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YES! to Employee Handbooks: Making the Most of a Powerful HR Tool

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YES! to Employee Handbooks: Making the Most of a Powerful HR Tool

Over the years, we have had the opportunity to discuss various aspects of HR with senior executives from many different companies. One topic that has been interesting to gain some perspective on has been that of the employee handbook. The necessity of having a handbook is often debated, and we’ve heard it all, from employers not wanting a handbook for fear of employees discovering new ways to sue the company, to the extreme opposite perspective of wanting a handbook that covers everything, including the kitchen sink. It is our professional opinion that the employee handbook is a powerful – and often underrated – HR tool that employers should be incorporating into their company culture. 

Now,is there a law citing handbooks as a requirement for all companies? No, but there are many advantages to having one for both employer and employee.

A handbook establishes a positive corporate culture through your mission, values and rules.  Companies with at least 10 employees should be utilizing a handbook to communicate important information, like company policies and expectations of both employees and management, and keep their organization compliant with numerous state and federal laws. A published handbook will provide every employee with the same information about the rules of the workplace and can act as valuable legal protection against possible claims. It also lets employees know where to find information about a certain policy at their finger tips for when certain situations arise.

For companies that are not currently utilizing this tool, or feel that their existing handbook needs some renovations, the task of building the perfect employee handbook can be daunting.

Below, you’ll find some helpful tips for incorporating a handbook into your company. 

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Once you decide that you do in fact want to create an employee handbook for your company, it can be tempting to include every single piece of information possible. If your handbook has too much information, it will just confuse your employees and muddy up what the company is trying to accomplish. As a result, employees may end up not even reading the handbook.

To avoid this, it is important to keep certain contracts and agreements, such as Sales Compensation Agreements, Non-Disclosure, Non-Compete, etc. separate from the handbook. Additionally, every employment law that your state has does not need to be included. Items along the line of Sick Leave, Parental Leave, etc. are good policies to outline, but if you try to incorporate every employment law that your state has, your handbook will be too long. This often results in overwhelmed employees that become discouraged from familiarizing themselves with the important contents of the handbook. 

Create a handbook that suits your company’s needs.

All handbooks are not the same. They can differ in many ways, depending on what state you are in, how many employees you have which affects what federal/state guidelines you must adhere to, or how in-depth you want yours to be.

Handbook creation essentially comes down to 3 levels:

  1. Level I – A basic handbook that helps you keep compliant regarding fed/state laws. Subjects like FMLA, Discrimination, Conflict Resolution, Harassment, Disability Accommodations, etc.
  1. Level II – A more enhanced handbook which would include all the items from a Level I handbook but also include Work Hours, Employees Access to Personnel Files, Communication Systems, Use of the Internet, etc.
  1. Level III – A premium handbook which would include all the subjects in the other          two levels but would also cover subjects as Job Postings, Employee Relations, Intellectual Property, Benefit Offerings, etc.

Go paperless.

Handbooks today no longer need to be the monstrosities that they once were, handed out in printed copies to all the employees only to have a change done to the handbook and handed out all over again. Thanks to current technology, we can streamline the process of sharing company policies while also being environmentally conscience.

Here are a few different ways that handbooks can be distributed:

  • Send to all employees via e-mail
  • Post for public reference on the company web site
  • Publish via your HRIS system for employee access

Using these methods, employees will be able to access the handbook from their home computer, tablet or cell phone no matter where they are. Anytime there is a change to the handbook, HR can simply notify them via email. Additionally, there are some advanced HRIS systems, that will alert employees to handbook updates if the handbook is published on their platform.

Note: While there are undoubtedly many benefits of going paperless, employers should first consider their employee population before committing to exclusively electronic distribution. Since the objective of the handbook is to communicate company policies and procedures to all employees, it is important that all employees have access to the necessary technology. In instances where this is not the case, alternate methods should be considered.  

Include a sign-off page.

Even thebest handbook fails to provide a benefit to your company if employees do not have easy access to it and if you cannot "prove" an employee has read and fully understands the handbook’s content. As noted, current technology has helped greatly with the access portion of this dilemma, but how can you ensure that access also equals comprehension? Many companies will require a signed acknowledgement form from employees, be it a printed copy or an electronic acknowledgement receipt for an online handbook, stating they have read and understand the content of the handbook. Doing this will provide further protection for employers and encourage employees to read the handbook provided to them, as they will be held responsible for knowing any information included. 

Perhaps the most important take-away here is that when it comes to the “perfect” employee handbook, there really is no such thing. In the end, what’s most important is having open employer-employee communication and creating a culture that strongly represents what you want for your company. If your handbook can accomplish this, while helping to maintain compliance with key state and federal policies, then it will function as an incredibly useful HR tool.   

Are you looking to outsource the creation of your company’s employee handbook? The experienced professionals at ProHCM offer outsourced services surrounding HR projects like this and much more. Please feel free to contact us, or visit for more information.  

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