Employee Handbooks 

In my experience, most if not all employers with 100 or more employees have an employee handbook which they distribute to all employees upon hire.    Of course, they also have an HR and/or communications department to manage the handbook content, add updates/revisions. I have had many small business (which I define as less than 100 employees) leaders tell me that having an employee handbook just invites issues with their employees, and is more of a pain than it is worth.   I agree with that take, assuming that those employers will not take the steps to ensure that the handbook is kept up to date and that it is not reviewed by a legal and/or HR professional.

I firmly believe that any business/organization with employees, whether for-profit or non-profit, can benefit from having an employee handbook.  This includes even a very small enterprise, such as a start-up; the handbook can be limited to key employment policies that are important to the day-to-day operations of that new enterprise, as well as those that relate to workplace regulatory compliance (i.e. non-discrimination, non-harassment, timekeeping, etc.).

A well written and up-to-date employee handbook can be a very useful tool for supervisors and a key component of the new hire orientation/onboarding program, as well as the internal communication plan.  Supervisors have to deal with the day-to-day issues that come up in employee relations, and it is best if they do not have to go to HR (or whoever handles that task, such as the operations manager or the chief executive/owner) for resolution of every question raised concerning policy. The employee handbook can serve as their HR operating manual.  It won’t answer all questions, but certainly can resolve the more standard issues, like what is the attendance policy? How many paid days off do employees get? When are paydays?

As new policies are issued, they can be added to the handbook on a periodic basis and issued as updates to all employees. This is a fairly simple process if the handbook is available to employees on the company intranet.

The pushback from some managers is that they want to retain their ability to manage the workforce, and they don’t need a handbook interfering with that. My response is that retention of management rights can be assured with the careful drafting of key policies, such as corrective action procedures/disciplinary steps. In my opinion, it is better to have the rules in writing than not, given that there is enough “flex” to allow management to manage.  If the rules are not in writing, at least as guidelines, it is more likely than not that this will lead to the inconsistent application which then leads to employee relations problems and lawsuits/charges/time wasters in dealing with external regulatory bodies.

In the next post, I’ll discuss some of the do’s and don’ts of handbook content and presentation.

Published by Dave Waldorf

Former Human Resource and legal professional specializing in HR compliance advisory services. Finding my new life in Arizona with my wife of 43 years and our two shelties.

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