How does Employee Handbook stack up against best practices?

While each employee handbook must be customized to each employer, there are common elements every handbook needs. We’ve listed out the top 10 best handbook practices so you can make sure you’re up to par.

How does Employee Handbook stack up against best practices? Source: ShutterStock
How does Employee Handbook stack up against best practices? Source: ShutterStock

Content Summary

Essential employee handbook contents
A robust at-will statement
A contract disclaimer and acknowledgment
A broad anti-discrimination clause
An appropriate dress code
A behavioral code
A robust sexual and other harassment policy
A disability policy
A comprehensive leave policy
A nursing mother policy
Copies of all required postings
Paper or electronic employee handbook?

Essential employee handbook contents

A robust at-will statement

Making it clear that there are no employment guarantees is essential and an at-will statement does that. A good at-will statement provides that, “No manager, supervisor or employee has authority to enter into an agreement for employment. All employment is at-will. Only the president of the company has the authority to make any such agreement and then only in writing.”

A contract disclaimer and acknowledgment

The disclaimer makes clear that the employer retains the flexibility needed to manage the workplace as it sees fit. All employees should sign an acknowledgment that they understand the employee manual is not a contract. The acknowledgment should be placed in their personnel file. A new acknowledgment must be signed every time the employer makes a handbook change.

A broad anti-discrimination clause

Your employee handbook should include a broad anti-discrimination clause showing that you are committed to equal employment opportunity. This should include all federally protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. It should also include any additional protected classes under state and local laws. You are free to include other protected groups even if federal, state or local laws don’t require it.

An appropriate dress code

A good employee handbook should include an appropriate dress and grooming code suited to your organization. Your policy should avoid using gender stereotyping such as insisting that women wear dresses and skirted suits. It should steer clear of requirements that may conflict with religious practices like prohibiting religious headgear such as hijabs. Grooming rules should take into account religious restrictions. Your dress code should also state that you are willing to make reasonable accommodations.

A behavioral code

Your organization’s employee manual should also include behavioral expectations that are broad enough to telegraph your expectations. But behavioral rules should not be draconian. Preventing employees from discussing working conditions or speaking in a language other than English isn’t appropriate. Nor is insisting that employees not engage in “gossip” or criticize management or the company.

A robust sexual and other harassment policy

Every employee handbook should include a very specific anti-harassment policy. That policy must do more than state that you don’t condone sexual or other harassment. It must also provide a way for employees to report harassment that allows them to bypass the alleged harasser. Your employee handbook should specify how to report harassment, what will happen next and a promise against retaliation. Be specific. Provide a name and phone number or email contact. Many employers now also include a handbook rule mandating bystander reporting even if outside their division.

A disability policy

Your employee handbook also needs a disability non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation provision. That policy should state your commitment to employing all qualified individuals without regard to disability and need for reasonable accommodation. Specify your reasonable accommodations process, including how to initiate an interactive accommodations process.

A comprehensive leave policy

Employees want to know what their paid and unpaid time off benefits are. Your employee manual should include all your leave policies in one place. It should spell out how to report off work and what the penalties are for not following call-off rules. It should also outline sick, vacation and personal leave policies. If the FMLA applies, spell out how to request FMLA leave and what conditions and circumstances it covers.

A nursing mother policy

New mothers returning to work who are hourly employees and who are nursing are entitled to unlimited milk expression breaks. Your employee handbook should include information on these breaks, including details on where to take those breaks. This cannot be in a bathroom.

Copies of all required postings

Your employee handbook should also include copies of all required postings under federal, state and local laws. Get the latest versions from the EEOC, the DOL and other agencies.

Paper or electronic employee handbook?

Employers are increasingly foregoing paper employee manuals in favor of electronic versions. This saves time and money on updating. You should schedule regular handbook updates at least once a year to account for new laws and regulations. Having an electronic version makes distributing the new handbook version easier. Plus, if you design your electronic handbook with a unique login for every user, you can track access and obtain employee acknowledgments. That can become valuable evidence that an employee knew about your policies if she later claims ignorance.

Source: Business Management Daily

Published by Silvia Emma

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