Employee Handbook FAQs

With all the talk about compliance, lawsuits, hiring, and retention, the topic of Employee Handbooks comes up often. Here are some common questions we receive.

Why do I need a handbook?

Three main reasons why:

1). Compliance

A comprehensive handbook will outline the relevant state and federal requirements for your office. This will include custom language about At-Will Employment, Discrimination, Harassment, Sick Leave, Jury Duty, Voting, Meal & Rest Breaks, Leaves of Absence, Pregnancy, and others.

For owners and managers, the handbook serves as a guide to ensure employment situations are handled properly.

2). Clarification

A well-written, up-to-date, handbook will answer many common questions for your employees:

    • A holiday falls on a weekend, is it paid?
    • How much vacation do I get?
    • My child has a school event, can I have the day off?
    • Can I use the business computers to check my email?
    • Who do I contact if I’m sick?
    • When do I get paid?
    • Can I use my cell phone while working?
    • Do I have to cover my tattoo?
    • Do I get paid for a CE event?

Employee misunderstandings are one of the greatest challenges for owners, managers, and employees. They distract from the core mission of your business and lead to resentment, frustration, and turnover. Your handbook should prevent these misunderstandings and keep everyone on the same page.

3). Convenience

When anyone has a question, the answer is always the same 5 word answer: “Go. Look. In. The. Handbook.”

Why not hire an attorney?

Of all the options, this one is the most expensive, especially for what you receive for your money.

First, the person absolutely must be a labor attorney. Your buddy’s cousin who does real estate contracts is not qualified to write a compliant, comprehensive employee handbook.

An employee handbook from an experienced labor attorney will typically cost $4,000 – $6,000.

However, that will be the only item. Any ongoing updates or compliance changes will be extra or require an ongoing retainer. Other HR essentials like personnel forms, job descriptions, and phone/email support will also be an added cost.

Also, a labor attorney may have no experience actually running a business, hiring/firing employees, managing performance, etc. While they may know the laws very well, they may not be qualified to give consultation on what you should do, only what you can do.

Why not just do it all myself?
Why not use my friend’s manual and customize it?
What’s wrong with the free templates online?

The DIY approach carries 3 main issues:
  1. Comprehensive: a DIY handbook is often lacking in certain required or recommended policies, and the individual policies can lack the necessary breadth to encompass all of the important circumstances. This is where it is beneficial to work with someone who has seen-it-all.
  2. Current: Googling information late at night can yield policies, articles, and information. But the information may be outdated, or it may not apply to your state, or your number of employees. There may have been recent interpretations from the Department of Labor, or a recent court ruling that impacts a subtle aspect of what is allowable.
  3. Time: the DIY approach is the most labor intensive approach for you personally. It will take your attention away from the business and away from your family. It’s important to keep in mind what your time is worth.

Another important consideration is industry specificity: there are unique challenges in your industry, and a handbook designed for a corporate setting may not be helpful.

Why not just have my OM do this?

This approach carries the same downsides as the DIY approach above. In addition, you are absolutely “paying” your OM to do this project. It may not appear as a separate expense line item, but an OM only has so many working hours each week. Every hour they spend researching and writing policies is an hour they could be spending on team building, software optimization, billing/collections work, or any number of other projects that could yield much greater financial benefits.

I have a handbook that was written by an attorney/HR Expert several years ago. Is that still good?

We believe that HR should be a living-breathing part of the business, not something that collects dust on the shelf. Employee handbooks need to be regularly updated and revised. In the several years since yours was written, you may have changed your own internal policies, benefits, or expectations. You may have had ownership/partner changes. You may have had managerial/leadership team changes. Almost certainly, there have been federal and/or state regulatory changes that affect you. This means your handbook may now be out of date, out of compliance, and a liability instead of an asset.

Why do I need personnel forms, job descriptions, and HR Specialist support? All I need is an employee handbook.

Let’s go through a couple common employee scenarios:

1). Pregnancy

Pregnancy impacts your office in both the recruiting and ongoing employment phases. There should be a policy in your handbook about Leave of Absence, and this policy should be up-to-date and relevant for your state and the number of employees.

You should have a Job Description that outlines the position’s Duties and Physical Requirements, to allow the employee’s treating physician to make an educated decision regarding your employee’s ability to perform their responsibilities safely and recommend any accommodations that should be considered.

Paperwork would include a leave of absence request, medical certification, accommodation request, release to work, and more.

After returning from the maternity leave of absence, the employee would fall under the Breastfeeding and Expressing Milk policy in your handbook.

If any complications arise, or difficulty with the situation, having access to an HR Specialist is critical so you don’t “wing it” and accidentally make a mistake.

2). Handling a Difficult Employee

Before even sitting down with the employee, you should already have your up-to-date handbook, job description, signed acknowledgments, and other paperwork in place. These provide a solid foundation to stand on when addressing performance deficiencies.

If the difficulties have progressed to a written warning, you’ll need a properly written counseling memo that outlines the issues, the expectations, the corrective action, and the potential future consequences.

Difficult employees can be, well, difficult. Despite your best intentions, the conversation can take tangents and go off the rails quickly. Having HR Specialist guidance and scripting will give you confidence and allow you to handle the possible reactions.

If the situation progresses to termination, you’ll need additional paperwork, compliance training on your state’s requirements for final paycheck & benefit payout rules, and additional HR Specialist guidance.