Virtually all employers have written employment policies. Well written job descriptions, employee handbooks and other employment policies and practices serve many important purposes, from establishing clear guidelines for all to follow, to minimizing the risk of litigation. On the other hand, poorly written job descriptions, handbooks and policies can be deadly for an employer.
Each employer must decide whether it needs or wants to develop an employee handbook or policy manual. If the employer decides to do so, the provisions must be tailored to the employer’s individual circumstances — such as size, if the employer is unionized or non-unionized, and if it is industrial, professional or service oriented. There are federal laws that are relevant to most employers. However, employers also should be aware that some states may have different or more stringent requirements than federal law in various areas that impact handbook policies, such as state family medical leave or wage and hour laws.
In drafting or reviewing handbook policies, employers often consult with an employment attorney to determine whether any applicable state or local law would impact any policy contained in the employer’s handbook. The following guidelines, however, are relevant to most employers.
Avoid Making Contractual Obligations
The language of each provision of the handbook should be evaluated for any terms or phrases that could give rise to unintended enforceable contract rights. The handbook also should contain a clear and conspicuous disclaimer that the handbook does not create a contract.
Use Clear and Concise Language
Handbook provisions should be written to clearly and accurately describe the employer’s practices and policies, and to avoid unintended interpretations. Individual provisions that do not apply to all classes of employees should clearly indicate which employees are covered and other differentiations in applying the policy that are made. For example, many employers do not grant vacation time or other benefits to part-time employees, or only grant such benefits to part-time employees on a prorated basis. Such provisions should clearly identify which employees are eligible for the described benefits.
Specifically Allow for Flexibility and Modification
It is neither possible nor practical to address in a handbook every policy or employment situation that could arise. Employers should specifically state that the handbook as a whole is not all-inclusive and contains only general statements of the employer’s policies. It also should clearly state that any or all provisions may be modified at the employer’s discretion in accordance with applicable law. Moreover, certain individual provisions (for example, discipline rules), should specifically retain management flexibility and make it clear that the terms are not all-inclusive.
Need additional assistance creating a new, compliant employee handbook for your organization in each state that you operate?
Thompson’s Employee Handbook Builder is a completely browser-based system, unlike software products that require you to download files on to your desktop. With Thompson’s Employee Handbook Builder, you can build, access, and update your handbook from any computer with a browser and an internet connection. In addition, we cover all applicable state policies, review them and provide you with updates throughout the year. Your handbook is hosted on our secure servers and can be made available over the web to employees with real-time updates you provide.
Using Thompson’s Employee Handbook Builder, you can produce a fully customized employee handbook in a few minutes – something that would typically cost thousands of dollars and require weeks of valuable company time.