26th Oct 2015

There is a great deal of conflicting information out there on whether it’s a good idea or bad idea to have an employee handbook on hand. Although it’s tempting to push the decision aside and focus on more pressing matters, especially when you have five or less employees, there is no question that having a well-crafted and attorney approved handbook can limit a small- to medium-sized business’s (SMB’s) exposure to many complicated issues on all fronts. Having said that, understanding the laws around compliance and execution of the handbook is very important, as Walmart discovered in a $180 million class-action lawsuit. While this example illustrates a “big fish” verdict, smaller employers are just as much at risk for lawsuits.

More Reasons Why

Once a decision, always a decision.  An organization’s managers need to adopt this mantra. For example, if a certain employee is offered paid time off or is paid for jury duty, company leaders must be prepared to follow through with this action for every other employee in the future. Employee handbooks help clarify expectations and provides both managers and employees a place to find answers to common questions.

Who is keeping track of all this?  Most SMB owners are flying at 30,000 feet. As a result, the ins and outs of daily operations may not always be on their radar. Who remembers if they paid people to take the day off after Thanksgiving last year?  How many days did we give Sally when her mother passed away?  Trying to remember all of the “one-offs” can become time consumptive and can leave situations open to interpretation which can lead to confusion, frustration and potential litigation.

Peeking around corners is a good thing.  It is always a good idea, when given the opportunity, to research employee handbooks from other companies. It will be an eye-opening experience that will provide a glimpse at a wide range of topics that might be worth consideration for your own organization.

Where To Begin

Start with your culture.  Your handbook should reflect an organization’s values and culture. While crafting the handbook, leaders should dig deep to understand the culture of their organization and then transfer those values to the handbook.

Partner with professionals.  While it might be tempting to utilize the multitude of handbook templates offered online, it is always best to work with an HR professional who can identify information, assemble it in an organized manner, and finalize the handbook with your guidance. A final step should always be to have a local labor attorney review the handbook to ensure it is in compliance with the law.

Keep the content general and include a disclaimer.  A handbook’s content should be relevant and general in nature. Some policies should not be detailed in a handbook, especially those that pertain to only certain groups of employees, are state specific, or are very fluid like health care. A disclaimer should always be included, so as not to imply a contract.

Having a well thought out and carefully crafted employee handbook will save an organization time, money and help clarify a company’s culture to both new and seasoned employees.

Robyn Porter - Web Size Color

Robyn Porter – Director, HR