An employee handbook serves as a vital communications tool between a company and its employees. When well prepared, it informs employees about their employer’s mission, its employment policies and perks, and the consequences of not following the rules-all in a tone appropriate to the reading audience. A comprehensive, clearly written employee handbook also can be a protective shield for an employer to use in a lawsuit or less formal employee confrontation situation.
Set the tone for your handbook by opening with a bit of history about your company, what are its goals and mission, and how employees fit in to this. Your employees, and the products they produce or services they provide, are the face of your company, and your handbook should inspire them to strive for excellence, both individually and as a team. Review the process for employee evaluation and opportunities for employee advancement.
Your handbook should summarize the benefits provided to employees. Briefly describe the health, disability, life, other insurance and retirement benefits plans your company offers, along with work/life programs, absence, vacation and leave policies, and government-mandated benefits. Only brief summaries are appropriate, as the employee handbook is not intended to provide the level of detail found in a summary plan description.
Safety in the workplace is important for all companies, regardless of industry, and guidelines ensuring this belong in an employee handbook. Rules regarding building security, drugs and alcohol, weapons, and workplace violence should be covered, along with issues specific to the line of work your company is in that impact safety, such as workplace chemicals, protective gear, etc. Also let employees know the procedures to follow in case of an emergency.
Your employee handbook should also cover workplace rules that comprise what amounts to an employee code of conduct. These include, for example, policies on harassment, discrimination, any dress code, and the like.
The handbook is also the place to inform employees of the consequences of not following company rules, whether they be regarding attendance, company property, workplace decorum or job performance. Clearly spell out grounds for firing, along with procedures for disciplinary action, including warnings, probationary periods and termination.
Advances in technology-and its availability in the workplace-have added new layers to employee handbook content. In addition to the topics covered above, today’s employee handbook needs to address appropriate uses of technology in the workplace, and what employees can and can’t do while on the job (blogging, visiting Facebook and Twitter, online shopping, etc.). Parameters of email communications also should be addressed, including transmission of chain mails and links to inappropriate Web sites.
The process of writing the handbook can be farmed out to a firm specializing in employee communications, or undertaken in house. Templates are available that can be used for this purpose; they contain the basic information common to most employee handbooks, and beyond this can be customized to your company. If using the template approach, be sure to run the finished product past your company legal counsel or human resources professional for a final review.