5 Tips for Writing an Effective Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is one of the most important communications tools available to your business. It establishes expectations for your staff, procedures for resolving conflicts, and policies regarding a range of improper and illegal behavior.

Equally important, such workplace guides set forth your legal obligations and requirements as an employer, while articulating the rights and responsibilities of the people who work for your company.

To help you produce an employee handbook that, well, works, five tips:

1. Write in plain English:

“By using general language, the handbook will be more readable and more dynamic in that it will not have to be revised and re-published every time specific benefits change. Generalities may also serve to allow management more discretion with specific situations that may arise.” (Writing An Employee Handbook Your Employees Will Read – And Heed, Part 1 by Fisher & Phillips LLP)

2. Add your company’s mission statement:

“Every employee’s understanding and ‘buy-in’ of a company’s goals and mission is vital to a successful business. The employee handbook is the vehicle for employers to use to communicate clearly and effectively what those goals and missions actually are. Also, it is important to lay out the company goals and mission statements in the handbook so employees feel a sense of purpose and duty.” (Top 10 Essentials to Include in an Employee Handbook by Dinsmore & Shohl LLP)

3. Only include policies you plan to follow:

“… Walmart’s employee handbook stated that hourly employees who work between three and six hours per shift would be given one 15-minute paid rest period and employees working more than six hours per shift would be given two 15 minute paid rest periods. The handbook further stated that if the employees were interrupted during their lunch break they would be paid in full for the break and given an additional rest period, which employees alleged did not occur… The court ruled that Walmart’s handbook policies pertaining to meal and rest periods were ‘unilateral contracts’ with employees that Walmart breached.” (Walmart’s Employee Handbook Cost them $187.6 Million; What Could Your Employee Handbook Cost You? by Jaburg Wilk)

4. Include the appropriate disclaimers:

“Disclaimers regarding the ‘at-will’ relationship should appear in your handbook early and often. These disclaimers will help prevent employees from arguing that the handbook creates a contract. In the last two years, multiple courts have ruled that such disclaimers are effective in preserving the ‘at-will’ relationship despite employees’ attempts to argue otherwise.” (3 Tips for an Effective Employee Handbook by Russell Nevers)

5. Make sure your employees read the handbook:

“Employment handbooks confer few benefits if employees do not read and understand them. They confer even fewer benefits if an employer cannot demonstrate that an employee received and understood the handbook. Every handbook should contain a ‘Receipt and Acknowledgement’ page to be signed and dated by each employee…” (Top 10 Employment Handbook Mistakes by Barry Hersh)

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