Preparing Effective Employee Handbooks and Policies

June 17, 2016

5273Almost from the very beginning each company intentionally and unknowingly develops a set of policies and practices relating to its relationship with its employees.  Unwritten rules and customs evolve regarding employee conduct and these are eventually supplemented by formally established policies, such as published rules and procedures regarding working hours and recording work time, overtime, holidays and vacations, pay and benefits, disciplinary actions and termination.  Since employees are obviously essential to any business, companies typically try and avoid misunderstanding by laying out the rules of their relationship with their employees through personnel handbooks, which are also called “employee handbooks”, that supplements verbal explanations of company rules and policies given to new employees upon orientation; provides a ready reference on rules and procedures for all employees, even those who have been with a the company for a significant amount of time; and ensures that all employees receive essential information regarding the company and the respective rights and obligations of the company and its employees in a complete, accurate, and standardized form.  In addition, a properly-written employee handbook can reduce disputes and help protect employers from costly litigation, build a sense of company identify among employees, and showcase reasons why the company should be considered a good place to work.

Employers are not required to have a handbook. However, if they do, they’re generally free to pick the rules to include in their handbook. Typically, personnel handbooks describe the employer-employee relationship, from hiring until termination; tell employees what is expected from them; and tell employees what they may expect from the employer.  If employers adopt a handbook, they must train their managers about their rules and the procedures for implementing those rules. Unless the policies are enforced as written, they are just “good intentions.”  Besides handbooks, some employers also have a written personnel policy manual. Policy manuals are usually designed only for managers and used to guide them about implementing company policies. In contrast, personnel handbooks are usually given to all employees.

When creating and administering employee handbooks and policies it is important to understand the relevant legal considerations, strategies for formatting and contents, equal opportunity policies, pay and Gutterman WLEC bannerbenefits policies, methods for laying out standards of conduct, time off and leave policies, “on the job” policies, safety and health policies and Internet use and social networking policies.  In order for employee handbooks and policies to be effective, the drafter must have a good working knowledge of the fundamental legal principles associated with the employer-employee relationship and law and practice in specific areas such as recruitment and hiring, discipline and termination, and discrimination and harassment.  In addition, it is not sufficient to write and distribute handbooks and policies; the contents of those documents must have practical and “real world” meaning in the workplace and should be followed by executives, managers and other supervisors.  Plans should always be made to educate and train anyone in a supervisory role about their responsibilities under employee handbooks and policies.

In order to be an effective and valued business counselor to your clients you need to be comfortable with all of the steps that should be completed to prepare employee handbooks and policies.  In order to help you get started, please consider attending the Business Counselor Institute’s upcoming West Legal Ed Center program on “Creating and Implementing Effective Employee Handbooks for Startups and Small Firms”, which will be presented live on Monday, June 20th at 11:00 AM Central time.  Click here for more information and to register for the program:

In addition, a new chapter on Employee Handbooks and Policies (Chapter 174) will be added to Business Transactions Solution on Westlaw in August and will include a large library of samples and practice tools to get you up and running.

Titles by Alan Gutterman