“Should my business have an employee handbook?”
This is a question that I often find a difference of opinion on among business attorneys. Some don’t like them, because they feel that a handbook creates more problems than they prevent. Others will automatically respond “Absolutely.” I think the answer is a bit more nuanced.
When written after careful consideration, an employee handbook can be a tremendous tool. A well-written handbook will address a number of issues such as sick leave, vacations, attendance policies, and break times. A handbook can also be used to set expectations for employee conduct and dealings with the public and each other. You can use a handbook to establish travel and reimbursement policies, training and continuing education policies, and policies regarding use of company vehicles. You can also include confidentiality, non-disclosure, and non-compete agreements in an employee handbook. (You can include social media policies, but there are some complex issues and considerations that you need to be aware of in order to avoid conflicts with federal regulatory agencies. The law is developing in this area, and you should discuss it with your attorney before deciding what to include and what to leave out.)
But it isn’t enough to have a carefully crafted handbook. You also need to be consistent.
Be consistent in how you present it to employees. Timing is important. It is best to present the handbook and any agreements to an employee when they are hired. If you present them later, then there are more steps you need to take to make the terms enforceable.
Be consistent in how you enforce policies. Employee handbooks are great, because they let everyone know what the rules are. But if you do not enforce those rules uniformly, then you are asking for a lawsuit, especially if you fire an employee for an offense that different employee was NOT fired for.
Be consistent in reviewing and revising policies. An employee handbook is as only as good as the policies that are in it. Things change in business, and if your handbook doesn’t keep up with your changed circumstances. Establishing a policy of reviewing your handbook every year or every other year is a good idea.
A well written employee handbook can prevent a lot of problems and help your business to run efficiently. But to get one requires a willingness to give careful consideration to what you put into it, and a willingness to keep it updated. A good business attorney can help you to focus on the core items and write one that suits your business, your style, and your employees.