Good managers are good communicators. They set clear expectations and provide consistent directions to employees. And a good employee handbook is an essential tool for them.
The company employee handbook is one of the most important communication tools between your company and your employees. Not only does it set out expectations for employees, but it also describes what they can expect from the company. It is essential that your company has one and that it be as clear and unambiguous as possible. Make certain that it is written in clear, simple language.
The company employee handbook and related personnel policies are usually the first formal communication that you will have with an employee after they join your team. Make sure the first impression is a good one. Similarly, in the event of a dispute or poor performance review, this will be the first place that the employee turns.
The most effective employee handbooks cover these topics:
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Conflict of Interest Statements
Although NDAs are not legal requirements, having employees sign NDAs and conflict of interest statements helps to protect your trade secrets and company proprietary information.
As an employer, you must comply with the equal employment opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Your employee handbook should include a section about these laws that states that employees are expected to comply with them.
Clearly explain to your employees that your company will make necessary deductions for federal and state taxes as well as voluntary deductions for the company’s benefits programs. In addition, you should include your company’s legal obligations regarding overtime pay, and information on pay schedules, performance reviews and salary increases, time keeping, breaks and bonus compensation.
Describe your company’s policy regarding work hours and schedules, including attendance, punctuality, and reporting absences. Also include your company’s policy for flexible schedules and telecommuting.
Standards of Conduct
Make sure you have thought out your expectations of how you want employees to conduct themselves in your workplace, including dress codes and inappropriate behavior. In addition, it’s important to remind your employees of their legal obligations, especially if your business is engaged in a regulated activity (for example, your company’s legal obligations to protect customer data or to avoid insider-trading activity).
General Employment Information
Your employee handbook should include an a overview of your business and general employment policies covering employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and union information, if applicable.
Safety and Security
This section should describe your company’s policy for creating a safe and secure workplace, including compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws that require employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions and health and safety related issues to management.
Safety policies should also include your company’s policy regarding bad weather and hazardous community conditions.
Finally, your security policy should include your commitment to creating a secure work environment, and your employee’s responsibility for abiding by all physical and information security policies, such as locking file cabinets or computers when they aren’t in use.
Computers and Technology
Computers and communication technology are essential tools for conducting business. However employee misuse can have serious consequences for your company. Your employee handbook should include policies for appropriate computer and software use, and steps employees should take to secure electronic information, especially any personal identifiable information you collect from your customers. While not required, it is recommended that you develop policies on the use of social media in your workplace.
It’s a good business practice to have a single point of contact for all media inquiries, such as yourself or a public relations professional. You don't want your employees to bring unwanted attention to your company by speaking about your business in ways that could easily be misrepresented in the media. Your employee handbook should include a section that discusses how you employees should handle calls from reporters or other media inquiries.
Your company’s handbook should detail all benefit programs and eligibility requirements, including all benefits that may be required by law such as disability insurance, worker’s compensation, and COBRA.
The employee benefits section should also detail your plans for health insurance options, retirement, employee assistance, tuition reimbursement, business travel, and any other fringe benefits your business provides to attract and retain employees.
Your company’s leave policies should be carefully documented, especially those that you are required to provide by law. Family medical leave, jury duty, military leave, and time off for court cases and voting should all be documented to comply with state and local laws. In addition, you should explain your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement, and sick leave.
Consultants at our Small Business Assistance Office can help you understand more about managing employees. And our network of Small Business Development Centers has experts located in nine main regional offices and several satellite centers statewide.
Our publications A Guide to Starting a Business in Minnesota and An Employer's Guide to Employment Law Issues in Minnesota provide a deeper look at this and other issues.