Despite its reputation for dry legalese and endless prohibitions, the employee handbook is an essential resource for both employer and employee. When done well, it provides guidance and information about the organization’s values, policies and practices regarding workplace conduct, employee benefits and paid time off. This in turn enables the employer to respond with consistency to certain situations, thus protecting employees and keeping the organization complicit with U.S. employment and labor laws.
Every company’s employee handbook will look slightly different but should definitely include these essentials:
Statement of values (mission statement)
One of the best ways to begin your employee handbook is with an explanation on how the company sees itself and what it stands for. A discussion of your culture, mission, and vision for the future can go a long way in helping new hires during the onboarding process.
While the specifics on your employee benefits shouldn’t be included in an employee handbook, you’ll still want this document to outline what benefits you offer (medical, dental, 401(k), etc.) and when employees can enroll, such as the first of the month following 30 days of employment. Direct readers to the summary plan documents or your benefits guide for specific details, which could change year to year.
Paid time off and leave policies
In today’s workplace, there exists a dizzying array of paid time off and leave options. Some questions to consider (and answer in your employee handbook): Is paid time off offered? Are there flexible or remote work options? How many vacation days are allowed? What about personal days? This section should also include the protocol regarding notifying supervisors about time off.
Policies regarding harassment or offensive behavior
No policy is more important than your company’s anti-harassment policy. This policy should state in no uncertain terms what harassment is and what they must do if it happens to them in the workplace. This includes the procedure that employees should follow to report an incident of harassment, including the person to whom an employee should report the harassment and the alternate person(s) if the person designated under the policy happens to be the alleged harasser.
Employee acknowledgement form
Employers should require employees to provide acknowledgment of having received the employee handbook (whether written or electronic); this should be saved in the employee’s file as a means of establishing that they were made aware of the organization’s policies.
Many employee handbooks also include a disclaimer that it cannot address every situation that could possibly arise in the workplace; this gives the employer flexibility when addressing situations that are unique or unusual.