By Christine Thelen, Trüpp.

The value of a well-drafted employee handbook is often overlooked. In truth, they are an invaluable tool for creating a strong work environment and protecting an employer. Here are just a few ways a handbook adds value for an employer:

    Handbooks communicate a commitment to protect against illegal activity, such as harassment and discrimination, and to comply with key federal, state and local laws. This puts employees on notice about what is acceptable behavior in high risk areas, and can prove helpful if an employer is facing a legal claim. Handbooks are also great vehicles for adhering to federal, state and local noticing requirements.
    Handbooks set expectations for employees about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, as well as required behaviors, such as reporting all time worked and how to call in sick. This sets the stage for holding employees accountable, and when necessary, creates a foundation for disciplinary decisions, including employment separations.
    Serving as a guide for managers, handbooks support consistent treatment of employees. Handbooks provide managers with critical information on key policies and company philosophies setting the foundation for consistent decision making around performance feedback and disciplinary action. Fostering consistency is a critical component to managing an employer’s risk related to employees.

Beware of one-size-fits-all handbook solutions

Because handbooks play such a strong role in protecting against risk, it is important that they are well-written, composed carefully, and tailored to your company size, industry group, work locations, and culture. Simply copying a handbook from the internet or another organization or using cookie-cutter handbook content can create unnecessary obligations and liabilities that the employer would not otherwise face, or result in the omission of important policy components or topics.

Don’t over-commit and keep it friendly

To effectively protect an employer, policies need to be sufficiently detailed, without making unnecessary or potentially harmful promises, or restricting the organization to a single approach or response to a situation. The tone of handbooks is also critical. An employee handbook is one of the first documents a new employee receives; setting the wrong tone can get your employment relationship off to a bad start. A negative, overly paternalistic tone tends to put employees on the defense from day one, and more likely to file complaints or challenge the implementation of policies. In contrast, more descriptive approaches written in the first and second person (“you” and “we”) are perceived as more positive, collaborative and approachable.

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