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How to Draft an Employee Handbook That Protects You AND Your Staff

How to Draft an Employee Handbook That Protects You AND Your Staff

Although I’ve only worked for one full-time employer in my pre-writing days, I’ve also held several different part-time jobs to help make ends meet and earn extra cash from time to time. And one thing I’ve come to realize looking back is that there is no standardization when it comes to employee handbooks.

While some companies I was employed by had 20 to 30 page handbooks (or more), even requiring me to sign an acknowledgment that I received and/or read it, others had absolutely no handbook whatsoever. Unfortunately, this puts small businesses and their employees at risk.

Protecting Yourself

Sadly, in this day and age, you have to take a number of additional steps you didn’t have to take in years past to better protect yourself from lawsuits that can be filed by the people you employ. A large number of annually filed complaints are related to workplace discrimination (almost 90,000 were filed in the fiscal year October 2013 to September 2014 according to the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), whereas others revolve around failing to protect from dangerous equipment or other business-related risks.

Another type of lawsuit, and one that you’d actually be the Plaintiff in, is one that is filed when employees share your proprietary information or intellectual property. If this happens it could be absolutely disastrous to your small business, as all of your “secrets” will be revealed, giving your competitors the chance to swoop in and use them for their own gain.

While there’s no way to protect yourself from lawsuits 100 percent of the time, since they can be filed by anyone for any reason, having an employee handbook is one way to better protect your company. By outlining what your staff can expect from you and what you expect from them, it may help you stay out of court or, worst case scenario, work in your favor should you wind up there regardless.

Employee handbooks can also potentially protect you from hiring people that won’t necessarily fit into your company culture. If you let prospects look over your handbook prior to hiring them, this gives them the opportunity to see exactly what you expect from them during their employ. Therefore, if they can’t deliver in a way that matches what it is you want, this enables them to speak up and say so before you put a lot of time and energy into their training, only to learn that they weren’t right for your company.

Protecting Your Staff

An employee handbook can also help protect your staff, partly because it tells them exactly what you will do to ensure that they work in a safe environment. Well-written handbooks can also safeguard your hired staff from mishandling any type of potentially harmful work issues, telling them exactly what they need to deal with that type of situation should it occur.

Not only does this help you if you ever find yourself in litigation, but having an employee handbook also says that you care enough about your staff to make their safety your priority. By sharing your expectations and obligations, their expectations and obligations, and how you intend to honor them, you’re telling your employees that you are committed to making your small business as safe and comfortable as you possibly can. And you’re doing it in a way that is completely transparent about what everyone’s role is and how it shall be fulfilled.

Of course, having a handbook that offers both of these protections is the most desirous. How do you do you create one?

Creating a Dual Protection Employee Handbook

To create an employee handbook that offers protection to both you and your staff, it should contain some very specific sections and/or information. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), these include:

  • Non-disclosure. If your business has intellectual property that you’d like to protect, then the SBA states that your handbook should include a non-disclosure agreement and a conflict of interest statement. This helps protect your business secrets from falling into your competitors’ hands.
  • Anti-Discrimination Policy. Sharing the equal opportunity laws and the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees alike will make everyone aware of what is and is not tolerated in regard to these types of issues.
  • Wage Information. You want to tell your employees what you will be deducting from their paycheck (such as taxes and any court ordered payments, like child support). This section also covers overtime pay, pay increase schedules, and any bonus or commission-type payments.
  • Work Schedules and Expected Actions. According to the SBA, an employee handbook should provide information regarding hours of work, dress code, probationary period, benefits, leave policies, and anything else relevant to their employment with your company.
  • Safety Policy. To help protect against hazardous workplace safety issues, your handbook should also share your compliance with regulatory agencies (like OSHA), in addition to covering concerns related to potentially dangerous equipment and how severe weather will be handled.

Anything else you think an employee handbook should contain to better protect small businesses and their employees? Feel free to share it below so that others can add it to theirs!


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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.