I recently attended a conference for which I prepared a presentation on the Essential Components of an Employee Handbook. After several discussions with Managers and Human Resource professionals at the conference, it was apparent that many employers do not have a basic employee handbook. Others have handbooks that fail to include the essentials. That said, to follow is a quick recap of some of the essential components of a good handbook. However, be careful: simply searching the Internet and inputting sections that resemble the headings covered below, without tailoring it specifically to your company/industry or consulting your attorney can be detrimental to your business.
1. Policies must comply with all the applicable laws and regulations
This goes without saying, but putting a policy in writing that violates the law will all but seal your fate if that policy is challenged by the government or an employee. Think federal, state and local law. If you have locations in more than one city or state, one handbook may not fit all.
The key here is to clearly and prominently preserve the at-will employment status and not unwittingly draft your way into a contract that can only be terminated under limited circumstances.
3. Code of Conduct
Quite possibly the most heavily relied upon section of any handbook involves the disciplining or terminating of employees. This is your chance to set the tone of your workplace and outline your expectations. You might include, among many other provisions:
• Dress code
• Absentee policy
• Drug and alcohol policy
4. Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policies and Reporting Mechanisms
Need I say more? Not having a clear and well disseminated anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy – a “zero tolerance” policy -- will potentially rob employers of affirmative defenses to harassment actions and will undoubtedly lead to problems in the workplace and beyond.
5. Computer/Internet/Device Usage Policies
There is no turning back. We are and will forever be in the age of technology. Work-issued devices, such as company computers with access to emails and the Internet, can be beneficial to the company. However, in the same breath, it could make a company susceptible to litigation based on the employee’s conduct on the Internet or in emails. This is a new area of the law, but it is developing quickly and leaving oblivious employers in a dangerous position.
All said, draft and/or periodically update your handbooks to ensure that you are complying with the law. Anything less will be to your detriment. That’s all for today, more to come, including the one that some employers skip entirely…you guessed it……. to be covered in Tips numbered 6 – 10.