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What is an Employee Handbook?

An employee handbook (or employee manual or staff handbook) details guidelines, expectations and procedures of a business or company to its employees. Employee Handbooks are given to employees on one of the first days of his/her job, in order to acquaint them with their new company and its policies.

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While it often varies from business to business, specific areas that an employee handbook may address include:

  • A welcome statement, which may also briefly describe the company's history, reasons for its success and how the employee can contribute to future successes. It may also include a mission statement, or a statement about a business' goals and objectives.
  • Orientation procedures. This usually involves providing a human resources manager or other designated employee completed income tax withholding forms, providing proof of identity and eligibility for employment (in accordance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986), proof of a completed drug test (by a designated medical center) and other required forms.
  • Definitions of full- and part-time employment, and benefits each classification receives. In addition, this area also describes timekeeping procedures (such as defining a "work week"). This area may also include information about daily breaks (for lunch and rest).
  • Information about employee pay and benefits (such as vacation and insurance). Usually, new employees are awarded some benefits, plus additional rewards (such as enrollment in a 401K retirement account program, additional vacation and pay raises) after having worked for a company for a certain period of time. These are spelled out in this section.
  • Expectations about conduct and discipline policies. These sections include conduct policies for such areas as sexual harassment, alcohol and drug use, and attendance; plus, grounds for dismissal (i.e., getting fired) and due process. This area may also include information about filing grievances with supervisors and/or co-workers, and communicating work-related issues with supervisors and/or company managers.
  • Guidelines for employee performance reviews (such as how and when they are conducted).
  • Policies for promotion or demotion to a certain position.
  • Rules concerning mail; use of the telephone, company equipment, Internet and e-mail; and employee use of motor vehicles for job assignments.
  • Procedures on handling on-the-job accidents, such as those that result in injury.
  • How an employee may voluntarily terminate his job (through retirement or resignation), and exit interviews.
  • A requirement that employees keep certain business information confidential. This area usually includes information about releasing employee records and information, as well as who may retrieve and inspect the information.

If the employer is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 - generally 50 or more employees - a handbook must have information about FMLA.

Why are written policies important?

Sound employment policies provide the framework within which an organization governs its employee relations. A policies and procedures manual guides both managers and employees as to what is expected and can prevent misunderstandings about employer policy. In addition, supervisors and managers are more likely to consistently apply policies if they are clearly communicated in writing. An is probably your first line of establishing an affirmative defense strategy.

It is true that written policies, like any record, can be used against an organization in a lawsuit. Poorly drafted policies often become the main evidence presented when employees allege that the policies were in fact a contract that the employer violated. However, policies that are carefully written so as not to be contracts actually should protect against these claims and not be a problem. In addition, carefully written policies can be used to illustrate your commitment to a positive work environment and to nondiscriminatory employment practices.

Need for employee handbook

Federal and state laws and the growing number of cases of employee related litigation against management strongly suggests that a written statement of company policy is a business necessity for firms of any size.

For example, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that in 2005, companies paid out more than $378 million dollars in discrimination non-litigated settlements. In 2007, the EEOC received a total of 82,792 discrimination charges filed against private businesses.

Other examples of litigation against a company stemming from employee actions are the release of a customer's private information and, of course, the actions of one employee against another; sexual harassment being this type of offensive employee conduct.

An effective Employee Handbook Company Policy Manual is a very obvious, simple and inexpensive answer to the question, "How does a business protect itself against lawsuits based on employee behavior?" There are several key elements that businesses should consider before implementing an Employee Handbook.

One of the most important aspects of any Employee Handbook Company Policy Manual is that the Employee Handbook Company Policy Manual is kept current. Laws do change, and your Employee Handbook needs to be updated and kept current. Likewise, if a company has employees who are more comfortable using Spanish than English, it is a best practice to have an Employee Handbook Company Policy Manual that is available in Spanish.

Other key characteristics of an Employee Handbook Company Policy Handbook that helps guard against employee lawsuits are that the Employee Handbook is attorney written and completed, and customized for each state; one size does not fit all!

A New Mexico Employee Handbook should not be used in California. State laws may very well be different. For example, if a company wants to implement a Drug-free Workplace, an appropriate policy must be communicated to each employee in the Employee Handbook Company Policy Manual. Each state may have its own rules on how a Drug-free workplace is to be accomplished, and the information that must be communicated to employees. Florida and Texas are such states. Source: Wikipedia.

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