An employee handbook is an essential tool to running your small business more effectively. A well-written handbook lets your employees know what you expect of them, and it describes what they can expect from you in return.
However, as a busy small business owner, you may not know where to start when it comes to deciding what to put into your manual and what to leave out. Although creating a handbook may sound overwhelming at first, you are really just putting down in written form the policies and procedures you have been using all along.
If you do a quick online search, you will find many templates for creating an employee handbook, but most of them follow the same basic organization pattern. The organization of your handbook is a key to its usefulness.
An important first step is to identify any federal, state and local employment laws that you must follow so that you include them in your handbook.
Check the U.S. Department of Labor website at www.dol.gov for federal regulations and your state’s department of labor website for state requirements. Keep in mind that if your business operates in more than one state, you may need to have slightly different handbooks for each state. If you are unsure about what policies are required by law, consult your attorney.
Let’s face it, your workers probably will not sit down and read your handbook cover to cover; they will go to it when they need specific information. Also, once you have developed your handbook, you will not want to have to re-write all the information in order to do revisions in just a few areas. These factors show why the organization of your handbook is so important. Here is a guide for organizing your handbook.
This first section can be the most personable section of the book. Here is where you can share your organization’s history, your goals, objectives and your overall management philosophy. The Introduction conveys your company culture, and as it does so, it sets the tone for the importance of the handbook.
The Table of Contents
The table of contents should list your policies and procedures with major headings and page numbers. A clear table of contents makes your document – whether it is online or in print – easy to use.
If you create a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word or on an Excel Spreadsheet, you can customize the format and keep the same format no matter how many times you update the table. Don’t worry about being creative with this section; keep it simple.
After you have considered legal requirements, what you include in your handbook should reflect what is important to you and your company culture.
Here are examples of typical table of contents headings for an employee handbook:
- Dress Code
- Tobacco-Free Workplace
- Drug-Free Workplace
- Weapon-Free Workplace
- Cell Phone Use
- Computer and Internet Use
- Social Media Postings
- Harassment-Free Workplace
- Safety and Health Procedures
- Employee Evaluations
- Vacation and personal time usage
- Payroll processing
- Arbitration procedures
Depending on your company and the work that you do, you may want to include additional sections that relate specifically to your company. These may include job descriptions, organizational charts, company forms and annual reports.
If you have a lengthy handbook, you may want to include both a table of contents and an index. An index allows the reader to search quickly for a particular policy without having to search through an entire section.
One way to create an index is to wait until all, or at least most, of your policies and procedures have been written and approved. Then, type the subjects covered under each policy into a spreadsheet along with a page number. For the heading, consider what word or words an employee would be most likely to look under first. If you think there is more than one option, you can place the topic under more than one heading.
Next, put the list into alphabetical order. Microsoft Word has several advanced functions for the creation of tables of contents and indexes.
We live in a litigious society, so an employee handbook should include a basic disclaimer that says it is indeed a handbook, not a contract for employment. Another disclaimer can say that this handbook supersedes any previous handbook and that it is subject to changes and revisions. Consult your attorney for wording of these general disclaimer statements.
An unread employee handbook cannot do its job. Therefore, you may want to include a page that an employee signs and returns to you as an acknowledgement that he or she has read the handbook and understands the company policies and procedures. You may then keep this signed and dated receipt in that employee’s file.
Finally, here is a word about tone. Employers find that handbooks are most effective when they emphasize the positive in terms of rules and regulations. Try to avoid a “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” tone in your manual. Instead, keep your tone upbeat and think of your handbook as a tool that can help you motivate and retain excellent employees.
For more information on developing your employee handbook, here are a few helpful websites: