By Christine Thelen, Trüpp.

If you have an employee, you should have an employee handbook. An employee handbook sets expectations regarding company policy, acts as a resource and guide for managers, and ultimately, when well written, reduces employer risk. But how do you ensure that your employee handbook is engaging and relevant enough to be helpful to employees, while still including the language necessary to protect your company?

If you have ever tried to draft an employee handbook, you know that this is a difficult task. Given the role an employee handbook plays in risk management as well as helping employees understand an organization’s culture and expectations, it is important that it be composed carefully and tailored to your organization’s unique needs. Most people will not be able to draft an employee handbook from scratch, and simply copy one from the internet or another employer, but doing so can introduce out of date content, create unnecessary obligations and liabilities, or result in an employer neglecting relevant policies. Buying a template will ensure the basics are covered, but will require adding and revising policies to meet the specific needs of your industry, location, and company. Contracting a reliable professional to craft a custom employee handbook, while sometimes more costly, remains your safest option. In the long run, the cost is far outweighed by the associated risk introduced by a poorly crafted, cumbersome, or incomplete handbook.

Following are 5 key elements of an effective Employee Handbook.

#1 Know its purpose

Your employee handbook should protect your organization and share important company information with your employees, including clear expectations around key areas.  It is also important that the content and tone reflect your organization’s culture.

#2 Be compliant

Many policies in an employee handbook touch on topics that are regulated by federal, state, and local laws, which can be very complex. Be sure your policies remain consistent with these regulations when adapting them to your unique organizational needs.  Employers operating in multiple locations will have to massage their policies to be compliant in all locations or adopt multiple versions of a policy for each location.

#3 Select your words carefully

We’ve all read those dry handbooks that were so steeped in legalize that, if they didn’t put us to sleep, left us wondering what they were actually saying. It is critical that the words and phrases used be in language that employees can understand and relate to, so that clear expectations are established. At the same time, the language should maintain enough flexibility to address those inevitable unforeseen situations and avoid commitments that hold your organization liable unnecessarily.

#4 Incorporate key risk management policies

Handbooks should include policies to assist with protecting your organization. Below are some key handbook policies that we recommend. Keep in mind, you may want to include additional topics, depending on your industry or work locations:

  • Anti-Discrimination/Anti-Harassment/ Anti-Retaliation Policy and Reporting Procedures
  • Reasonable Accommodation Request Procedures At-will Declaration
  • “Not a Contract”, Not Comprehensive and Right to Change Disclaimers
  • Confidentiality requirements
  • Drug and Alcohol Policy
  • Privacy – Electronic/Online, Surveillance, Belongings
  • Safety Expectation/Workers’ Compensation
  • Paid time off and leaves of absence
  • Pay schedules

#5 Set employee conduct expectations

Handbooks are a great vehicle for establishing overarching expectations around how an employee conducts themselves in key areas. We recommend including policies related to such things as attendance, PTO requests, dress and grooming, conflict resolutions, etc., to establish workplace norms and avoid uncomfortable conversations down the road. If you can point to a clear policy when a violation occurs, you avoid being seen as capricious or unfair in your disciplinary actions.

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employee handbook open with paper airplanes flying out