The Importance of an Employee Handbook

Mar 19 2018

by Angie Avard Turner

The Southern Coterie blog: "The Importance of an Employee Handbook" by Angie Avard Turner (photo: Kelli Boyd Photography)
Whether your business is big or small, if you have employees, you need an employee handbook. (photo: Kelli Boyd Photography of the well-run Emily McCarthy Shoppe)

If you have employees, or plan to hire them in the near future, this post is for you.  As a business owner, rules can be such a difficult thing to implement.  At the beginning, it may just be you running your store or website, however as you grow—and that is the goal—rules need to be put in place.

There are a few reasons to consider having a handbook in place, but the most important one is a clarity of communication with your employees. They need to understand what the business goals are and how you expect them to be achieved or maintained. Additionally, employees need to understand what the boundaries are and what the consequences are for stepping outside of those boundaries. Following are some of the main components a handbook should include. This list is not exhaustive, however, it does include many of the key component.  It is certainly a good starting point.

Company Mission

The employee handbook should define the company’s goals and mission at the outset. By doing this, you create a sense of common purpose. This component sets the tone for employees coming into your establishment and gives them a clear, concise glimpse of your overall vision for your store.

Handbook Purpose

The handbook should clearly state its purpose. This seems fairly simple and straightforward. True! You will want to communicate that the purpose of the handbook is to concisely state the policies and procedures of the store.  Furthermore, you will want to put each employee on notice that the handbook is a living document.  That means you reserve the right to update, revise or do away with the handbook; this right is at your sole discretion.

Disclaimer

Disclaimers, legally speaking, are a refusal to take responsibility.

Every handbook should make a statement that preserves and maintains the at-will employment status. At-will employees are those who can be dismissed by an employer for any reason (that is, without having to establish “just cause” for termination), and without warning.  A contractual employee, as you may suspect, is one who agrees to specific terms and cannot be fired without cause.

Employment Policies

Employee policies should be stated clearly and in compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations that govern the business. Make sure, where appropriate, include policies on Equal Opportunity Employment, Non-Harassment, Non-Discrimination, and Employee Eligibility.These items are areas where business owners are challenged and have suits filed against them.

General Policies and Information

This is the backbone of your handbook.  The information specified in this section is what creates the company culture, so to speak.  Some of the items included in this section are standards of conduct, work schedule, payment schedule, overtime, promotions, bonuses, dress code, social media policies, conduct while on the sales floor, and a myriad of other items that you many want to communicate to anyone you employee.

Leave Policies

Employees will always want or need to take time off.  So, it is imperative to clearly communicate what your leave policy is. Make sure that your leave policies are in compliance with federal and state laws.  Leave policies include the various types and situations such as being sick, vacation, maternity/paternity, military, grief, caregiving, and jury duty.  This policy also spells out who is eligible, what duration is acceptable, whether it is paid or unpaid, and whether leave approval is required and if so the procedure to get approval.  While spelling out the leave policy, it crucial to put employees on notice that abuse of the leave policy will not be tolerated and that you reserve the right to terminate to the employee for excessive leave.

Health and Safety

It doesn’t seem likely that safety would seem like a huge issue, however it is important to include tenets regarding safety and security. Be aware of whether OSHA regulations apply in your business.  Additionally, you should have in place how employees should handle accidents, injuries and any other safety issue.  Another consideration is how your business will handle weather safety issues.

Employee Benefits

You should detail all benefits available to your employees and when they will become eligible for those benefits.  One area that being clear is necessary is healthcare. Make sure that you explain how you provide healthcare coverage if you are required to do so.

Discipline and Termination Policies

This is an area you must address. It is not popular to be the disciplinarian, but you are the boss, so you must lead!  Be sure to explain what the procedure for discipline is, the procedure for an employee to leave, and procedure for an employee to be terminated. Make sure that when you determine this section of your handbook that the policies are something you can abide by, because you will be expected to do so.

Acknowledgement

You must require an acknowledgement.  What does the acknowledgement accomplish?  It ensures that your employee has received, understands, and agrees to abide by what is set forth in the handbook.  Moreover, you should keep a signed acknowledgement from each employee in their employee file. Even if the employee leaves or is terminated, the acknowledgement should be kept on file for at least five years.

Again, this list of areas to be covered may not include everything, but it is a good start for your business. If there are areas you are unsure of, seek the advice of an experienced attorney.  They will be able to guide you through working out your handbook.  It may be money spent on legal fees, but better to invest in protecting your business that having to spend double that to defend what is left vulnerable.

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Angie Avard Turner View More Blog Posts from this Author

Angie Avard Turner is an attorney who exclusively represents clients in the creative arts industries including retailers, wholesalers, artists, photographers, event planners, bloggers, and other creative service providers.  She is licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia, but she is able to handle copyright and trademark issues nationally.  For more information regarding her practice, visit www.angieavardturnerlaw.com­­­. Angie is also the owner and creative director behind Hype Strype, a fine stationery company that caters to those who love bright colors and patterns. 

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