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  • Employee Handbook: 4 Steps to Creating a Great Handbook

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    Digital Printing

    An employee handbook is an essential part of your company’s training and orientation. Whether your human resources department is handled by a separate, fully staffed office, or it’s something you handle as a business owner, your ability to manage your employees starts with a well-written, well-organized employee handbook.

    An employee handbook clearly sets out the expectations you have for your workers. It can cover everything from work hours to the dress code and anti-harassment policies. Employees can consult the employee handbook to learn about pay, benefits, and leave policies. Because it’s aimed at a wide variety of workers, your employee handbook must be easy to read. It should be quick and easy for employees—and you—to find the information you need without struggling. Here’s how to create and design a handbook that works for your company managers and staff.

    Reasons to Create an Employee Handbook

    An employee handbook is sometimes called a policy manual. It is more than just a guide for your staff, however. It is a legal document that will ensure everyone’s following the law and help protect you against employee lawsuits.

    Give Your Employees a Running Start

    Without an employee handbook, you’ll spend hours onboarding every individual employee. Instead of spending your first few days training them for the new position, you’ll find yourself explaining how to apply for benefits, when to clock out, where to eat lunch, and other procedural details.

    Save time and money with an employee handbook that covers every question a new employee might have. While some of this information will be covered during training, the policy manual is a resource that everyone can rely on. It helps your employees retain the information and avoids endless back-and-forth discussions. It’s also the standard set of policies that govern decisions when people have differences of opinion.

    An employee handbook is a good place to put forms, website addresses, phone numbers, and other outside references.

    Keep Everyone on the Same Page

    Have you ever worked at a place where the managers told you one thing and employees told you another? That’s a frustrating situation. It causes employees to make mistakes that could be costly. Even worse, it could lead to situations where you or your employees are breaking the law.

    Put an end to these mixed messages with a clearly stated policy that everyone can find in the employee handbook.

    Inefficiency is a problem that can slow down your business and expose you to legal liability. It’s also unnecessary. A well-written employee handbook promotes efficiency by establishing one set of rules that everyone must follow.

    This is why these employee handbooks are sometimes called standard operating procedure (SOP) manuals. When everyone uses the same procedures, your business operates smoothly and efficiently.

    Streamline Your Training

    Are your managers tired of answering the same questions over and over? With a well-written employee reference, they can say, “Consult the employee handbook” when new staff asks about these details.

    A good manual is:

    • Written in clear, direct language that anyone can understand. Avoid legalese and jargon.
    • Well-organized. Use subheadings, white space, bullets, and callouts to make the text easy to read and highlight important points.
    • Easy to use. Make sure you include forms, phone numbers, websites, and other details. If a third party administers your benefits, for instance, include information on contacting that third party and its website. Sample forms and copies of forms for leave, tuition reimbursement, and other benefits are also helpful. Use chapter headings to make the material easy to pinpoint.
    • Thorough and comprehensive. You may be surprised at how small details can make or break an employee’s success at work. Do they know where the break room is, and can they find extra printer paper? Are they able to park anywhere, or is there a designated spot? Don’t leave anything out just because you think it’s minor. If you have a policy for it, include it.

    A Handbook Offers Legal Protection

    Your employee handbook is an official declaration of your policies and procedures. It can be an important safeguard against violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and state employment laws. When you write the handbook, consult with an employment lawyer to make sure you include information about these laws.

    To make sure your employee handbook fulfills this need, include:

    • Mandated notifications
    • Detailed policy notes
    • Explanation of each law
    • Signature page to prove the employee received the manual

    If you deal with intellectual property (IP) or other confidential information, your handbook should include details about non-disclosure agreements and non-compete contracts.

    Avoid wage law violations by making sure your handbook outlines the procedures for timekeeping, when employees must clock in and out, and when employees can expect raises or bonuses.

    Create a Valuable Reference

    Producing an employee manual is a big job. However, it is more than worth it. Once you write the original version, you’ll only have to update it once a year—or when employment laws change. It is easy to update it to keep it current.

    Your handbook will make your business run more efficiently, get employees onboarded smoothly, and help you avoid legal liability. It serves as a valuable reference for all employees. Even long-term employees may have forgotten details of your company’s policies.

    What should be in the manual? Consider everything an employee needs to know:

    • Pay and timekeeping
    • Dress code
    • Vacation, sick leave, and family leave policies
    • Insurance and other benefits
    • When to escalate situations to management
    • Disciplinary procedures
    • Enforcement of federal and state employment laws
    • Company anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies
    • Parking
    • Transportation subsidies
    • Work-related travel
    • Emergency procedures
    • Workplace health and safety matters
    • Dealing with the press and public
    • Social media accounts
    • Internet use
    • Use of company equipment
    • Vacation and sick leave policies
    • Non-disclosure agreements
    • Non-compete contracts
    • How to respond to legal threats
    • Grounds for employment procedures, including performance improvement programs and dismissals

    4 Steps to an Employee Handbook

    1. Understand Your Readers

    Your manual is aimed at workers at levels. Keep it easy to read with clear, direct language. Avoid using business jargon or legal terminology.

    When you design the layout, follow these pointers:

    • Break up the text. Long blocks of unbroken text are difficult to read.
    • Employ headlines and subheadings.
    • Use callouts to highlight important points.
    • Choose a large font of 12 points or more.
    • Add images, graphics, and charts.
    • Use bullet points where they enhance readability.
    • Design with plenty of white space.
    • Use a subhead over every paragraph.

    2. Research Laws and Best Practices

    If you have no idea where to start, think about manuals you’ve seen at past jobs or other companies. Think about your current workers. What questions did they have when they started working? What questions invariably come up when you train or onboard workers?

    Most policies will fall into the broad categories of pay, benefits, leave, equipment use, federal laws, and disciplinary procedures.

    If you have an experienced human resources person on your staff, start there. HR staff are knowledgeable about employment law and standard policies. You may also want to consult an employment lawyer to make sure your policies follow federal and state laws.

    3. Organize Your Material

    You’ll probably end up with piles of material for your manual. To get a handle on it, create an outline or index before you start writing.

    Your chapters might include:

    • Introduction
    • Mandated Notifications
    • Federal and State Laws
    • Company Mission Statement
    • Orientation and Training
    • Security
    • Parking Policy
    • Dress Code
    • Health and Safety
    • Employee Classifications
    • Schedules and Work Hours
    • Daily Breaks
    • Attendance Policy
    • Compensation
    • Bonuses
    • Benefits and Insurance
    • Leave Policies
    • Performance Assessment
    • Disciplinary Procedures
    • Appropriate Use of Company Equipment
    • Use of Company Logo and Colors
    • Harassment and Discrimination Policies
    • Company Ethical Code
    • Non-Disclosure and Non-Compete Agreements
    • Glossary of Terms
    • Signature Page

    4. Use a Template

    There are many templates you can use to create a manual. Many are customizable, so you can add your own logo and other images. You’ll find free, easy-to-use templates on most design and illustration packages, such as:

    Get It Professionally Printed

    Professional printing is the final step in creating a useful, professional employee handbook. If you need help with printing, contact us.


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