Ten Reasons to have an Employee Handbook

August 1, 2007

Some businesses are loath to write things down because of a fear that it may "come back to bite them later". In the case of an employee handbook, I think exactly the opposite is true. 

  1. Marketing Your Business Culture: Employers can present a professional image to their employees and prospective employees through a well written employee handbook.
  2. Economizing on Explanations: I can’t imagine being responsible for explaining every benefit and work rule to every employee. More importantly, I would be scared to death over what supervisors were saying and what employees were hearing.
  3. Avoiding Contradictory Communication: Uniform administration of policies is the hallmark of good employee relations and legal compliance. Written communication memorializes what is being said, leaving to argument only what it means. In court, an employee can deny he or she was told something unless it is in writing.
  4. Thinking it Though: David Gray at Communication Nation observes that "writing things down forces you to think them though". Looking at the whole work environment, benefit package, and company culture by writing down your policies can give a business valuable introspection.
  5. Establishing Work Rules: Knowing the rules makes for a more harmonious work environment. It also helps in court when you don’t have to prove what the rules were and that the employee actually knew them.
  6. Summarizing Employee Benefits: Disputes over benefit eligibility can be avoided or quickly resolved when communications are clear and in writing. Make sure references are made to insurance policies and benefit plans that establish the terms on which benefits are offered.
  7. Notifying Employees of Legal Rights and Obligations: Particularly in the area of sexual and other harassment, having a policy and complaint procedure provides an employer with a defense that is not otherwise available. There are other laws that give employer’s more protection if they adopt policies.
  8. Protecting Employment at Will Presumption: Pennsylvania is one of a dwindling number of states that has a strong employment at will presumption. Take advantage of it by having an at-will statement. Also make sure to disclaim contractual status of your handbook.
  9. Complying with Certain Laws: The FMLA is one of the few laws that must be addressed in an employer’s handbook, if the business has one.
  10. Defending Against Legal Claims: Legal decisions usually come down to fairness. Most judges, administrative agencies, and juries that evaluate employee claims against companies expect that, at a minimum, employers will have reasonable workplace rules, communicate the rules in an understandable manner, and then uniformly follow them. What will you say on the witness stand when the employee’s lawyer asks you, "Well if it was so important, why didn’t you just write down the policy?"