Don’t Neglect Your Company Handbook

Far too often a company’s handbook is overlooked, which is unfortunate as it plays a valuable role in setting the standards by which employees are expected to perform and to what benefits they are entitled. A handbook is a guide to the rights and responsibilities of employees and their employer. It sends a message that a company cares about its employees and their well-being.

When it comes to your company’s employee handbook, what you don’t know could hurt you. For example, did you know that if your company grows by just one employee, it could trigger new policies that then must be reflected in the handbook? An outdated handbook leaves an employer open to litigation. Oftentimes, however, the role and importance of the handbook is overlooked.

Many companies, upon (finally) reviewing and updating their handbooks have had the same reaction:  “We’re lucky nothing has happened to us up to now.” Luck isn’t a tool employers should rely upon.

Here are just a few of the many areas that handbooks – and the policies they reflect – can cause headaches for employers:

  1. Federal vs. State vs. City laws. Each jurisdiction has different laws and these are subject to change each time employee-related legislative or judicial action is taken, not to mention internal changes in your organization that may activate changes. How these venue-related laws interact and which take precedence can be confusing. Your policies and handbooks must take into account multiple, intersecting laws and clearly state how these laws affect each employee.
  2. Employees in Multiple Venues. Even one employee in another city or state can require an addendum to your handbook. The prevailing law in the venues in which your employees work must be reviewed and may need to be applied to your policies and noted in your handbook.
  3. Industry Regulations. Some industries have specific regulations which must be reflected in your policies and chronicled in your handbook.
  4. COVID-19 policies. If you have implemented temporary policies to deal with issues surrounding COVID-19, these should be an addendum in your handbook. As this pandemic has been with us longer than ever expected, your policies for dealing with it may need a refresh.

Tips for Picture Perfect Handbooks

  1. Be Comprehensive. Think of your handbook as the place where all your policies are published. Procedures can be addendums to your handbook. For example, in the handbook you should let your employees know what your sick leave policy is. In an addendum, you can provide the procedures for calling in sick. Your handbook should be complete but not overloaded with information that doesn’t need to be included.
  2. Be Proactive. Don’t review your policies just once a year. Multiple conditions can cause your policies and handbook to be outdated. And don’t wait until after a change has occurred to make an update. For example, if you know your employment policies need to be changed when you reach a certain number of employees, revise your policies BEFORE that happens so you are ready when the change occurs.
  3. Advising Your Employees. When you make an update to your handbook, you must let your employees know, no matter how large or small the change may be. Advise each employee and have them sign an acknowledgement that they have read and understand the change.
  4. Outsource Your HR. Human resources is often regulated to an individual who wears multiple hats. HR is too important to be entrusted to an overworked, undertrained employee. Outsourcing HR gives you access to skilled professionals whose job it is to stay current on regulations and be aware of pending changes. They can interpret the many laws that employers face and determine which ones apply to your company. Efficiently updating policies and handbooks is just one of the many roles an outsourced HR pro can take on for a company, which span from onboarding and training to discipline and termination.

When well written, shared extensively and updated properly, your handbook is a vital tool for your employees and company. Don’t overlook the importance of your handbook.

For more information about updating your company handbook, please contact Laura Nieman.

Laura Nieman, PHR

Senior Manager, HR Services