Best Practices for Employee Handbooks
Zimlich, Rachael, Medical Economics
Outline the practice's policies and legal obligations first, experts say
While employee hand- books serve a very important role, keep them simple and to- the-point, and outline the practices most salient expecta- tions and legal obligations when creat- ing them, experts say.
"Some people treat a handbook like The Grapes of Wrath. It shouldn't be a novel," says labor relations attorney Kristin Erenburg, JD, of Walter Haver- field in Cleveland, Ohio. '? handbook should state the policies that apply to the employees, and that's it It's sur- prising how few things are actually required."
A handbook should offer an over- view of an employer's expectations and legal obligations, an employees' rights, and it also should describe what an employee can expect from his or her employment with the company. The more detail included, she says, the more changes and addendums will be required as benefits change. And if an employer does not make those updates, Erenburg says, the practice leadership can get into trouble by not following the practice's own policies.
She also recommends keeping "le- galese" out of a handbook
WHAT TO INCLUDE
So what should an employee hand- book contain? Lori Christenson, PHR, human resources coordinator for Clay- ton L. Scroggins Associates, a manage- ment consulting agency for doctors, says she generally suggests including:
* a general disdaimer;
* a statement ofthe business'goals and missions;
* appropriate employee definitions;
* a description ofthe company workweek;
* sexual harassment, disability, and medical leave policies;
* a statement of employee benefits; and
* an outline ofthe company's discipline policies.
Erenburg's recommended hand- book checklist includes:
* an at-will statement explaining the nature ofthe employment relationship and how it could be changed,
* a statement that the handbook is general guidance and that it can be changed at the discretion ofthe employer and without prior written notice, and
* statements about equal employment and non-discrimination policies.
Erenburg adds that employers also should include information about
* family medical, jury duty, and military leave; and
* vacation, holiday, bereavement, sick leave, or other paid time-off policies.
Other crucial inclusions for a hand- book, she says:
* workplace conduct standards, including policies on workplace violence, anti-harassment, and dress codes;
* employment classifications;
* employee benefits;
* payment schedulesand information
on timesheets or timekeeping requirements;
* work hours;
* reporting late or leaving early;
* policies on information security and personal safety;
* guidelines on the appropriate use of technology; and
* standards for employee breaks.
WHAT TO EXCLUDE
Omit verbiage related to salaries or payment rates, because this kind of information could be misconstrued as a contract and could cancel out any at-will disclaimers, Erenburg says.
Employers should remember that in litigation, any statements made in a handbook-even ones made with the best intentions-could come back to haunt them, Erenburg says.
"You really want to keep things short and sweet in a handbook," she says.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Although guidelines are helpful, Erenburg advises that employers consult an attorney who specializes in staying up-to-date on labor laws before drafting a handbook. Admitting that this advice sounds self-serving, she says that this step is critical because handbooks are not a "one-size-fits-all" product.
Local governments and states also may have laws that apply to handbooks, so check with them as well before starting the process, she adds.
Once it is created, a handbook should be distributed to employees at the time of hire, Erenburg says, and the employer should have each employee sign a paper document acknowledging receipt. …