An employee handbook is written with employees as the intended audience. It is most often written using a layout for easy referencing of company policies and procedures and is a tool for familiarizing employees with basic company policies and benefit programs, as well as the general expectations of the company, including what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior and disciplinary action.
A policies and procedure manual is a comprehensive book that details every aspect of company policy, the procedures for following those policies and the forms needed to complete each process. A policies and procedures manual is a reference tool for managers and supervisors. This tool is much more complete in detail than the employee handbook and should be used for reference when more information is needed to explain a policy or when a deeper understanding of a process is desired. For management, the manual will refer to federal and state laws that correlate to each policy. Managers and supervisors provide input for the policies, providing them with the tools for enforcement.
When you have more than a few employees, it’s a good idea to have an employee handbook that clearly explains your workplace policies. The value of having an employee handbook is numerous. Every employee receives the same information about the rules on the workplace. Your employees will know what you expect from them, and what they can expect from you. The employee handbook will provide valuable legal protection if an employee later challenges you in court.
So you are ready to get started — Many employers are inclined to pick and use employee handbooks prepared by other companies. This is a dangerous practice because no company is just like yours. If your company is much smaller than the company providing the handbook, the policies will hold you to a much higher standard than is required and you may not be able to adhere to the policies consistently. If your company is much larger than the company providing the handbook, the handbook may be too detailed and comprehensive in scope. The handbook, also, may be prepared for an employer from your state which would include policies that are not consistent with your state law. Finally, your state law may specifically require that you adopt policies tailored to your own business operations.
Why use an HR Consultant or Attorney to prepare your Employee Handbook?
An employee handbook should be written by someone who has had previous experience in employee management and who has up-to-date knowledge of employment legal issues. Some companies try to use a generic software program that they purchased on-line or at an office supply store to create their handbooks. This can be risky. First, these programs are marketed nationally and often do not have state-specific policies. Second, courts reinterpret employment laws constantly, so what had been legally accurate when the software “went to print” may be overshadowed by a new ruling now.
A small employer who does not have an experienced HR Manager should consider outsourcing the writing of its handbook. HR Consultants as well as attorneys are available for this purpose. As attorneys usually charge more by the hour than a consultant, it may be more cost effective to work with an HR Consultant to create the working draft and then have an attorney review it prior to publication.