What to Cover in an Employee Manual

If your company started out small but has grown in recent years, you may face new challenges from a human resources standpoint. For example, if you have not done so already, you should develop an employee manual. This document can provide employees with vital information they need while affording you some legal protection. Even if you already have a manual in place, it may need to be updated.

What sort of issues should be covered? They can be wide-ranging, depending in part on the nature of your business, but here are several common aspects.

Introduction: On the first page, you should describe your company’s origin, mission and your business philosophy.

Hours and compensation: State the rules for both full-time and part-time employees. Be clear on the treatment for salaries, bonuses and overtime compensation.

Attendance: Explain that numerous unexplained absences or perpetual tardiness will not be tolerated. Establish the basis for disciplinary consequences and termination of employment.

Fringe benefits: Cover the typical benefits—such as vacation pay, sick pay and unpaid leave—as well as health insurance and life insurance programs, retirement plans and any other fringe benefit plans. Reference the official plan documents.

Disciplinary reviews: List the types of behavior that might trigger a review, including theft, violence, vandalism, discrimination, sexual harassment (see “sexual harassment” section), etc. Key point: State that this is not an all-inclusive list and that the company reserves the right to decide to discipline, or even fire, an employee for other conduct.

Complaints: Inform employees about complaint procedures. Designate the individuals who will receive complaints. Important: Employees must be informed that there will be no retaliation for filing a complaint.

Sexual harassment: A company manual may be used to remind employees that sexual harassment is illegal. Be specific about guidelines and procedures for lodging a claim, how claims will be handled and the ramifications for offenders.

Substance abuse: The business can formulate a policy prohibiting employees from using drugs or alcohol in the workplace. Provide the requisite information.

Employee safety: Employees should be expected to follow safety procedures and report potentially dangerous conditions to a supervisor. Other special rules may apply, depending on the type of business.

Smoking: It is a good idea to develop a written policy for workplace smoking. (This is even required in some states.) Have your attorney check into the applicable laws.

Electronic communications: Establish company-wide policies on the use of e-mail, the Internet, social media and blogging. If you have to read employee communications (e.g., when an employee accuses another of sexual harassment), your policy should tell employees that such communications are not privileged. And, if you intend to monitor employee communications, state so in the manual.

Finally, be aware you cannot address every conceivable situation that will arise, so make this abundantly clear. Otherwise, an employee may claim that actions that are not covered by the manual are permitted.

Obviously, there are several potential obstacles to overcome. Obtain expert advice from your professional advisers.