How Important Is Your Employee Handbook, Really?
If you’re a supervisor or HR professional, you probably treat your company’s employee handbook as a sacred text. (And if you don’t you should.) While you won’t find answers to life’s deepest mysteries in an employee handbook, you will find answers to many of the questions your employees most frequently ask of you: “What do I need to do if I need to call in sick?” “What exactly do you mean by ‘office-appropriate’ attire?” “How many vacation days do I get each year?”
For most employees, however, their employee handbook is just another stack of paperwork that they’re handed on their first day of employment. They may skim through it a few times that first week, but are unlikely to even think about the handbook until they are found to have violated one of the policies it contains.
So why do companies even bother to put together handbooks that employees may or may not bother to read? Because the policies contained in an employee handbook act as a company’s first line of defense against lawsuits or liability claims. In short, employee handbooks can protect employers and their employees.
How handbooks protect employers
A company’s employee handbook provides its workforce with a step-by-step guide to success. The handbook establishes a code of conduct for employees to follow, and provides a framework for supervisors to follow when addressing any instances of misconduct.
While a company’s policies are by no means a guarantee that a regulatory agency will never file suit against the company or that a disgruntled former employee will never file a wrongful termination claim, they do provide a layer of protection in the event that something does happen. When implemented and enforced effectively and consistently, the corporate policies contained in a company’s employee handbook help demonstrate that a company is operating ethically and proactively for the benefit and safety of its employees, its shareholders, and the public.
How handbooks protect employees
For employees, company policies provide a blueprint that outlines the boundaries of acceptable behavior. By clearly defining expectations for employee conduct, the employee handbook can offer the fallback an employee might need if a customer, coworker or vendor pressures them to push the envelope. Few would argue with an employee who says, “I wish I could to do that for you, but if I go against the company’s policy I could lose my job.”
Employee handbook best practices
Handbooks make company policies easily accessible to employees, and allow companies to consistently apply and enforce those policies. Below are some tips to keep in mind when creating your employee handbook:
- Keep the language simple. Don’t use a bunch of technical terms in your company policies. Instead, try to use simple, plain language that would be easily understood by your workforce. If a large percentage of your workforce speaks another language, consider having your employee handbook available in two languages.
- Make sure your employees understand what the handbook is and isn’t. While your employee handbook may include information about policies required by law, it should not be presented as a legally binding document or contract. To avoid confusion, consider including a disclaimer section at the beginning of the handbook stating that it is not an employment contract. Speaking of disclaimers, you might also want to include a section stating that the policies included in the handbook take precedence over any previous policies, in case any employees still happen to have policies from five years ago lying around their office.
- Update your handbook regularly. The only constant in life is change, so make sure your employees understand that handbook should be considered a “living” document, and that the policies it contains are subject to change at any time. If you do find yourself making changes to company policies, be sure to notify your employees of the changes and make updated copies of the policy available to everyone either on paper, via email or on the company intranet. Download our free Employee Handbook Checklist to see if anything is missing.
Even if your employees don’t treat their employee handbook with the reverence that it may deserve, the protection that it provides both your company and its employees are vital to ensuring the longevity of your business. But the process of creating an employee handbook can be overwhelming. That’s why G&A Partners has a team of HR professionals available to assist our clients with employee handbooks, compliance issues, recruitment strategies, safety manuals and more.
Learn how G&A Partners can help you protect your business and employees through HR labor law and compliance services. Contact us by phone at 866-634-6713 to speak with an expert or schedule a free business consultation.