Many times in my career, I’ve found myself asking leaders if they can produce proof that the business clearly communicated a policy to an employee. Too often, the answer is it wasn’t – at least not in writing. As we all know, he-said / she-said doesn’t hold up when we’re talking about enforcing policies and procedures or even disciplining employees for not following a policy or procedure; one that’s clear, easy to find, and referenced in the employee handbook.
Handbooks are an incredible tool for your internal HR or leadership team and employees. It helps everyone get on the same page (literally), and it doesn’t need to feel overly legal or formal to be effective and “hold up” if you need to take action against an employee who violates a policy.
To create the most effective and legally compliant employee handbook, I suggest you work with a trusted HR Consultant or attorney, as federal, state, and local ordinances affect specific policies. However, to get you started, here are some critical pieces all handbooks need:
1. An acknowledgment and agreement page. If you don’t have your employees sign a page acknowledging receipt of your handbook, they can later claim that they didn’t receive it or agree to the policies found within it. You can use any of the great free online document signing tools for easier collection of these signatures. Any change to an employee handbook (which should only need to be every year or so) should trigger issuing another signature receipt to the team.
2. A “no-call, no-show” policy. This policy states that if an employee doesn’t show up to work and also doesn’t call in as absent for a certain number of days in a row, and the employer is unable to reach them, you reserve the right to terminate them on the assumption they’ve abandoned their job. I’ve seen this simple and straightforward policy save companies time, money, and headaches.
3. Definition of the workweek. Employers need to define the workweek for employees. Do you consider it Sunday to Saturday? Tuesday to Saturday? Many of us are familiar with Monday to Sunday, but some companies and industries differ. The reason this matters so much? Overtime calculations. Be sure your employees understand your company's work week to know when they begin accruing overtime for the week.
4. Employee Classification. Employers also must describe how employees are classified and their benefits eligibility. This definition is pretty basic but must be clear to employees. It will also help employers and the internal HR team understand when employees transition from one classification to another.
5. Separations. While it doesn’t feel great to talk about employee separations, it’s beneficial to employees and employers alike for the handbook to outline what parting ways looks like at your company. How much notice do you prefer? (Note: you can’t require a certain amount of notice.) Who should they inform? Always ask for their resignation in writing, clearly stating when their last day of work will be. What should you provide to the parting team member? It’s helpful to outline what the final wages will include, when they can expect their last paycheck (this will be state-sensitive), and what happens with any company-carried benefits they have. Do they lose those at midnight on their last day, or do they carry through to the end of the week or month? What equipment must they return?
In short, employee handbooks are critical. Sure, there are many free/low-cost online handbook templates out there. However, if you want an employee handbook that serves your company best, we recommend you work with a trusted guide to edit an existing handbook or create a customized handbook that genuinely reflects your company's culture, industry, and important day-to-day issues. With minimal upkeep, these documents can remain valuable for employers and employees for your company’s entire lifespan.
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