What To Consider Before You Begin To Prepare An Employee Handbook

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July 20, 2018

A. Introduction - The Distinction between an Employee Handbook and a Procedure Manual

This presentation focuses on the drafting of an “Employee Handbook,” or “Employee Manual.” An Employee Handbook generally covers the policies and expectations of the employer, as they relate to the employment relationship. It is a document that introduces employees to the organization and familiarizes them with the guidelines and benefits that affect the employment relationship.

In contrast, a “Procedure Manual” is a detailed description of the day-to-day procedures performed in the office. It may cover the employer’s policies and procedures in great detail, with the purpose of acquainting employees and managers with the knowledge to help them carry out day-to-day responsibilities. The purpose of a “Procedure Manual” is to simplify, explain, interpret, and define institutional positions.

A “Procedure Manual” should be kept separately from the “Employee Handbook,” mainly for ease of administration. As a discussion of drafting a Procedure Manual is outside the scope of this seminar, it may suffice to say that an employer when drafting such a Procedure Manual should perform the following basic steps: (1) select a project coordinator; (2) establish a policy committee; (3) determine topics to be covered; (4) gather information; and (5) draft, review, and obtain approval. Essentially, you want to write a detailed set of descriptions of frequently performed tasks with step-by-step instructions which can be followed by someone not familiar with the task. However, it may be desirable - from time to time - to include actual, verbatim language of the Employee Handbook in a Procedure Manual, followed or preceded by additional explanation intended for the policy or procedural statement only. This approach has the benefit of ensuring that the employer is consistent in its statements. It is also more efficient for supervisors and managers, who need not be inconvenienced by referring to two different documents whenever an issue comes up. Even if the style of the Procedure Manual is more technical and sophisticated than the Employee Handbook, the pertinent language from the Employee Handbook can be excerpted and quoted in the Procedure Manual.

With that said, it is not always necessary for every employer to have an Employee Handbook. Whether an employer should develop a handbook may depend on factors such as the size of the company, the type of the company, and whether the employees are unionized. The following are a list of advantages and disadvantages:

B. Advantages
Perhaps the most important reason to create an Employee Handbook is to document the employer’s expectations. Most employees want to be successful. They are eager to know what is expected of them and how they can improve. Most employees will follow the rules if told what they are, so an Employee Handbook is a good place to explain the employer’s rules.

Another important reason to create an Employee Handbook is to assist the employer to improve its leadership over the workforce; first by thinking through which policies are useful and practical in their specific objection. Then, after concrete policies are established, employers can better manage employees because objectives for each position have been established and personnel policies are in place before issues arise. This allows for fair and consistent treatment between all employees. The following are additional reasons to create an Employee Handbook:

1. Explain Company History / Philosophy: Most employees are proud of their workplace and want to know more about the Company and its history.
2. Open Lines of Communication: Employee Handbooks can lead to greater employee satisfaction by opening lines of communication. An Employee Handbook may also assist the Company in fixing problems in the workplace, by obtaining valuable upward feedback from its employees.
3. Communicate Important Policies: An Employee Handbook helps to communicate important company policies and procedures about issues such as harassment, discrimination, and payroll practices. In today’s litigious environment, an Employee Handbook can help prove that you explained the rules to the employees.
4. Address Common Employee Questions: An Employee Handbook saves management time, because it can answer common employee questions.
5. Inform Employee’s of Duty of Confidentiality: An Employee Handbook helps to protect confidential Company information, by clearly informing employees of their duty to safeguard such information.
6. Consistency: An Employee Handbook sends a message that everyone is to be treated fairly and consistently.
7. Expectation of Privacy: By establishing that an employee has no expectation of privacy in internet or e-mail use, the handbook may avoid an argument that monitoring the employee’s use of the internet/e-mail constituted an invasion of privacy.
8. Employee Acknowledgment of Rules and Policies: An Employee Handbook should be accompanied by an acknowledgment of receipt to be signed by the employee and kept in that employee’s personnel file. By so doing, evidence exists that the employee received written notice of the employer’s policies and procedures.

C. Disadvantages
Employee Handbooks have many advantages, but they also carry certain risks. The increase in employment-related litigation has resulted in employees alleging that their Employee Handbook has served as the basis of an employment contract. Moreover, employers who have an employment handbook and who do not follow their own rules face potential liability. Thus, an Employee Handbook may be evidence of discrimination if the policies contained therein are not uniformly applied.

Other disadvantages generally stem from the process or the final product itself. For instance, some employers complain that they cannot get their employees interested in reading the Employee Handbook, and have encountered difficulty in preparing the Employee Handbook itself. Most of these complaints stem from a lack of initial preparation to determine what the handbook should accomplish, or having a lack of organization in determining what contents to cover.

Employers also may be wary that Employee Handbooks, with specific statements that the employment relationship remains “at-will,” may cause a loss of employee morale. This fear may lead to a corresponding fear that an Employee Handbook may provide the union with ammunition during an election. For instance, a union may point to autocratic-sounding language in the Employee Handbook, and point out to employees that unions are typically successful in obtaining a “just cause” standard, to govern the employment relationship.

Another potential problem is keeping the Employee Handbook current and up-to date. However, if an employer utilizes a “loose-leaf” approach, in which a revised page or two can be inserted in lieu of current text, the need to reprint and reissue reams of paper maybe greatly reduced.

D. Basic Guidelines for Drafting an Employee Handbook
The purpose of a handbook is to communicate. Good communication requires clarity and precision, two qualities that are difficult to achieve at the same time. Moreover, the objective of communicating will be limited by the desire not to harm employee morale. The tone of the handbook should be positive. Many Employee Handbooks begin with a friendly letter from the company president in which a general mission statement or long-term goals of the business are outlined.

1. Basic Objectives -

Initially, an employer should determine what objectives it seeks to accomplish. The following is a list of objectives employers often hope to accomplish: Reach Understanding Between Employer and Employee
_ Accurately Communicate The Company Philosophy
_ Give the New Employee A Feeling of Belonging
_ Improve Not Only Employee Relations But Community Relations (based on the theory that the Employee Handbook may be passed around the community, there is the additional objective of getting members of the community to understand the company’s philosophy).
_ Keep Management Aware Of Its Responsibilities

Employers who follow these general objectives ordinarily find tremendous value in maintaining an Employee Handbook.

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