“Why haven’t you gotten around to creating an employee handbook?” Employers who encounter this question generally have two excuses:
What an Employee Handbook Is and Is Not
“It doesn’t have to be that hard and the payoff is huge,” said Kara Govro, JD, SPHR of Compli’s HR Support Center. Kara told us one of the key reasons to spend some time on your handbook upfront is to get new employees excited about the organization and aligned with its mission.
- It’s not a legal requirement.
- It’s a lot of work.
Technically, they’re right: no law mandates that a business have an employee handbook, and there’s a lot of time and energy that goes into putting the whole thing together in a way that authentically reflects an organization’s values and workforce—and is compliant with state and federal regulations.
But these justifications ultimately prove myopic. A handbook may not be required by law, but it may as well be: it’s how employees typically receive notice of their legal rights, it helps an organization stay out of legal trouble, and it serves important purposes during any investigation or legal dispute. And a handbook might take effort to create—it is a book, after all—but it’ll save an employer incalculable time and money in the long run.
But according to Kara, “the employee handbook’s main function is to communicate our expectations. It tells employees what our policies are, what the procedures around those policies are, [and] what we want from them as well as what they can expect from us in many cases.” An employee handbook should detail every employee’s and manager’s responsibilities and level of authority. Essentially, it functions as a day-to-day guide for an organization’s operational decision-making.
Next, Kara said, the handbook needs to cover federal and state laws:
“That’s incredibly important. An employee handbook is not required by any law; however, a lot of laws do have some kind of posting requirement that you put employees on notice that a certain right is available to them. We can actually cover a lot of that with our employee handbook.”
Operational and legal information are critical on their own, but the real power of an employee handbook results from the combination of the two.
“Our should tell employees where to turn for help. Maybe it’s small help, like they need to know how to do something just so—if they have questions about their timesheet, who should they talk to? That will be included. But it might be bigger picture help: There’s been a harassment complaint—what steps should they follow? Or they’d like to file a harassment complaint, for instance.”
Kara also told us what a handbook does not do:
“You don’t want your handbook to operate as an operations manual. We occasionally see a handbook that’s 120 pages long, and it’s that long because it includes a lot of really specific stuff about how the office runs—like when something should be shredded, how the floor should be mopped, really specific things like that. We prefer to have those in a separate document. It’s not the end of the world if you want to have those things all in one place and call that your ‘employee handbook,’ but we think it’s a good idea to have the employee handbook, which covers the employment relationship; and then a separate ops manual. We think that’s just easier for employees to use if nothing else.”
She also cautioned our audience against inadvertently using the handbook to create an employment contract. Nothing in your handbook should guarantee employment, so keep an eye out for vague promises like, to use Kara’s example, “If you’re loyal to us, we’ll be loyal to you.” Do not treat your handbook like a binding contract.
Next: What You Need to Include in Your Employee Handbook
Now that you know what a handbook is and isn’t, and why you need one, the next question is naturally: “What should I include?”
That, my friend, is a story for another blog post. Check back here next week! Or, if you can’t wait until then, download our Employee Handbook Checklist.