third warning – written reprimand;
      • Fourth warning – written reprimand and suspension without pay; and
      • Fifth warning – termination
    • Employers can also designate certain acts as grounds for immediate termination or use a "point system," where certain acts are grounds for a ½ point or full point, and after a certain number of points the employee receives progressive discipline.
      • This is an area that the employer will want to spend some time on because discipline will inevitably have to be dealt with in the workplace. An employee handbook will often act as a company’s first line of defense to enforce its disciplinary policies
      • If an employer does not have a disciplinary policy, an employee may be more likely to argue that he or she was discriminated against, i.e., that the company disciplined one employee differently than another employee for the same or similar acts.
Next, we’ll wrap up this article by re-emphasizing some main points.