Employee Handbook and Policies (Part III—Practical Preparation Tips)

September 2, 2016

Employee handbook(Editor’s note: Part I—Legal Considerations is available here and Part II—Consent and Format is available here)

This is the last of three posts this week on how business counselors can assist their clients in preparing employee handbooks and policies.  The first two posts covered the key legal issues that need to be considered in preparing employee handbooks and policies and the content and formatting of those instruments.  Today we’ll talk about the process of preparing an employee handbook, which depends on the size of the company and the resources, human and otherwise, available for investment in the preparation process.  Smaller companies, or companies without a formal human resources (“HR”) department, generally assign a single person to develop and write the handbook.  Other companies designate a coordinator for the handbook project and create a committee to support the coordinator and divide up the various tasks necessary to put the handbook together, distribute it among the workforce and ensure that adequate training is made available to managers and other supervisors.  When a committee structure is used the group should be kept relatively small, generally no more than five people, and membership should include the top HR executive, one executive from each of the key operational functional groups within the company, the controller to handle tax and legal questions, and a representative from the company’s communications or public Gutterman WLEC bannerrelations department.  A committee leader should have the final approval rights on major decisions relating to the handbook.  While all members can and should contribute to the content of the handbook, writing responsibility should be assigned to one person, typically the project coordinator.  The committee must determine what policy statements will be included in the handbook; collect and analyze information on current organizational practices, including “unwritten” policies, procedures and expectations among employees; make recommendations to senior management about policy content, policy organization and handbook format; and must review the drafts of the handbook policy statements written by the project coordinator or by the coordinator’s designees.

Whatever approach is taken, however, the persons involved in the handbook process should have the approval and support of management; access to the top executives of the company; access to relevant documents, memos and records; knowledge and understand of company operations; access to legal advisors for specialized topics outside of the expertise of committee members; and an ability to express ideas and prepare a handbook in a style and format that fits the organizational culture of the company.  The following is a suggesting ordering of the steps that should be taken for managing and completing the preparation and distribution of an employee handbook:

  • Designate a coordinator for the handbook project and create a committee to support the coordinator and divide up the various tasks necessary to put the handbook together, distribute it among the workforce and ensure that adequate training is made available to managers and other supervisors.
  • Ensure that the persons involved in the handbook preparation process have the approval and support of management; access to the top executives of the company; access to relevant documents, memos and records; knowledge and understand of company operations; access to legal advisors for specialized topics outside of the expertise of committee members; and an ability to express ideas and prepare a handbook in a style and format that fits the organizational culture of the company.
  • Conduct a thorough review of formally established policies, such as published rules such as published rules and procedures regarding working hours and recording work time, overtime, holidays and vacations, pay and benefits, disciplinary actions and termination.
  • Identify policies that may not be formally articulated but which may nonetheless be inferred from past practices, such as unwritten rules and customs covering such matters as employee conduct.
  • The committee should meet to discuss and reach agreement on the contents of the handbook including the specific policies that will be included and the agreement should be formalized as a draft table of contents for the handbook.
  • The project coordinator (or the coordinator’s designees) should draft the policy statements agreed to by the committee and the policy drafts are distributed to each committee member for review and comment..
  • Committee members should return the policy drafts to the project coordinator, who reviews the members’ comments and modifies the drafts and distributes the second drafts of the policy statements to the committee members for further review. The second draft should be accompanied by a summary of the comments received on the first draft and an explanation from the coordinator as to how each of the comments was addressed in the second draft.
  • After second drafts are returned to the project coordinator, the coordinator and committee should proceed in the same way to prepare and review a third draft, which should be close to a proposed final version of the handbook.
  • The committee should submit the third draft to in-house or outside counsel to ensure that the policies comport with applicable law and, if necessary, to the company’s public relations department or an outside professional writer to ensure that the policies are easily understood.
  • The third draft should also be circulated to a select group of first-line supervisors for input on how it is likely to be received by employees and how comfortable the supervisors feel about their role in administering the policies in the handbook on a day-to-day basis. First-line supervisors should receive training on the contents of the handbook before it is distributed once the policies have been approved by senior executives.
  • The project coordinator should prepare a final draft of the policies to submit to the policy committee members and to senior executives with approval authority.
  • Upon receiving approval, the project coordinator should prepare the policy statements in final form for inclusion in the employee handbook.
  • Complete the distribution of the new handbook including recalling copies of old handbooks, distributing separately to managers and supervisors along with instructions on their roles in ensuring that employees receive the new handbook and understand its provisions; distributing the handbooks to employees during an information session—small group or company-wide, depending on the size of the company— in which policies are explained and employees are given an opportunity to ask questions; and  requiring employees to sign and return an acknowledgement of receipt for the handbook that should be maintained in their personnel file.

For much more about preparing effective employee handbooks and policies, including a large library of examples, see Gutterman, Business Transactions Solution: Employee Handbooks and Policies (§§174:1 et seq.) on Westlaw.  You can also learn more about preparing employee handbooks and policies by listening to the Business Counselor Institute program on that topic available on demand from West Legal Ed Center.  Go to  https://westlegaledcenter.com/program_guide/course_detail.jsf?videoCourseId=100120308

Titles by Alan Gutterman