Help Me Write Employee Handbook
December 28, 2005 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I've been put in charge of writing my company's Employee Handbook. Help me.

I want to make sure that it includes all the things an Employee Handbook needs, without being overly long (I've been giving a template with which to work with that is 50 pages long, and includes everything under the sun, including lots of things not relevant to our company). I'm allowed to be creative. What sort of things does an Employee Handbook need and not need? I'm particularly interested in hearnig from people in HR- I want to make sure the book is helpful, but I also want it cover the company's ass.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Start-up related to financial services; just started hiring full-time. Some of our full-time employees telecommute, and the boss is very flexible about the when and wheres of doing your job as long as it gets done.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:57 AM on December 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm not in HR exactly but I do whatever they need me to do and right now it's fallen to me to retype the entire employee handbook and as a result I find myself quite well acquainted with it.

A large part of ours deals with legal stuff, like making clear what the laws and regulations are that define the employment relationship, what benefits people are entitled to and the non-discrimination statement, and that sort of thing. Additional sections deal with the criteria that personnel decisions are based upon- in our case, attitude, presentation, and teamwork- and when (during the introductory review period, and all eventual performance reviews, which guidelines are also set up). And also, it makes clear what the expections are for people with respect to their job description in that the job description itself doesn't encompass all the likely responsibilities.

Having read our whole employee handbook, I thought the most useful parts were the ones that established what their expectations are in terms of how they evaluate our performance and what responsibilites they expect us to assume- the company's policy on benefits, insurance, vacation days etc. would probably concern me more if tomorrow weren't my last day. In terms of covering the company's ass though, you definitely need to reiterate any and all laws that apply, such as sexual-harassment/discrimination, but also state the company's policy about stuff that might not be externally regulated, such as the right of employees to view their personnel file, or add to it, or make copies- I'm not sure but I'd imagine that varies from place to place.

On preview, it seems like the important thing then is establishing that what you expect from employees is getting the job done- I'm at a consulting firm and nobody does anything on their own, hence the emphasis on teamwork as being important to a good performance evaluation. It seems at your company, you would want to make sure they understand that flexibility as to the when's and where's is contingent upon the job getting done.

My favorite part of the handbook though, is "You are not permitted to drink alcohol during the workday, unless working in France".
posted by Oobidaius at 8:23 AM on December 28, 2005

This is more a legal suggestion than an HR related one, but in many states there is a trend of courts construing employee handbooks as creating employment contracts. You will want to make sure that your handbook does not do this.

When an employee is "at-will", they can be fired for any reason or no reason at at (subject to some exceptions like discrimination or public policy, which depend on both state and federal law). However, if your handbook states things like, "An employee that {does something you don't want them to do} will receive a written reprimand, then be put on probation, then receive a hearing, then be fired", it may be construed as creating a contract with the employee, guaranteeing them those protections. Then, years later, your company finds somebody stealing from them, fires them immediately, and is hit with a breach of contract suit.

This can be overcome through various means, and depends on the statutes/case law in your particular state, but usually involves a prominent disclaimer, at the front of the handbook, in bold and large type, stating something like:

This handbook is not intended to create an employment contract, express or implied, and in no way serves to modify the “at will” employment relationship between the employee and employer. Either party may choose to terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause or notice.

This can be combined with not using promissory language, such as that contained in my example above.

However, the law regarding employee handbooks creating employment contracts varies greatly from state to state, and you should consult an attorney licensed in your state for more information.

Helpful guides discussing the legal aspects of writing employee handbooks can be found here and I would strongly recommend CREATING AN EFFECTIVE EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK (Excerpted from "Small Business Success" magazine, Volume X, produced by Pacific Bell Directory in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the
Partners for Small Business Excellence).
posted by ND¢ at 8:36 AM on December 28, 2005

I think it should have one global calendar of all the dates they need to know about. When they need to enroll for the flexible spending program. When their self-review is due. When the stock trading windows are. When 401k enrollment happens. All of it, all in one place. The HR at my company is very "self-service" (at least it feels that way to me) and I'm always feeling like I'm going to miss something. The HR folks are constantly spamming us with multiple reminder emails for every damn thing, and like all constant incoming spam, I eventually tune it out and miss one. A global calendar of all holidays, deadlines, etc would be great.
posted by scarabic at 8:39 AM on December 28, 2005

If you're including benefit information, keep it very brief and wherever possible tell people to refer to a more specific document. If you have a medical plan, for example, keep the information really simple, both so that you don't have to update it frequently, and so there won't be discrepencies between the actual plan document and your handbook. I've always included a note at the bottom of every handbook draft or memo saying something like, "This handbook is a brief summary. Please consult plan information for details. ABC Company reserves the right to modify this benefit structure, and to amend or terminate any policy or benefit plan at any time."

Also, now's a good time to clarify that vacation policy wording that you were confused about before!
posted by MarkAnd at 8:40 AM on December 28, 2005

I'm confused. This "employee handbook" -- is this the document that lays out the HR agreement and legal policies (harassment, non-competition, etc)? Or is this a "Welcome to VanDeLay Industries! The water cooler is on the South Corridor, please do not leave anything in the fridge..." type of manual?

Because if you have to concern yourself with revising the policy information, it's a much bigger project than a simple orientation packet. And if it does talk about policy, you'll want to have it vetted by your company's lawyer. If you don't have a lawyer on retainer, check with your payroll company. Companies like Paychex often provide this service.
posted by Miko at 8:44 AM on December 28, 2005

if your workplace is really cool, you could get Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace and use the "semco survival manual" from the appendix.
posted by jimw at 9:03 AM on December 28, 2005

Every employee handbook must be thoroughly reviewed / edited by an employment law labor, ideally one with many clients in your particular industry. It would be the height of folly not to obtain this counsel.

An employee manual should also be reviewed by a regulatory lawyer who specializes in the general (not just employment) regulations for your industry. The magnitude of this review will vary depending upon how closely your particular company will be regulated.

You should also be aware that in the financial services industry it is customary (or required, depending upon the exact services you'll be performing) for there to be an entirely separate and additional manual of procedures for supervisors.
posted by MattD at 10:48 AM on December 28, 2005

Everywhere I've worked, the employee handbook has been a fat document full of incomprehensible legalese and everybody just stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it. The reason is obviously that "Every employee handbook must be thoroughly reviewed/edited by an employment law labor [and] should also be reviewed by a regulatory lawyer" (to quote MattD), and I suppose there's nothing to be done about it, but you might consider putting some genuinely useful stuff up front where it can be easily found, making the thing of some use to someone besides ass-covering lawyers.
posted by languagehat at 11:13 AM on December 28, 2005

Hunt down examples of other companies' employee handbooks and see what's dumb and what looks great, and imitate (rather than copy ;-P).

I've begun writing an introductory guide to someone who would be trained at my job, just out of boredom, and have so far assembled (1) "the nature of the job" using generalities and similarities to common situations to convey a basic impression of what the job requires and the motivations of doing so, (2) more specific job-related duties sans specific training details, bulleted into sections performed in order, then explaining each bullet with terms commonly used and actions normally taken for each situation, and (3) a section on basic ettiquette, style points, and cow-orker relations.

I'm sure a fully fleshed-out employee handbook would require all of the insurance/401k/W2/etc technicalities also, like company policy on dress codes, etc.
posted by vanoakenfold at 11:26 AM on December 28, 2005

About a decade ago, Whistler-Blackcomb (a major alpine resort just north of Vancouver) had one of the most kick-ass employee handbooks I've ever seen. I suggest contacting them, seeing if they would supply a copy.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:33 AM on December 28, 2005

If the employee handbook is more of the guideline sort, you could interview new colleagues what information they were missing and include that.
posted by m.openmind at 11:36 AM on December 28, 2005

Whatever you do, make it aesthetically pleasing. Choose a good font and lay it out with care.
posted by The White Hat at 2:16 PM on December 28, 2005

Oh goody, I did this back in May. Make sure it includes the following:

* Statement of at-will employment

* We follow the law and are an equal opportunity workplace

* Harassment will not be tolerated

* Everyone is expected to act in a professional manner with appropriate attire while representing the company (My office rules specifically say no open-toed shoes; too much risk of something falling on them)

* Who/what department to contact if there is harassment or any kind of problem in the workplace

* Policies regarding paid holidays, sick leave, vacation, advance notice of absence

* Computer usage policies including something about not installing any unauthorized software and taking care to not accidentally install viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, or other malware.

* No use of alcohol or illegal drugs during work hours or on company property

* Confidentially as it applies to your industry

* Special statements peculiar to your industry (for example, a Doctor's office should have a section on HIPAA and AIDS and universal precautions)

Frankly if you have a template, use it. Somebody thought of all this stuff for you. If a section is completely inapplicable, delete it. If something mentioned here is missing, add it.
posted by ilsa at 4:02 PM on December 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

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