Many businesses consider the employee handbook a necessary evil, prompting eye rolls and reluctant attention from HR staff and new hires alike. But done right, the handbook can be short, sweet and meaningful — an opportunity for clear and concise communication and a useful tool for employers to mitigate risk.
Here are some dos and don’ts for creating an effective employee handbook that does more than sit on the shelf.
- Include a company statement or overview. The first page should include an upbeat statement about the company and cover items such as history and mission — but don’t get too flowery. Including over-the-top language about how honest, ethical and wonderful your business is can come across as subjective opinion, opening it up for interpretation. Brag about the company, but keep it in check.
- Cover the basics. Some items must be included in any handbook, such as language dealing with sick leave, how to report vacation time and the termination policy. Include the fact that employees are “at will” and, if you have more than 50 employees, include a Family Medical Leave Act policy.
- Outline policies. Include a clear explanation of your discrimination and harassment policies and the penalties for failing to follow them. State a clear position against such behavior, as doing so in writing goes a long way toward protecting you in the event of a lawsuit. Also outline the procedure for reporting offenses and abuse, and strongly state that victims will not suffer retaliation for coming forward.
- Don’t use language that is difficult to understand. Keep the wording clear and simple so that there is no chance of misunderstanding.
- Don’t include too many details, and avoid spelling out lengthy and complicated procedures. For example, consider whether it is helpful to include multiple levels of discipline, or whether that bogs down the system. And don’t specify certain milestones, such as annual performance reviews, unless you intend to follow that timing. Less is more, so don’t paint yourself into a corner by including things you are not going to follow every time.
- Don’t assume the handbook is up to date. If you created the handbook more than a year ago, laws and regulations may have changed. It’s a good idea to have a professional conduct a review of the contents to make sure the most up-to-date laws and policies are reflected.
Many companies are doing away with handbooks because, when poorly drafted, they can be more harmful than helpful. But failing to have one could work against you in the case of a discrimination or wrongful termination charge. It’s important to protect yourself, and a handbook can work in your favor if it’s written correctly, so consult with a legal professional to thoroughly vet your handbook to ensure it is doing more good than harm.
For guidance on compiling an employee handbook, or for more information on a form handbook maintained and updated by KJK, contact Rob Gilmore at (216) 736-7240 or RSG@KJK.com.
Rob Gilmore is chair of KJK’s Litigation Practice Group and its Labor and Employment Law Practice Group, bringing leadership and strategic direction to these practice areas. Gilmore focuses on a full range of labor and employment matters, including terminations, workforce reductions, employee handbooks and policies, noncompete agreements, trade secrets, shareholder disputes, unfair labor practice allegations and union negotiations, in addition to general business litigation.