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Do Employee Handbooks Serve a Purpose?

Screen_Shot_2015-12-03_at_11.27.36_AM.pngSurprisingly, a significant number of employers still believe—for whatever reason—that they do not need an employee handbook. Misconceptions abound, but some of the most common reasons employers think they do not need one are:

  • We are not big enough to need an employee handbook. 
  • We do not need an employee handbook; we have a "handle on things."
  • Our employees don't need to worry about rules and guidelines.
  • We don't provide an employee handbook because it is the same as an employment contract. 

None of these are valid reasons for failing to prepare, maintain or distribute an employee handbook. 

Why do you need an employee handbook?

The problems brought about by not having an employee handbook usually only come to light when an employee needs certain information that should be addressed in the handbook. Under Wisconsin law, as soon as the employer has at least one employee it is covered under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, and the employees are protected by state discrimination laws. Often the first question asked when there is a disciplinary action or wrongful termination proceeding is whether the employer has a handbook in place and what the handbook has to say about discrimination policies and the discipline (including termination) process. 

A properly written employee handbook is not a binding contract between the employer and an employee. Thus, a handbook should be used to communicate to employees basic expectations and to set forth the general rules, guidelines and policies that comprise the day-to-day operations of the employer. An employee handbook template from the Internet will not suffice and often fails miserably when it comes to form and content. 

As businesses grow and evolve over time, it is prudent to review your employee handbook annually to determine whether any modifications, amendments or deletions are necessary. You do not want to maintain obsolete provisions within the handbook. 

What information should be included? 

A well-written employee handbook will contain a variety of information including, but not limited to:

  • an introduction,
  • employment-at-will language,
  • contract disclaimer language,
  • discrimination and harassment policies,
  • equal employment policies, 
  • FMLA and COBRA information (if applicable),
  • drug and alcohol policy,
  • disciplinary procedures, 
  • attendance policy,
  • benefits, 
  • confidentiality,
  • trade secrets,
  • open door policy,
  • technology policy, and
  • an acknowledgement receipt whereby the employee attests that he or she received a copy of the employee handbook. 

Every new employee should receive a copy of the employee handbook as soon as possible after commencing employment and the employer should encourage all of its employees to review the handbook policies and ask any questions regarding its contents. 

At HNI, we call our handbook the Live It Manual.  It's a bit edgier than most.  Check it out:


Related Post:

Reimagining the Stodgy Old Employee Handbook