An employee handbook can be one of the most important tools you can use to communicate with your employees. A carefully drafted employee handbook will detail your expectations for your employees, as well as what your employees can expect from the company. The handbook should describe your legal obligations as the employer and your employees' rights. Today's post will detail some of the most important sections you should include in your employee handbook.
As an employer you are required to comply with equal employment opportunity laws, which prohibit discrimination and harassment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's important to include a section about these laws in your employee handbook to detail how your employees are expected to comply.
The SBA published an Employment Discrimination and Harassment guide that provides information on your legal requirements as an employer.
Non-Disclosure and Non-Compete Agreements (NDAs)
NDAs are not legally required, but having employees sign NDAs will help protect your trade secrets and company proprietary information from falling into the wrong hands.
Interestingly, a recent court case discussed how non-disclosure agreements can have a similar effect as a non-compete agreement, despite not including specific non-compete language. You should keep this in mind when drafting your NDA and/or non-compete policies.
It's paramount that you are completely transparent about what you pay your employee, including that your company will make necessary deductions for federal and state taxes, as well as any voluntary deductions for the company’s benefits programs. Also, you should include details about your company’s legal obligations regarding overtime pay, pay schedules, performance reviews and salary increases, time keeping, breaks and bonus compensation.
Other compensation-related topics you can include in your handbook are: a description of your company policy regarding work hours and schedules, attendance, punctuality and reporting absences.
Standards of Conduct
It's difficult to control your employees' behavior if there are no clear guidelines for standard of conduct in the workplace. You should clearly document your expectations, from dress code to ethics, to avoid any troubles maintaining the standard of conduct you expect in your company. It's also important to inform your employees of their legal obligations, especially if your business is engaged in a regulated activity, e.g. compliance with HIPAA regulations.
General Company and Health/Safety Information
Your employee handbook should include an a overview of your business, including any general employment policies you have, e.g. employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and union information, if applicable.
It's important to include information about how your company creates a safe and secure workplace, including your compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's laws (OSHA). OSHA requires employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions and health and safety related issues to management. You should detail who your employees should report to in case of any safety or health-related incident.
You should also add a sentence or two about your company's commitment to creating a secure work environment, which includes your employee’s responsibility for abiding by all physical and information security policies, e.g. locking file cabinets or shutting down company computers after use.
Check out the SBA's Workplace Safety & Health Guide for information on your legal requirements as an employer.
Use of Company Computers and Technology
As computers and communication technology become increasingly essential tools for conducting business, so does the need to regulate use of such technology. Employee misuse can have serious consequences for your company. To protect you and your business, you should outline clear guidelines for employee computer and software use, as well as steps employees should take to secure confidential electronic information.
Media Inquiries and Relations
Along the same lines as computer and technology use, it's important to regulate media relations within your business. Generally speaking, its' important to have a single point of contact for all media-related inquiries, and such point of contact should be spelled out in your employee handbook. Misrepresentations, whether intentional or unintentional, to the media about your company can have significant (and lasting) consequences on your business.
Employee Benefit Programs
Your employee handbook is the best place to detail any company-wide benefit programs and eligibility requirements, including any benefits that may be required by law such as disability insurance, worker’s compensation insurance and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA.
You should also include in this section a description of health insurance options, retirement, employee assistance, tuition reimbursement, business travel, and any other benefits your business provides to attract and retain quality employees.
Company Leave Policies
Leave policies should be carefully drafted and, if possible, reviewed by an attorney, since some are required to be provided by law. For example, family medical leave, jury duty, military leave, and time off for court cases and voting should all be documented to comply with state and local laws. Furthermore, you should explain your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement and sick leave, so as to avoid any misunderstandings down the road.