By the Book: The Whys and Hows of Employee Handbooks

By Travers, Ronni M. | Government Finance Review, December 2003 | Go to article overview

By the Book: The Whys and Hows of Employee Handbooks


Travers, Ronni M., Government Finance Review


An employee handbook is a valuable communications tool that sets forth an organization's personnel policies, procedures, practices, and benefits. Written policies and procedures help reduce employee misunderstandings about what is expected of them. They also promote the consistent application of policies from department to department. An employee handbook is an excellent tool for orienting new employees, and it is a useful resource for long standing employees who inevitably have questions or need additional information about organizational policies.

Public financial managers are finding that personnel matters are consuming more and more of their time. These managers can save time and frustration by familiarizing themselves with their employee handbooks. Where such handbooks do not exist, finance officers can take the lead in encouraging their development. This article identifies the types of information that should be included in an employee handbook, so as to help those jurisdictions that are in the process of either developing a new handbook or improving an existing one.

STATEMENTS AND DISCLAIMERS

Employee handbooks are important not only for what they say, but also for what they don't say. Because a poorly written employee handbook can create liability for an employer, the following statements and disclaimers should be included in any handbook:

1. The employee handbook does not create a contract, express or implied. In the absence of such language, several court decisions have found the wording in an employer's handbook to be a binding employment contract.

2. The organization reserves the right to revise or rescind any policy at any time. As the organization grows, new government regulations are enacted, and department policies are revised, the organization needs the flexibility to update its policies.

3. The organization reserves the right to interpret the information presented. No matter how concisely policies are written, it is inevitable that employees will misinterpret them from time to time. The organization should therefore clearly indicate that it has the right to make the final decision as to the interpretation and intent of all information presented in the employee handbook.

4. If the organization has union employees, there should be a statement indicating that where information presented in the employee handbook conflicts with an expressed or explicit provision of the collective bargaining agreement, the collective bargaining agreement is controlling.

FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL REGULATIONS

All employee handbooks should address applicable federal, state, and local laws pertaining to employment-related matters. Federal and state laws that should be addressed include the following:

Equal Employment Opportunity laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The employee handbook should send a strong message that the organization does not discriminate against applicants and employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or any other protected class.

Sexual harassment. Because of several recent Supreme Court rulings on sexual harassment, it is more important than ever that employers have a comprehensive policy addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. The policy should define and provide examples of the two types of sexual harassment and specify the procedures for filing a complaint. It should state in no uncertain terms that all complaints will be thoroughly investigated and that those found to be in violation will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action. The policy should also assure employees that they will not be retaliated against for filing a complaint.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). All public agencies-regardless of size--are covered by the FMLA. The employee handbook is a great tool for distributing and communicating this policy to all employees. …

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