Like most decisions in running a business design, there’s no “one size fits all” or “quick fix” when it comes to writing employee handbooks. While employee handbooks are not a requirement for all business, they can be an important preventative measure against legal violations and ensuing suits. What goes into an employee handbook largely depends on the type and size of business in question, but there’s some common language, based on state and federal law, that should be in every one. Boiled down to their most basic components, employment handbooks should perform four functions: describe the expectations of employers, list the responsibilities of the employers, ensure legal compliance with applicable regulations, and provide employees with information detailing their rights. When the entire business “team” knows what’s expected of them and what’s to be provided by the company, uncertainty – and the threat of problems – goes down.
An important area of law that must be addressed is discrimination and sexual and other forms of harassment. Businesses should provide, in clear language, a formal process for reporting – and addressing – instances of discrimination and harassment. To show that a business takes this seriously, there should be anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for managers and supervisors. The clearer the process is, the more likely it is to be followed.
Another equally important area is leave policies. Employees should know exactly how many days off are allotted for holidays, sick, and emergency leave and when negative action can be taken by supervisors. Other issues that should be included are electronic communications policies (which can include social media and company email policies), work schedules, and overtime policies.
Employee handbooks don’t have to be all-encompassing-and it’s advisable that they don’t touch upon certain topics. For example, lists of employee behavior that could lead to the termination of employment could hurt a business if the employee believes that the list is limited to the misconduct on it. Also, all handbooks should contain a disclaimer stating employees are “at will,” which expands the reasons for termination. While handbooks should be a detailed collection of business policies and procedures, employees shouldn’t be swamped with redundant or unnecessary information. It may be a good idea at the end of the drafting stage to streamline what’s written-if employers and employees can’t find what they’re looking for, or understand what’s written, it’s as if the information isn’t there at all. Loree Varella, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 collaborated with me on this blog. She is Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and Managing Research Editor of that publication.