The employee manual or handbook can be a valuable tool for any business organization. Ideally, it should provide detailed guidelines for the employment relationship and document company policies and procedures for the benefit of both employer and employee. For example, handbooks define employer's legal responsibilities by putting policies on record; make employees aware of rights, benefits, and policy, providing legal protections to employers; provide background information on the organization; and serve as employee reference tools. Because of its many uses, then, it is crucial for businesses to craft their employee manual in a careful and thoughtful fashion.
Indeed, employee manuals have become the focus of considerable employment-related litigation in recent years, as growing numbers of workers and employers became enmeshed in legal tangles over workplace actions, expectations, etc. "Since there is no reason to believe that this flood of litigation will slow any time soon, an employer can help protect itself by drafting a handbook that clearly sets forth its policies and covers the important topics in a way that will not come back to haunt," wrote Paul Berninger in Business Courier. "The specific contents will vary widely, depending on the size of the company and the nature of the business, but there are some elements that every employee handbook should contain."
The contents of employee manuals should be limited to statements of fact, avoiding vague or blanket pronouncements on issues that are generally addressed on a case-by-case basis (such as job security). "Make only statements of fact regarding company policies and procedures, avoiding generalizations, and reiterate the employer's right to change employment practices and procedures at any time without prior notice to employees," counseled Berninger.
Most employee manuals contain these basic sections:
Disclaimers may also be added, such as a disclaimer stating that the manual does not represent a contract made with the employee, or a disclaimer stating that the list of company rules and procedures is not exhaustive. Such disclaimers protect the company from potential legal action in these areas. Whatever liability shielding language is employed, however, businesses should make sure that all handbook contents are carefully reviewed by legal counsel before publication.
When constructing or maintaining an employee manual, it is worthwhile to consider using a team approach, bringing in people from all areas of the company who are impacted by the policies embodied in the manual. This group insures that policies are not developed and reviewed solely by human resources representatives (although their input can certainly be valuable) or the owner, but by a representative cross-section of the entire company. If this technique is used, it is critical to assign trustworthy people to manage the project and see to its completion.
An employee manual should be distributed at the time of hire to all incoming employees. This does not mean that the manual does not ever change, however. If revisions are to be made, a manual must first state that the employer has the right to revise the policies in it at any time. It should then be redistributed (in whole or in part, depending on its format) to all employees, with a detailed description of the revisions made. Generally, the manual should be reviewed once per year to see if revisions are necessary. In addition, in instances where federal and state laws materially impact a company's operations or policies, relevant sections should be updated immediately, then disseminated to all affected employees.
Barrier, Michael. "Going by the Handbook." Success. September 2000.
Berninger, Paul. "Employee Handbook Can Work For or Against You." Business Courier Serving Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky. October 13, 2000.
Flynn, Gillian. "Take Another Look at the Employee Handbook." Workforce. March 2000.
Jenner, Lisa. "Employee Communications: How to Effectively Use Disclaimers." HR Focus. February 1994.
Ramey, Ardella, and Carl R.J. Sniffen. A Company Policy and Personnel Handbook. Oasis Press/PSI Research, 1991.
Theye, Larry D., Larry G. Carsetnson, and Betty Becker-Theye. "Translating the Employee Handbook: Potentially Hazardous Duty." ATA Chronicle . August 1997.
Waterman, Cecily A. "Update Handbooks to Avoid Risk." HRMagazine. November 1992.