An employment manual, also referred to as an employee handbook, is designed to communicate a company's policies to all of its employees. If a firm has more than one employee, it needs a written employment manual. As a corporate attorney, you might collaborate or consult with the human resources department of your corporation to create its employee manual — since it is, of course, a legal document.
An employment manual offers protection if there is a misunderstanding or conflict, especially in the case of a termination lawsuit. It can also be used to prove terms of employment in the absence of a separate employment agreement. It is important for an employment attorney to draft or review employment manuals to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations.
Planning an employment manual
An employment manual should include all policies and provisions related to employment at a firm or corporation. For example, the employment manual should include administrative policies specifying the amount of leave granted, regulatory information such as equal employment opportunity and affirmative action, as well as the company's policy on disciplinary action.
Policies and provisions that a typical employment manual might include
- A provision that the manual can be modified or amended by the employer at any time, and for any reason
- An at-will statement
- An Equal Opportunity Employment statement as defined by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq.; regulations in 29 C.F.R. § 1604 (sex), § 1605 (religion) and § 1606 (national origin))
- A sexual harassment policy
- Immigration Law Compliance (Immigration Reform and Control Act: IRCA)
- Standards of conduct
- Job classifications (exempt, nonexempt) in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Action, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and applicable state law
- Pay periods
- Hours of work
- How sick and vacation time are accumulated
- Health and other benefits, including COBRA
- Workers' compensation
- Family-leave policies
- Dress code
- Competing employment
- Hardware and software use policies
- Disciplinary policies such as problem resolution, discipline, and corrective action
- Separation policies such as job abandonment, termination, and employment references
Some companies make the mistake of using canned or prepackaged software to create employment manuals. This often results in a manual with policies that are not legally required or have not been implemented. You need to work closely with your human resources department to create a customized manual that reflects the applicable legal policies and the appropriate culture of your firm or company.
Distributing an employment manual
An employment manual should be distributed to all employees when they are hired. Typically, companies distribute printed copies, but that means that any updates must be issued separately. This makes it difficult to ensure that employees integrate the replacement pages into the original copy of the manual.
A growing trend is for employment manuals to be stored on a company intranet site (for example, a Microsoft Windows® SharePoint® Services site). An intranet site allows for a copy of the employment manual to be available to all employees without printing or distribution hassles. Using the intranet also provides a way to update the manual quickly and easily, and send notices to employees as changes are made.
Regardless of the method used to create or distribute an employment manual, it is important that each new employee:
- Receives a copy of the manual.
- Signs and dates an acknowledgment showing that he or she received the manual.
Keeping the manual up-to-date
It's good practice to store policies and other materials included in an employment manual in a word-processing document so that they can be modified as needed. Many tools that help facilitate the editing process are available in Microsoft Office Word 2003 — for example, change tracking, comments, and document merge features. These tools are especially useful when you collaborate with people in other departments around the company, such as human resources.
Make sure that your employment manual serves the needs of the firm or company's employees. It should:
- Accurately reflect company policies and culture.
- Be available to all employees in its latest version.
- Be easy to update and distribute.
About the author Donna Payne is President Payne Consulting Group, a software training and development company headquartered in Seattle, Washington.