There is a lot of information in the employee handbook, but do you remember what the essentials are?
Your handbook sets the organization’s expectations, policies, and their corresponding procedures, what the organization expects from employees, and what employees can expect from the business. And in a time when regulations are changing all the time, it’s important to make sure your handbook and policies are updated. Below are some of the essential topics to include in your handbook.
1. Welcome Message
How do you communicate your values and mission to employees? Your welcome message can liven up a handbook before you take a deep dive into paid time off. This opening is your chance to get people excited to be part of the team.
2. Your At-Will Relationship
Stating your at-will relationship clarifies that the handbook is not an employment contract. Boiling it down, you’re saying here the employment relationship can be terminated by either party at any time, for any reason, with or without notice. You can end it; the employee can end it—there doesn’t have to be a good reason.
3. Equal Employment Opportunity
Following the EEOC, make sure your handbook spells out that employees are to be treated equally regardless of:
- Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity)
- National origin
- Age (40 or older)
- Genetic information (including family medical history)
NOTE: Some states require employers to protect employees based on other classes, like marital status, arrest records, or credit information. Check your state’s rules to make sure you’re clear on those and share the information with your employees in those states.
General conduct guidelines are a list of discouraged behaviors. These vary between employers, although some items (e.g., sleeping on the job or stealing from the workplace) show up in nearly every handbook. Critical topics to cover are:
- Workplace Violence
- Procedures for filing complaints
- Corrective action (What’s going to happen if employees don’t follow the policies in the handbook?)
5. Compensation & Performance
This section isn’t about salary disclosure, but it defines important points under federal wage and hour law, as well as state wage and hour law, like when the workweek starts and ends. You’ll also want to cover:
- Pay periods & paydays
- Performance evaluations
In addition to covering evaluations, a subsection on performance should include performance-based bonuses (if your company partipcates in them) discipline, resignation, and termination.
6. Benefits & Leaves
This section gets referenced a lot. Be sure to cover things like:
- Paid time off
- Leaves: sick, disability, jury, voting, bereavement
- State-specific leaves: Depending on where you operate, there could be between 2 and 15 specific state laws that you need to follow concerning employment. Maybe even as many as 20 laws if you’re in California and are a larger employer. You’ll want these covered in your handbook.
- Health insurance
7. Health & Safety
Aside from what Occupational Health and Safety laws and other regulations require, employers have room to be as strict as they want to be in terms of smoking, drugs, and alcohol.
Touch on office closures for things like inclement weather. Explain the organization’s expectations for employees should they be unable to get to work safely due to inclement weather such as snow or an ice storm.
8. Workplace Guidelines
This penultimate section is kind of the catch-all. It may include several miscellaneous policies, like:
- Off-the-clock work
- Meal and rest breaks (if specified by state law)
- Lactation accommodations
- Attendance and tardiness
- Personal appearance and hygiene
- Electronic asset usage
- Social media
9. Acknowledgment of Receipt
All handbooks should include an acknowledgment of receipt for employees to sign. Their signature is crucial documentation to show you and the employee that they understand the handbook and will abide by the policies within.
Ultimately, you’ll want to update your handbook annually. If possible, distribute different versions for different states, so your employees understand exactly what policies apply to them.