Why do I need an Employee Handbook and how do I get one?

First, the “why.”

As every business owner knows, or should know, when you take on employees (as opposed to owners) your world changes quite a bit. All the sudden you have to worry about payroll, tax payments, withholding, etc. Additionally, you’re also now covered by a myriad of Federal and State laws that protect employees and their rights. Among your now applicable laws are such intimidating topics are the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with oversight by agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Plus all your state requirements and laws!


A lot of headache and potential risk can be avoided by a well written and up-to-date employee handbook. An employee handbook should contain your company’s policies and procedures on many of the topics that are covered by the various laws and regulations. An employee handbook creates a documented shared understanding of what is and what is not appropriate and expected behavior at the company. This places the onus, or at least some of it, back on the employee and takes away their argument of “I didn’t know.”


How do I get an Employee Handbook for my Company?

Well, there are several online companies that offer a “comprehensive employee handbook” for a small fee. While this may be an option for you and your company, I generally recommend against it.


You need to have an employee handbook that is geared toward your business and your specific needs. For example, if the handbook includes a “zero tolerance” for drinking on the job, but you’re a winery… well, the QA department may have some issues doing their job properly.


In terms of “getting” an employee handbook, you’ve got a few options:

  1. Buy a generic one online
  2. Write one yourself
  3. Have one written for you


The first option, as I’ve said, I don’t recommend it. The handbook should be set up for you and your company – which also makes it easier to follow, update, and rely on.


Next, you can write your own. Which is a great option to have something that is specific to your needs and your business. But, there are a lot of ways to run afoul of the law or the regulations or missed opportunities to protect yourself from potential litigation. Even if you write your own employee handbook, I’d strongly suggest at least having an attorney review your employee handbook before finalizing it.


Lastly, and probably the most expensive option, is to have one written and developed for you. The upside is that you’ll get something that covers the regulations, laws, and requirements. Also, you’ll get the benefit of others’ experience and best practices, whether legally related to just good business moves. Just be sure that, if you have it developed for you, the person or company doing the work for you has experience in employment law, small businesses, and/or human resources.


In any event, whether you’re writing it yourself or buying one, the following is a very good start for a list of topics/contents that should be included in any employee handbook:

  • Purpose
  • Definitions/Glossary
  • Policies
    • Employment at Will
    • Equal Employment Opportunity / Affirmative Action
    • Americans with Disabilities Act
    • Drug Free Workplace
    • Personnel Records
    • Anti-Harassment Policy
    • Anti-Impairment Policy
  • Employee Code of Conduct
  • Use of Computers / Social Media
    • Company Computers and Social Media
    • Personal Social Media and eMail on Company Time
  • Attendance / Leaves of Absence
  • Health and Safety
    • Safety Guidelines
    • Workplace Violence Prevention
    • Smoking
    • Security
  • Separation from Employment
    • Termination Process
  • Employee Acknowledgement


Conclusion and Words of Warning

Which brings us to the “word of warning” about employee handbooks. You should be sure that your employee handbook is up to date. That means reviewing it for changes and possible updates at least annually. Be sure to document any updates or changes that you provide to employees.


And – this is critical – be sure to follow whatever employee handbook you have. It’s almost worse to have a handbook that you don’t follow rather than to have no handbook at all. But, don’t get me wrong , you should REALLY have a employee handbook. If you have any questions about your current handbook or if you need assistance developing a handbook give my office a call or contact other legal counsel.

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