Are you and your employees on the same page when it comes to company policies?
Can you help your employees easily access information about things like benefits or performance evaluations?
Do you have documentation that ensures your team knows their rights and responsibilities at work (while protecting you in the event that you’re sued by an employee)?
If you have an employee handbook, the answer to all of these questions is “yes.”
What is an employee handbook?
An employee handbook is the written documentation of how your business operates. Think of it as your employee playbook. It includes important information ranging from company culture to required legal policies and more. With this handbook, your employees can understand the ins and outs of how your company works – along with what’s expected of them and what they’re entitled to as members of your team.
It’s a critical document for any small business. So if you don’t have an employee handbook, or if yours is woefully out of date, make a commitment to produce one ASAP.
How to create your employee handbook
Now that you know why you need an employee handbook, your next step is to determine how you’re going to create it – and what you should include.
The Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) recommends nine steps you should take to develop an employee handbook of your own. But don’t create your handbook in a vacuum. Always include your human resources department (if you have one) and seek advice specific to your business from your legal counsel. Your employee handbook is a vital document for your business, so it’s important to be thorough.
If you don’t think you have the right resources in place, Whitbeck Insurance customers can always ask Whitbeck Insurance Agency to put you in touch with our Risk Control Services team, who can help point you in the right direction.
Step 1: Take an inventory of your current company policies.
Company policies – those sets of guidelines or rules that determine particular courses of action in your organization – will be the backbone of your employee handbook. Review the ones you already have and make any necessary updates.
Then take a look around and identify common practices that occur regularly in your workplace (e.g. dress codes, requesting vacation time, etc.). If you don’t have a policy for these procedures or practices, you’ll need to write one.
Indeed.com provides some general recommendations on policies you should include, such as:
- Employee conduct: This can range from your code of conduct to anything else that informs how you expect employees to act when representing your company. You also can include a special section on professionalism, which covers topics like dress code, conflicts of interest, and your smoking and drug and alcohol policies.
- Employment relationship: This will help illustrate the relationship between the employer and employees, and include policies such as non-compete and confidentiality agreements.
- General employment information: Here you’ll want to include information about the day-to-day operations at your company. This information should include an equal opportunity policy, information on accommodations, as well as harassment and discrimination policies.
- Attendance: In this section, you’ll need to include information on things like work hours and overtime, breaks, what to do during adverse weather situations and remote working guidelines.
- Compensation and benefits: This provides general information on what is available to all employees that work at your company, from medical insurance to bonuses to retirement benefits and so on.
- Time off: Include information on paid time off and paid holidays, as well as sick leave, bereavement leave, information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), attendance policies and more. Make sure you also communicate the proper process employees need to follow when requesting time off.
- Acceptable use: Here you need to define employee expectations when it comes to their use of company property. This includes your guidelines on telephones and cell phones, computers and company equipment. And in our digital world, you also should include information on your social media usage policies.
- Employee monitoring: Inform your employees of the ways in which their actions are monitored throughout the day. For example, do company-owned computers include monitoring software?
- Performance expectations: Include your policies when it comes to professional development and performance evaluations. You also will need to include information on your procedures when an employee violates any of your company policies. This can entail disciplinary measures, conflict resolution, grounds for immediate termination and more.
- Exit policies: Be prepared for when your employees leave. Have information on exit interviews, retirement, termination and other associated topics.
Talk to your legal counsel and/or human resources team for advice specific to your business. Trusted experts can help you determine what you need to include, especially when it comes to those policies that are required according to federal, state and local mandates.
Step 2: Make an outline.
Put together a summary of how you’d like your employee handbook to be structured along with the list of topics that need to be included (hint: you identified them in Step 1). This way, you can ensure you’re not missing anything before you start writing.
You should always include some kind of introduction, an overview of your company and your mission statement, which is helpful to new employees. An equal opportunity statement, contractual disclaimer and at-will employment statement (where permitted) also should be included.
Pay careful attention that you address any information that legally needs to be in your handbook, such as the FMLA, COBRA, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) anti-discrimination laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Legal counsel can provide advice unique to your business for what you need to include.
Step 3: Create summary statements for each policy and procedure.
Write short summaries of all the policies and procedures that you identified in Steps 1 and 2. Make sure they’re easy to read. After all, if they’re hard for you to understand as the author, it will be even harder for your employees to grasp.
Step 4: Write your handbook
Insert your summary statements into the appropriate sections of your outline.
Step 5: Review your work.
After you’ve assembled your handbook, take the time to thoroughly review everything to ensure it’s correct and easy to understand. Verify that nothing is missing or needs to be updated. It also may help to send it to another team member or project team if you’re working on it as a group.
Step 6: Send it off for legal review.
Your legal counsel should always review your work to ensure it includes the right information and doesn’t make any kind of contractual statements or agreements.
Step 7: Determine how you’re going to publish your handbook.
After legal counsel gives your employee handbook its seal of approval, find a provider who can help you format and publish it. This is true regardless of whether you choose to create a digital or printed copy of your guide (see more information in Step 8).
Bear in mind that this may be an added expense, so make sure you gain quotes from a few suppliers to determine who you like best – and what you can afford. Always make sure you review a final copy of your handbook before the vendor publishes the final version.
Step 8: Distribute it.
You’ve published your handbook – congratulations! Now you need to deliver it to your employees and find a way to work it into your new employee onboarding process moving forward. If you have a place to publish your handbook digitally – such as a company intranet site or shared cloud server – by all means do so! However, you will need to have hard copies for employees who don’t have access to a computer or the internet. Some employees also may just prefer to have a hard copy on hand, so make sure you can accommodate them.
When you distribute your employee handbook, you’ll need to gain signatures from your staff that they’ve received a copy and read it. Save those forms in each of your employees’ individual personnel files.
Step 9: Revisit – and revise – as necessary.
An employee handbook isn’t a one-and-done endeavor. You should think of it as a living, breathing document. Because as employment laws or company policies change, so too will your handbook. Make a schedule to ensure you’re reviewing it consistently – whether it’s every other year, annually or twice a year. This will ensure that the information is current, appropriate and legally sound.
Take the Right Steps to Reduce Risks
As a business owner, you expect your insurance to be there when things go wrong. But what if your insurance company also was there to help you take action to reduce risks in the first place?
When you have a business policy through Whitbeck Insurance, you have access to a variety of resources, including Risk Control Services and assistance from a risk control consultant. They can help you evaluate the potential risks your business faces and then recommend measures you can take to help reduce them.
It’s just another way ERIE offers business owners great protection and service. To learn more about how ERIE’s risk control services can help your business, contact a local Whitbeck Insurance agent in your community.