There is no company too small to have an employee handbook. It provides the rules at any place of business, the expectations for various employees, and the rights that employees have at the company (like how much vacation employees get). A handbook eliminates the issue of employees being given different benefits and having to follow different rules (often based on what their manager makes up when a situation arises), which can lead to lawsuits for disparate treatment.
When drafting a handbook it is especially important to carefully consider what policies the business must have. Some policies apply to everyone and others only apply to certain employees. Certain policies may be needed at some businesses but not at others. Handbooks should generally contain policies that are applicable to all employees.
Below are the policies that every company should consider putting in their handbook:
1. Anti-Discrimination Policy/ Equal Employment Opportunity Policy
This policy is needed for obvious reasons. All companies need to let employees know that they will not permit discrimination based on any protected characteristic (race, color, national origin, religion, gender (including pregnancy), gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age (if the employee 40 years or older), and citizenship status).
2. Absence/Attendance Policy
All handbooks must address attendance. Many companies use a “point” system for each absence and tardy; they discipline employees based on the number of points the employee has accumulated. You need a consistent policy to ensure that employees are treated the same.
3. Background Checks
Companies should address whether they will run background checks on employees; it is best to include this information in any offer letter, as well.
There should be a policy addressing giving initial COBRA notice to employees and ensuring that employees will be given notice at the end of their employment. You can read more about COBRA here.
5. Confidentiality Policy
Companies should tell employees that they are expected to keep confidential information secret and define the items that are confidential. You may also lay out the procedures that employees must follow to keep the information confidential and how to share confidential information with individuals that have a need to know it.
Companies should have a policy that discusses discipline. Many companies have a list of various offenses and explain their progressive discipline policy.
The process for requesting disability accommodations should be outlined in this policy.
8. Drug Testing
What kinds of drug testing will the company do? Will it include random drug testing, pre-employment, post-accident, or reasonable suspicion?
9. Employee Assistance Programs
An employee assistance program is a program that offers services and counseling for employees with employment (typically performance) or personal problems (often alcohol related problems). These programs are often included with the company’s group health insurance plan.
10. Expense Reimbursement
What will the process be to obtain reimbursements from the company, particularly for salesmen and others that travel? How will expenses need to be documented?
11. Employment At-Will
All companies need a policy addressing whether employees will be employed at-will. This policy means that employees can be fired at any time for any reason. The vast majority of employment relationships are employment at-will.
11. Family and Medical Leave Act
If your company meets the covered employer requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), then you need a policy on how employees will request FMLA leave.
The Department of Labor explains what an employee must do to be eligible for FMLA Leave:
● Be employed by a covered employer and work at a worksite within 75 miles of which that employer employs at least 50 people;
● Have worked at least 12 months (which do not have to be consecutive) for the employer; and
● Have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately before the date FMLA leave is to begin.
12. Fitness for Duty
This policy is useful if there are physical or other requirements that must be met for an employee to perform their job duties in a safe manner.
13. Firearm Policy (for Texas and other states)
In Texas, most individuals can leave their firearms in a company parking lot if certain conditions are met. You can read more about this on the TWC website.
You may need or want a policy letting employees know about when their wages will be garnished and how garnishments are handled.
15. Grooming/Uniform Policy/Dress Policy
What is the required dress code for employees? Is there any uniform or equipment that they need to do their jobs? Will you reimburse for these expenses?
You want a policy stating that the company will not tolerate harassment in the workplace. Companies may also want that policy to explain what employees can do to address harassment.
What holidays will the company offer to employees? Will they be paid or unpaid?
18. Hours of Work
What are the typical hours of work for employees? If there are shifts, what hours do they work? What about for remote employees? You may wish to set hours for remote workers as I discussed here.
19. Inclement Weather/Bad Weather Policy
You need to have an inclement weather policy that lets employees know how to report that they will not make it into work and/or that the office is closed. You can read more about inclement weather issues here.
20. Internet and Email Use Policy
What will employees be allowed to do on company computers? Can they go on certain websites or will they be blocked?
What is the process that the company will use to conduct workplace investigations? Who will conduct the investigation? How will the process be conducted? Is there a chance to appeal? Will the investigation be confidential? Who will know about the investigation? What will happen at the conclusion of the investigation? You can read more about workplace investigations here and remote investigations here.
22. Jury Duty
Will the company pay or not pay employees for jury duty? What will happen if an employee finishes jury duty before the end of the day/their shift?
23. Layoff and Recall
How will the company conduct a layoff or a recall of employees? Will it be by seniority, seniority within a position? Will there be bumping rights? You can read more about layoffs here.
24. Leave – Military Leave, Disability Leave, Maternity Leave
You need to list all the available leaves that employees may be able to take.
25. Meal and Rest Breaks
All companies should have policies addressing when employees can take meal and rest breaks.
26. Moonlighting Policy
Will you have a policy that prevents employees from getting another job? Will they need to devote their full work time to you? This is not recommended for low level employees.
27. Off Duty Conduct
You may want to remind employees that they can be disciplined or even terminated for off-duty conduct.
28. Office Romances/Dating Policy
How will you address workplace romance? You should at least have constraints around supervisors dating employees. You can read more about office romance problems here.
29. On-Call Pay and Other Issues
You should have a policy addressing issues when an employee is on-call, including how they need to be available and how quickly they must be able to get to the office.
30. Open Door/Suggestion Policy
All companies should have a policy addressing how employees can raise complaints and possible suggestions for improvement to the company.
31. Orientation/Onboarding Policy
You need policies in place to ensure that employees are effectively onboarded. Onboarding is incredibly important to ensure that employees quickly become effective members of the team. You can read more about onboarding here.
All companies need to address how employees will receive overtime, that all overtime must be approved, and other issues related to overtime. You can read about the basics of overtime here.
When and how frequently will employees be paid? What will the workweek be defined as (it can differ from the calendar week)?
What is the process for employees to apply for promotions or other job openings? Is there a lock step program where employees will automatically be promoted?
This is an optional policy, but many companies want to clearly state whether employees can be re-employed (especially in the context of when they are fired for cause).
36. Reference Request
What will happen after an employee leaves and would like a reference request? How will you address these requests?
You need policies stating that you will not retaliate or tolerate retaliation against employees for reporting discrimination, harassment, and other workplace problems.
There needs to be a policy addressing safety in the workplace. This is a highly specific policy that will differ based on the business. Some businesses may even have an entire safety manual.
39. Sexual Harassment
All companies must address sexual harassment in the workplace. This policy should ensure that an employee has more than one person that they can report harassment to. Some employees only know their own manager at the company and do not have access to other members of management or HR (think about employees at a restaurant). The handbook needs to list someone to whom these employees can report workplace problems, including sexual harassment. It is often an owner of the company in small businesses; in these situations, the owner’s contact information or an email address needs to be in the handbook so that the employee can reach them. Ideally, there would be male and female reporting options as some employees may not feel comfortable reporting harassment to someone of the opposite gender.
You may need a policy addressing smoke breaks and where smoking may occur at the worksite.
41. Remote Work/Telecommuting
Will you allow employees to telework? What will be the requirements for employees that work remotely? How will you address the specific issues that are present for employees working offsite? You can read more about remote work here.
42. Vacation/Sick Leave/PTO
What will the company give employees in terms of time off for vacations and sick leave? Will you use a sick and vacation leave policy or a single PTO policy that employees can use for both circumstances?
43. Work-Related Injuries
What will happen when an employee is injured at work? What is the procedure for reporting the injury to management? Companies should also state that employees must report workplace injuries. This is an important policy for workers compensation insurance policies.
44. Work Rules
What other workplace rules will the company have? The handbook should have all the rules that are generally applicable to the workplace.
An employee handbook is critical. It is the most basic tool to prevent workplace disputes and even reduce the risk and the consequences of employment lawsuits. If you do not have a handbook, then this is the employment law problem that you should address as soon as you are able.
The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, then you should speak with a lawyer about your specific issues. Every legal issue is unique. A lawyer can help you with your situation. Reading the blog, contacting me through the site, emailing me or commenting on a post does not create an attorney-client relationship between any reader and me.
The information provided is my own and does not reflect the opinion of my firm or anyone else.
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