Imagine driving to work one morning with no street signs or traffic lights to guide you. You would be super cautious every time you came to an intersection, and chances are good you’d be pulling your hair by the time you got to work due to the stress.

Lights, signs and programmed systems create order and make navigating the trip easier. The same applies to having an employee handbook for your business.

Without one, rules and expectations aren’t clear, creating potential issues down the road. Having an employee handbook, however, provides a system of policies, processes, accountability, protection and even disciplinary steps whenever an employee exceeds the speed limit, so to speak.

… employee handbooks aren’t just for new employees? They are a roadmap for all employees. If you create a handbook for the first time when you have existing employees, it’s good practice to walk all employees through the same process you would a new hire.

In Case You Need More Convincing …

Just in case my driving analogy isn’t inspiring you, here are several additional reasons you should create an employee handbook for your business:

Reason #1: Sets a professional tone. When you provide employees with a document detailing what you expect from them at work, it sends a message that you take policies and procedures seriously. And when you enforce those policies, it’s clear to everyone that you desire a professional and accountable workplace.

Reason #2: Sends a message that you care about employee well-being. There’s comfort in knowing rules exist for everyone to follow — especially for your top employees who follow the rules daily. Witnessing others break rules with no accountability for their actions might send a message that you don’t appreciate employees who do the right thing. Holding all employees accountable to the same standards benefits everyone.

Reason #3: Clearly describes behavioral expectations. Your handbook can present acceptable behavior and, just as important, behavior that is unacceptable. Describing disciplinary action in detail also informs employees of the consequences should they fail to uphold your stated standards.

Reason #4: Assures managers you have a system that supports them. When managers know you have rules supporting their ability to hold employees accountable, it makes their jobs easier. Without a system to manage employees who are underperforming or out of line, you open your business to potential lawsuits, not to mention frustrated managers.

Reason #5: Encourages fair treatment. While it’s not realistic for handbooks to offer precise instructions on every problem, they should provide a solid framework for managers to follow. Reviewing your policies with managers annually ensures that everyone is aware that fair treatment is a daily expectation. This way, all employees are treated fairly and consistently which, again, can help protect you against lawsuits.

Reason #6: Provides safety for employees. When policies dictate what is and isn’t acceptable, employees clearly know when a line is crossed. For example, in harassment situations, employees will find comfort in knowing your policies will protect them through a process of reporting, protection and discipline for the offender.

Pay special attention to the harassment section of your handbook. Clearly define what is and isn’t harassment, what your procedure is for reporting harassment and how you will discipline offenders. It shows you care about employee safety, and it protects you in the event legal issues arise.

Reason #7: Protects company against employee claims. Without policies or processes to document and manage improvement or discipline, it’s often your word against the employee’s in a court of law. Having your policies clearly outlined — including how you document and discipline — means you have an extra layer of protection should an employee claim escalate.

What to Include

Now that you understand how employee handbooks benefit your business, the next step is creating one. Here’s what you should include in yours:

  • Your mission: Stating your company’s priorities defines the desired culture and behavior you expect from employees.
  • Required notices: Include all notifications you are required (or highly recommended) to put in writing, such as equal opportunity employment (EEO) and anti-harassment, as well as those pertaining to your state, such as drug-free and/or non-smoking workplace.
  • Core policies: At a minimum, include policies on at-will employment, attendance, harassment and basic conduct. Include specific policies for your industry or specific rules you want to enforce.
  • Work information: Basic information on time and pay should be covered. Payroll schedules, normal working hours for full-time employees, rules for part-time employees and approval processes for overtime pay for covered employees, for example, are all appropriate policies.
  • Benefits: Explain rules related to employee benefits, such as paid time off or unpaid leave. Include details on your time-off request procedure, as well. For benefits run by outside providers (insurance plans, for example), list the provider and how the employee can get official plan documents.
  • Discipline: Outline the types of unacceptable conduct – violence, theft or repeated performance problems, for example – that can get employees in trouble, along with your company’s basic disciplinary process.

You Don’t Have to Fly Solo

This may sound like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. The web-based Company Policies Smart App provides recommended policies for businesses to implement based on federal and state laws. Each policy is attorney-approved and editable, so you can add specific details and make changes that pertain to your business. Just as important, you can view when employees have read and acknowledged your policies.

Key Takeaways
  • Employee handbooks provide a roadmap for success—for managers, employees and you.
  • Clearly stated policies help employees understand what you expect of them and what the consequences are should they break any or your stated rules.
  • Managers find comfort in knowing a system exists to help them hold employees accountable.
  • The right policies and procedures send a message to employees that you care about creating a safe work environment.
  • Including the basics helps you protect your business from future legal issues, should they arise.