A properly drafted employee handbook can be a valuable tool for relaying information about the employer and its policies, as well as a guide to enable management to promote nondiscriminatory, consistent application of its policies and practices. A comprehensive employee handbook is an important communication tool that explains an organization’s culture, policies, work rules, benefits and expectations.
Employee handbooks also can play a role in employment litigation: Employees may legally challenge whether an employer properly complied with handbook language, or whether that language passes legal muster. Therefore, a handbook with properly drafted provisions is an invaluable asset in protecting employers from legal claims. In addition, carefully written policies can be used to illustrate the employer’s commitment to a positive work environment and nondiscriminatory employment practices.
Whether an employer is developing an employee handbook for the first time or making major modifications to an existing handbook, it’s important to follow a detailed plan to stay on schedule. The development and maintenance of an employee handbook can be divided into nine phases:
- Project kick-off preparation
- Handbook committee initial meeting
- Draft handbook preparation
- Draft handbook initial review by committee
- Handbook rewrites and edits
- Draft handbook final review
- Communication strategy
- Handbook distribution
- Handbook review and maintenance
These phases may vary depending on the organization, the participants in policy development, and the review and approval process. Following these phases will help to ensure that the handbook process is thorough and represents the organization’s preferences and intentions.
However, lawsuits based on language contained in employee handbooks and other written employment policies and procedures are common. The contractual-sounding language used in many employee handbooks creates potential problems for unsuspecting employers, particularly when the handbooks include statements that convey rigid rules that must be followed exactly as written in all circumstances, such as when the policies state the employer will “only” or “always” do something or “must” act in a particular way. Employers should review their handbooks to determine whether they contain language that may form the basis for a wrongful discharge lawsuit or other employment claim.
Once an employer distributes its employee handbook to employees, it should be prepared to follow the policies closely. Even if the policies are not considered binding contracts, an employer should implement them consistently and fairly to promote positive employee relations and to help protect against discrimination and other legal claims.
In addition, employers should review and update their employee handbooks regularly, such as when the organization institutes a new policy or when developments in the law, business environment, or personnel needs require policy modifications. As a routine matter, employers should review their policies at least once a year to determine whether revisions are needed to comply with current law and court decisions, to accurately reflect the organization’s current practices, and to satisfactorily address employee relations and business needs.
Need additional assistance creating a new, compliant employee handbook for your organization in each state that you operate?
Employee Handbook Builder is a completely browser-based system, unlike software products that require you to download files on to your desktop. With 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 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.