Employee handbooks, though tedious to create, and often overlooked by employees, are a necessity for businesses of all sizes. They lay out all of the rules and procedures of the office, providing official documentation for the employees to know what’s expected of them. These lengthy documents are helpful for maintaining consistent policies even if there’s turnover in HR or management, and often protect companies if legal trouble arises. They inform new hires about workplace culture and layout their rights and responsibilities. They set the precedent for what it’s like to be employed at a company, for employees and to the outside world. Since the handbook is essentially the first impression many people will have of your company, you’ll want to craft it carefully.
Turns out, there’s a lot to cover in an employee manual, and though some sections may vary from company to company, we’ve highlighted some of the most essential policies.
What should you include in an Employee Handbook?
It’s a good idea to consult a lawyer on local, state, and federal employment laws. You may be required to list rights that employees are guaranteed. If you have offices in multiple cities or across state lines (or even different countries), you’ll need to have separate employee manuals that comply with the appropriate laws.
Equal Employment and Non-Discrimination Policy
State your commitment to a discrimination-free workplace, and make it clear you won’t tolerate such behavior. You may want to outline the procedure for reporting a discrimination complaint, and explain how such complaints are addressed. This is a good place to discuss gender equality, inclusion, and any other measures used to prevent discrimination, whether required by law or not.
This is one of the most important aspects of an employee handbook. After all, no one can perform at their best if they don’t feel safe.
State that the company won’t tolerate harassment, and that both perpetrators and bystanders who tolerate or fail to report it will be disciplined. Define what harassment is, outline a clear and comprehensive reporting process, and how such claims will be handled. Some experts recommend leaving disciplinary actions vague, so that you can tailor consequences to any situation which may arise. In New York, state law requires that every employer adapt a sexual harassment prevention policy that does the following:
- “prohibit sexual harassment consistent with guidance issued by the Department of Labor in consultation with the Division of Human Rights
- provide examples of prohibited conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment
- include information concerning the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, remedies available to victims of sexual harassment, and a statement that there may be applicable local laws
- include a complaint form
- include a procedure for the timely and confidential investigation of complaints that ensures due process for all parties
- inform employees of their rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating sexual harassment complaints administratively and judicially
- clearly state that sexual harassment is considered a form of employee misconduct and that sanctions will be enforced against individuals engaging in sexual harassment and against supervisory and managerial personnel who knowingly allow such behavior to continue
- clearly state that retaliation against individuals who complain of sexual harassment or who testify or assist in any investigation or proceeding involving sexual harassment is unlawful”
Family Medical Leave
According to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), any company with more than 50 employees is required to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to eligible employees. Eligible circumstances include the birth or adoption of a child, the care of an immediate family member, or for personal medical leave. During that time the employees’ job and health benefits must be protected, though they are not legally required to receive their normal wages. Learn more here.
Outlining payment details in writing is not only important, it’s required under many state laws. Read more about U.S. Department of Labor wage laws here.
Let your employees know whether they’ll be compensated on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis to avoid confusion. This is also where you should define working hours, whether they’re set or flexible, whether you offer overtime or allow for some remote work. You should also state your attendance policy here, whether you expect employees to clock in and out or if your hours are more flexible.
Make Sure It Replaces Older Versions
Simply state that this volume of the employee manual replaces and supersedes any past versions, replacing old policies and procedures.
Subject to Change
State that the policies outlined in the handbook are subject to change. This protects the company should there be a need for revisions to the document in the future.
Layout how many days of vacation an employee is granted per year, whether they’re paid, and how much notice the employee is required to give. Some employers, like schools, may prohibit vacation days right before or after holidays or breaks.
State how many sick days an employee gets each year, whether they’re paid, and who to tell. There is no federal law requiring employers to provide sick days other than the 12 weeks of unpaid time guaranteed under the FMLA, but it’s a “benefit” employees will undoubtedly expect. Just because you don’t have to offer something by law, doesn’t mean you should forego it, especially if you want to boost morale among your employees in the long run.
Outline what an employee is granted in terms of a meal break, and whether they will be compensated for that time. Only some states require certain break periods, and the Department of Labor does not require that meal breaks lasting 30 minutes be compensated. However, all employers in every state are required to provide nursing mothers breaks and a private area other than a bathroom to express breast milk. You can read more about laws concerning breaks here.
Discuss what type of health and other insurance you offer, who is eligible (part-time versus full-time employees versus freelancers), when they can enroll, and when they may adjust their plans, such as with the birth of a child.
Employee Handbook: Sample of the Content
Sound like a lot? That’s because it is! Let’s review:
- Check State Laws
- Discrimination Policy
- Harassment Policy
- Family Medical Leave
- Workers Compensation
- Equal Employment And Non-Discrimination Policies
- That It Replaces Older Versions
- Subject To Change
- Vacation Policy
- Sick Days
- Meal Times
- Attendance Policy