How to Create an Effective Employee Handbook

Does your practice have an employee handbook? Within any office environment, employees need a written document that outlines not only the general policies and expectations of their employer, but also legal information such as the employees’ rights. By developing and distributing such a handbook to your staff, you’ll be taking a positive step toward maintaining consistency in terms of how certain situations (such as sick time or overtime) are handled for all employees. And you’ll also provide your staff with a very helpful resource they can refer to whenever questions come up about certain situations in the workplace.

If your practice doesn’t have one—or if it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed and updated yours—here are some guidelines for creating a useful employee handbook:

Include General Employee Information and Legal Obligations

Consider what information new employees need to know. Items such as the practice’s mission statement and any workplace policies, such as standards of conduct, employee benefits, work schedules, leave and vacation guidelines, technology usage, discipline policies, and termination and resignation procedures, are all crucial topics to cover.

You should also outline your legal obligations to your employees and provide an overview of an employee’s personal rights. Be sure to include an “at will” statement (which indicates that an employee can be fired at any time and without cause), as well as a general disclaimer stating that the handbook is not considered to be comprehensive and doesn’t cover all possible applications and exceptions to the policies it describes.

Beyond that, you should include any policies regarding safety and security, sexual harassment, disability, medical leave, and nondiscriminatory employment practices. Before you finalize the handbook, it would be good to consult with an attorney who has expertise regarding labor laws and ask him or her to make sure all of the necessary bases are covered.

Don’t Go into Too Much Detail

While you want be sure to include important policies and information, there’s no need to go overboard. If you try to cover every point, you may find yourself continually updating the handbook. So think about the document as an overview of the basic office rules, rather than a comprehensive guide.

While you may choose to cover pay schedules or overtime pay policies in the handbook, it shouldn’t include salary information or other details that would be agreed upon within an individual’s employment contract. In the unfortunate case of litigation, statements made in the handbook could become a point of conflict. So keep things simple and to the point to prevent future contention or confusion.

Make the Handbook Easy to Use and Understand

A handbook is only useful if it’s distributed properly and your employees understand it. To start, give a copy to each new employee as part of their orientation and training. Have them sign a document that confirms they’ve received and reviewed the handbook.

You should also commit to review the handbook at least once a year to make sure all of the policies are up to date and match current office procedures. Remember, the written guidelines in a handbook should reflect what is actually put into practice, not what you wish would happen.

To ensure that the handbook is a helpful resource, don’t forget to include a simple table of contents and a glossary of key terms. The language as a whole should be easy for your employees to understand and apply, so avoid using any type of legalese or overly technical jargon. Encourage your employees to keep their copies readily accessible. And set a good example for your staff by referring to it as needed.

The main benefit of an employee handbook is the consistency it provides in the workplace. By outlining office policies and legal obligations in a written document, all employees will receive the same information and be able to review it whenever necessary. The result? The workflow of your practice will run smoothly, and you’ll have a ready resource for resolving employee conflicts whenever they should arise.


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