It lays out the rules and expectations. It answers questions, highlights policies, and mitigates liability. A comprehensive, thoughtful, well-written employee manual is critical to the success of virtually all organizations. Here are some best practices in employee manuals.

Three Production Options (and Their Pros and Cons)

An employee manual can be produced using one of three strategies:

  • Writing an employee manual in-house
  • Using a fill-in-the-blanks template (from a payroll service, for example)
  • Hiring an outside HR consultant

Writing an employee manual in-house has one significant advantage and one even more significant drawback.

On the plus side, an insider will have an in-depth understanding of your organization’s culture. On the minus side, an internal person probably doesn’t have the time to attend conferences, research updated laws, and keep up with the legal and tax issues that need to be part of your operations.

A fill-in-the-blanks template has one obvious benefit: it’s inexpensive. But no template can reflect your corporate culture, the way you operate, and which policies should or shouldn’t be included. Most templates tend to be filled with legalese because that can help mitigate liability. But legalese won’t tell employees what is expected of them—or what they can expect from the organization.

Hiring an outside HR consultant has two benefits. First, an HR expert will have the most current knowledge of legal requirements that your employee manual should and shouldn’t cover. Second, an HR consultant can recommend best practices from other employee manuals. The cost will be higher, but the employee manual should be more comprehensive.

When Do You Need an Employee Manual?

As soon as an organization has more than one employee it’s time for the first employee manual. It may seem like overkill, but putting the rules, expectations and other company info in writing ensures that all employees know they’ll be treated equally.

Without an employee manual or written policies, an organization faces significant potential liability if employees are treated differently. If employees are following different rules because a manager is making seat-of-the-pants decisions in different situations, an employee could easily claim discrimination.

Components of a Good Employee Manual

Because employee manuals aren’t legally required, there isn’t any legally required content.

At a minimum, however, these documents should outline your core policies:

  • Payroll schedules
  • PTO, holiday and vacation time policies
  • Core benefits, such as insurance and retirement plans
  • Dress codes, work hours, remote work policies, and other “nuts and bolts”
  • State-specific policies and regulations
  • How to handle complaints and conflicts

In addition, a manual ought to include policies that can mitigate liability, such as:

  • How harassment complaints are handled
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Military leave
  • Equal employment opportunities
  • Accommodations for those with disabilities (ADA)

If you have other benefits, such as reimbursement for education, financial wellness, gym memberships, or others, list them as well.

An employee manual is also an opportunity to boost morale, to foster teamwork, and to communicate what you stand for, so consider adding the following:

  • Company history
  • Mission statement and goals
  • Community involvement, charitable causes, and volunteerism
  • Ethical behavior and how to approach challenging situations
  • Expectations about the work environment and conduct

In addition, you should strongly consider some policies that are relatively new in the workplace, such as:

  • Data privacy
  • Social media usage policy at work
  • Social media postings related to the company
  • Medical marijuana usage if legal in your state
  • COVID-19

Even if you think some of these policies may never be needed, in most cases it’s better to have them in writing.

Legal Considerations

It can’t be emphasized enough that an employee manual should include the clear disclaimer that the manual is only a reference source for current policies and benefits, which are subject to change at the company’s discretion.

Make sure that the manual is reviewed by an attorney well-versed in employee law who is also familiar with labor laws in your state (and any states where you have facilities or employees).

Employee manuals should be reviewed and updated every year or two, or whenever federal, state, or local employment regulations change.

Avoid Potential Problems

The last thing you want is to have an employee say, “I didn’t know I couldn’t bring a gun to work” or to have an employee criticize your organization on social media because the employee manual didn’t mention it. Yes, common sense would tell most of us that you don’t trash your employer on social media, but don’t assume that employees “know” what they should and shouldn’t do.

If a potential employee asks to see the employee manual before deciding whether to join your organization, make sure they receive an up-to-date manual. You don’t want someone to accept a position based on expectations of certain benefits and then discover the current policy is different.

The Lindenberger Group has helped organizations in virtually every industry write and manage employee manuals tailored to their organizations and employees. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.