Often, the employee handbook is amongst the first handbooks that HR sets up as a part of workplace documentation. It is considered to be the guiding light for employees, outlining processes, rules, norms, workplace behaviors, standard operating procedures for people and so on. Having all these in writing in a ready reckoner minimizes the need to “push” information to the employee, since the document acts as a “self service” instrument that empowers the employee. However, the mistake is that most HR employees design, develop and distribute the employee handbook, only to forget about its existence. It is not sufficient to introduce the handbook; a “pull” effect must be created wherein employees are eager to turn to it when they have any doubt. On the other hand, HR professionals must take extra efforts to orient their people to the handbook, and also update it on a periodic basis, to keep it relevant to the current times. There are legal implication to this too. Recently the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) took to scrutinizing employee handbooks, to check whether employers had put down unlawful employee restrictions on employees.
Here are the important do’s and don’ts when it comes to making and managing an employee handbook.
- Handbooks should provide a view of what the employees are entitled to, as well as what is expected of them from the organization. For example, provide notice of job duties and responsibilities, at the same time make sure to include the employee rights and benefits. This will help outline both the “give” and “take” element of the employer-employee contract.
- Outline expectations from employees in terms of the following: behavior and conduct, performance requirements, attendance and time off, discipline etc.
- A handbook is an effective tool to propagate the employee culture. Have the handbook talk about the organizational cultural elements i.e. vision and mission, history, purpose, values, business and functional goals. Note that the goals may change every year and hence the handbook must be updated.
- The handbook is a powerful tool to minimize legal implications in case of a dispute or legal allegation. Include policies that minimize the potential for liability. The content and wordings should show that you comply with the law.
- It is important to keep the handbook glocal—i.e. an overall umbrella organization-level content, interspersed with locally relevant content. For example, keep in mind the language that employees understand better, and have a handbook in that language too. Also, avail the services of a local lawyer to incorporate local laws and rules.
- A handbook is not just about employee labor laws. Make sure you consult your IT and technology department to incorporate the tech angle—how to handle social media interactions and content, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and other tech policies.
- Make sure you include external-facing situations related to employee recruitment and exit. For example, outline the confidentiality agreements and non-compete agreements that employees are expected to adhere to.
- Be sure to do your initial research on legal requirements and trends, particularly on new and emerging areas.
- Do not have a single standard version of the employee handbook. Often different employee categories (corporate, factory, sales etc. ) will have different entitlements and rules as per law. Make sure you incorporate those.
- Do not release a handbook without checking whether it is legally valid, compliant and complete.
- Refrain from the temptation of using another company’s employee handbook as a starting point to draft your own. No two employers are alike, and needs and legalities differ.
- Do not overlook differences in federal, state and local law. Local relevance is of prime importance.
- Do not be too rigid in defining employee conduct and disciplinary requirements. Leave room for discretion based on case to case requirements, at the same time retain the ability to discipline employees when warranted.
Over and above these, it is important that the handbook be user-friendly i.e. readable and well understood by the employees and employers. Organize it in a manner that is easy to access; host it on the company intranet. Also, communicate its contents from time to time, as a part of the communication strategy of HR. Review the policies from time to time to keep them up to date. A well designed and communicated employee handbook can shift the onus of behavior and performance to the employee to a large extent, freeing up HR’s bandwidth for more strategic interventions.
Source: HR Technologist
Date: 3rd July, 2017