Creating an employee handbook for the first time can be a daunting and tedious task. Just the thought of writing an innumerable number of words to explain everything about your trade and your specific business is, without a doubt, tiring. Compared to start-up and small-scale companies, established corporations almost always have handbooks readily printed to be given to welcome new employees upon hiring.
But just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you will never need an employee handbook. The employee handbook is essential to every business, regardless of size and industry. It serves as a guide for proper business operations and acts as a tool to safeguard your company, employees, and customers from various risks and liabilities.
Why should you have an employee handbook?
The employee handbook is a compilation of company policies, protocols, core values, rules and regulations, employment laws, code of conduct, and much more. Furthermore, it facilitates easy communication between you and your employees, so they know what’s expected from them and from you as the business owner.
The best employee handbook should protect your small business from legal liabilities that could arise from day-to-day operations. Although it will never provide the same level of protection obtained from insurance policies such as Employment Practices Liability Insurance, Errors & Omissions, and Directors & Officers policies, having one on hand is useful enough when faced with challenging situations.
- It demonstrates proper compliance with state and federal laws.
- It makes sure that same rules apply to all, allowing easy business management.
- It provides a clear understanding of the company culture, mission, and values.
Tips to make your employee handbook more interesting
No one wants to read a boring, dry, and stiff handbook that is mostly written in a concise and uninteresting manner. Most business owners tend to forget the importance of setting the tone and attitude, but rather focus more on what should be included in an employee handbook. While content is important, the person reading it should hopefully see it as something important and enjoyable.
Starting from your mission statement, set the tone in an upbeat and entertaining manner without losing the handbook’s valued professionalism. Keep in mind that this is the first document your employees will receive and you want to make sure that they read the handbook.
- Feed their curiosity by using creative names for your handbook.
- Don’t use generic content but personalize it based on your business.
- Promote your perks along with unique company benefits.
- Make it presentable: use colors, graphics, ribbons, or gift cards to make it attractive.
Elements of an employee handbook
Just as the products and services of small businesses are diverse, every employee handbook is different. Although there are tons of outlined examples out there, you may even have one from your previous job, you can’t simply print this off and distribute it to your employees. The best employee handbooks define the company’s uniqueness, and it should reflect the spirit of the business in a distinctive and exclusive manner.
It is a given fact that most employee handbooks are all crafted the same. The topics and information convey similar content, but you’ll need to review and adjust each section to match the specifics of your business. So what should be included in an employee handbook? Check out these essential elements below:
- Mission and company values – the beginning of your handbook should clearly state your company values, mission, goals, and objectives in a concise and descriptive manner.
- Employment information – this section talks about hiring policies, payment concerns, work hours, overtime pay, shift breaks, sick leave policies, safety procedures, performance review, terms of resignation, and termination protocols.
- Labor law – this discusses anti-discrimination, sexual harassment, federal law, state law, and other local laws relevant to your trade. Worker’s compensation and employment equality are likewise included.
- Code of conduct – areas of concern include dress code, alcohol, and drug policy, ethical principles, the use of personal gadgets, social media usage, gifts policy, conflict resolution, and data privacy.
- Employment benefits – in this part, lay out your employee perks such as health plans, vacation and paid leave, retirement programs, insurance coverage, continuous education, and other soft benefits like flexible shifts, free lunches, access to the pantry etc.
- Confidentiality agreement – if your business deals with sensitive information, you might want to include topics about non-disclosure agreements and conflict of interest concerns.
- Disciplinary actions – policies and procedures are made to be followed. Describe sanctions in full detail and make clear employees’ accountability for their actions and behaviors.
- Disclaimer – to protect you from legal responsibilities, include a disclaimer that your employee handbook is not a contract, and thus can’t be used in legal cases if policies are not upheld.
Review your handbook with an attorney
Most businesses skip this step, thinking of it as an added cost rather than a form of protection. But the truth of the matter is that having an attorney or your trusted law firm review your employee handbook ensures that all state and federal laws are correctly followed. Additionally, it gives you the following advantages:
- Makes sure that the correct language is used clearly and that the purpose of the handbook is understood (e.g. that the handbook is not a contract).
- Fixes confusing or conflicting legal terms, policies, issues, and conditions.
- Avoids surprises and business obligations by evaluating perks and benefits.
Review your handbook annually
The best employee handbook should be updated annually. Laws and regulations are ever-changing, and you may need to update it with any situations that have come up during the past year. If a new ruling now restricts you from carrying out practices that were allowed last year, the change should be reflected in the handbook.
- Acknowledge updates and remove irrelevant parts along with unclear sections.
- Revisit your procedures and policies every year and note any changes.
- The moment you update your handbook, make sure to redistribute a copy to every employee.