The Purpose of an Employee Handbook

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Are you interested in what an employee handbook is, what it does, and how it can support both employers and employees? Here's what you will want to know about employee handbooks.

An employee handbook is a compilation of the policies, procedures, working conditions, and behavioral expectations that guide employee actions in a particular workplace.

In a handbook, these policies and procedures range from how to access your employee personnel file to your open door policy, your promotion policy, and your Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) policies.

Employee handbooks generally include information about the company, a welcome letter from the president or CEO, the company's mission, vision, purpose, values, and broad strategic goals, the company's commitment to employees, and various non-compete, non-disclosure, and employee confidentiality agreements, if the company uses them.

They also summarize attendance expectations, define nonexempt and exempt employment statuses, cover severe weather closings, the use of company property, and anything else an employee needs to know.

Finally, most handbooks clearly present employee compensation and benefits plus paid time off in detail, and additional terms and conditions of employment.

How Do Employers Use an Employee Handbook?

Employers use handbooks to provide a consistent set of policies and procedures. They also use handbooks to describe working conditions and the workplace behavior and contributions they expect from employees.

They believe that by putting forth a shared approach to addressing workplace issues, they have the best potential to create a  harmonious, fair, employee and employer supportive workplace.

Employers also use the policies in an employee handbook to provide the roadmap to the ethical and legal treatment of employees. They protect themselves from lawsuits, such as harassment claims, wrongful termination claims, and discrimination claims. Employee handbooks generally contain a code of conduct for employees that set guidelines around appropriate behavior for the individual workplace.

Progressive discipline and procedures for making a complaint are also in most employee handbooks. It allows the employer to know that employees are informed about actions and behaviors that will warrant disciplinary action up to and including employment termination in their workplace.

In locations where at-will employment exists, the at-will employment statement is in the employee handbook.

What Employee Handbooks Do for Employees

With a well-written, comprehensive handbook, employees always know what is expected of them at work. They know how their employer will address and apply the policies and procedures of the business and what they, as employees, can expect from the employer.

They know how their employer will address problems and complaints. They have a reasonable expectation that employees with similar issues will receive similar treatment. They share a knowledge base with the rest of the employees, too, and know what is important for the business.

Employees like seeing the benefits and compensation that they are entitled to receive spelled out. Finally, the handbook serves a quick reference guide to a great deal of information that employees need at work.

Legal Issues about Employee Handbooks

Employees are expected to review and become familiar with the contents of the employee handbook. A majority of employers ask employees to sign a statement to demonstrate that the employee has read the employee handbook and agrees to abide by the contents.

This signed document acknowledges that the employee understands and has received a copy of the employee handbook.

Additionally, the statement contains a disclaimer, similar to the disclaimer in the actual employee handbook, that the employee understands that the contents are simply policies and guidelines, not a contract or an implied contract with employees.

Further, the employee handbook reserves the right to the employer to change the policies and procedures, and thus the contents of the handbook, at any time, with or without notice. (Smart employers always give employees notice so as not to affect employee morale adversely, but they're covered by this statement.)

Finally, most employers have a complete and updated copy of their employee handbooks online on the company's proprietary website or Intranet, for the convenience of employees.