Employee Handbook Guidelines & Pitfalls

A thoughtfully constructed employee handbook lays the groundwork for a strong relationship between a company and its employees. It outlines the employer’s expectations and lets workers know what they can expect from the organization. When you’re preparing your company’s employee handbook, refer to this list for the types of items that should be included and pitfalls to be addressed and/or avoided. Always remember, though, that every handbook is different and your company’s policies and procedures, as well as its culture and its tolerance for risk will determine what is included within the handbook.

What to include in your Employee Handbook

This might include the company mission statement, an organizational chart, and information that provides a high-level view of the company’s goals and character.

Employment Policies
This section will include information on company orientation, transfers, promotions, personnel records and how they are managed, privacy rights, equal employment policies, sexual harassment complaint procedures and emergency and safety procedures.

Compensation Policies
Discuss how employees are classified, working/office hours, payroll procedures (for example, overtime and bonus plans), and how employee performance evaluations are conducted, and when.

Leave Benefits
Address how leave is handled, including vacation, holidays, personal time, sick leave, jury duty, voting, military leave, bereavement, and family medical leave.

Group Health Insurance & Related Benefits
Cover the employee benefits program, including health and life insurance, disability plans, worker’s compensation, retirement plans, dental plan and vision benefits.

Employee Conduct
Outline what is expected of your employees. Consider personal appearance, absenteeism and tardiness, outside employment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, employee references, and a drug-free workplace.

Also, address discipline (up to, and including, termination), but clearly state that what’s included in the “Employee Conduct” section isn’t all inclusive. List examples of some of the reasons for immediate discipline and/or termination.

Pitfalls to Avoid When Developing the Employee Handbook

When developing your employee handbook, maintain consistency. Policies included must apply to everyone equally, and they must be consistently enforced. Also, do not include policies or procedures you either do not currently follow or do not intend to follow. They will only create expectations that you will fail to meet.

Implementation of Policies
Regarding Termination Procedures, avoid using “for just cause” or “good cause.” Both phrases (incorrectly) suggest that an employee cannot be terminated in the absence of “cause.” It is important to keep this distinction clear in Texas, an employment at-will state.

Disciplinary Procedures
Ensure that you include a statement indicating that the company reserves the right to immediately terminate an employee for certain conduct, such as theft, being under the influence of non-prescription drugs or alcohol, or consuming illegal drugs or alcohol at work. As mentioned earlier, be sure to include language indicating that the list of termination offenses is not all inclusive.

Probationary Period(s)
Clearly state that even after an employee has completed a probationary period, doing so doesn’t create a guarantee of employment for any specific duration of time.

Employee Benefits
Be aware that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires that you provide employees with a separate Summary Plan Description.

When the handbook is distributed, include an acknowledgement page that the employee will sign and date. This acknowledgement should include language that indicates that the employee understands that the employee handbook is not all-inclusive, that provisions will change, and that the handbook does not constitute an employment contract and does not change the employee’s status as an “at will” employee.

Remember, this isn’t an all-inclusive list of policies and procedures, but rather just a guide to help you address many of the elements that need to be included in your employee handbook. If you have questions about creating and implementing your employee handbook, contact the employment attorneys at Simon | Paschal PLLC.

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