Tips to Consider While Writing Your Employee Handbook

Many companies have an employee handbook to clarify and dictate proper behavior, social norms and legal issues. Creating a handbook is a big project, and companies strive to write their guide in a way that’s thorough and clear, without being boring – employees should actually read the guide, after all. Moreover, companies have to make sure that they’re covering everything necessary to protect themselves and to avoid liability in the future.

Create the Handbook with the Masses in Mind

Every business is going to have a few bad seeds who like to push boundaries, break the rules, and get themselves or even the company in trouble. This is why creating a clear employee handbook is important, as a handbook will clarify what is okay and what isn’t, with little room for interpretation. Most employees will appreciate a guide to what conduct is expected at work, but if you create a handbook that sounds threatening and that scolds your employees before they even do something wrong, you’ll put your employees on edge and build mistrust from the beginning. Instead, you can clarify and outline the rules and repercussions while still being respectful of your employees.

Avoid Boilerplate Policies

You can easily find employee handbook templates online, but copying and pasting this information into your own handbook isn’t going to provide the information your employees need or the protection your company needs. Boilerplate information is meant to be used as an example or a starting point. You have to adapt this information to account for current laws, your industry and your location.

The same goes for covering scope of employment. The handbook should clarify what’s expected of an employee depending on their role. This can protect the business if the employee breaks a law by performing an act that falls outside their scope of employment. Usually, an employer is only liable if the unlawful act falls within the scope of employment.

Include Disclaimers

Every employee handbook should include disclaimers. Here are a few things that these disclaimers should make clear:

  • The employee handbook does not serve as an employment contract.
  • The employee is still considered an at-will employee.
  • The handbook can be modified at any time by the employer or HR department.

Disclaimers serve two purposes: they help the employee understand what they’re agreeing to and they also give the company the flexibility to make amendments as needed.

Don’t Skip Company Culture

Your employee handbook has to cover legal bases, but you shouldn’t skip over the backbone of your company: its values, mission, and ethos. That’s what employees truly care about, especially if you’ve vetted and hired the right people for your team. To the right employees, that sort of information is going to be a lot more important than the minutiae of lunch break and work shift policies. On the same note, think in terms of the culture you’re in, such as the industry you’re part of and the age group and interests of your employees. This will help you create an engaging handbook instead of a dry and boring one.

Explain the Thought Process Behind Policies

If you on’t explain why a policy is the way it is, employees are going to make assumptions and guesses, and they may talk themselves into being displeased with the policy. For example, let’s say one of your company policies is that no more than five employees can take their lunch break at the same time. To the employee, this may sound like the company doesn’t want coworkers to mingle or get to know one another. In reality, though, this could be so there are always enough people monitoring communication so that there’s never a long wait for a customer.

Here’s another example: your employees may not realize why proper retention and disposal of customer records is important. They may assume that you’re just being picky and over-cautious. By explaining that those records have personal information or health information protected under HIPAA law, employees will take document retention and shredding more seriously.

Ask for Feedback

There’s nothing wrong with asking your employees for their opinions about the employee handbook. You may find out that something is unclear, that they were told different information during the hiring process or that your policies aren’t aligned with industry best practices. While you don’t have to make changes to the employee handbook simply because some employees have a problem with it, you’ll open yourself up to new viewpoints you may not have thought of yourself.

Make the Handbook Accessible Online

Employees will get the most value from a handbook if it’s accessible and searchable. Storing your employee handbook online means that employees (and management) can access it from anywhere and search for exactly what they want without thumbing through page after page. Also, any changes made to the handbook can be highlighted or mentioned on an introductory page. It’s also a good idea to let employees comment on parts of the handbook in case they have questions or concerns. This is especially important for remote workers and freelancers who need to be able to digitally communicate with the company from wherever they are in the world.

The Future of Your Employee Handbook

There’s no such thing as a final edition of your employee handbook. You’ll update and revise the handbook as necessary when policies change or need to be clarified, and also when laws change. Make sure that you’re keeping up with any updates or additions to employment law so that your handbook can reflect the changes. In many cases, it’s better to start with a broad handbook and then expand and add detail over time. As long as you’re covering your legal bases (it’s best to consult a lawyer), you don’t have to worry about your handbook getting you in trouble.

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