What to include in an Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is an effective way to educate your employees on the policies and procedures of the organization. Employee handbooks can serve many different purposes. They can set out the most important policies and procedures that protect the organization from legal liability and they can convey the organization’s history and culture. Employment laws and regulations are constantly changing, so the organization handbook should be reviewed annually to ensure it complies with the most up-to-date state and federal employment laws.

Employee handbooks should convey to the employees that they are entitled to a safe and respectful environment. Employee handbooks should include a disclaimer stating that the published policies and procedures do not create a contract of employment. There are cases in Minnesota that hold that an employee handbook can create a contract, so it is important to have a proper disclaimer. Employee handbooks that have policies or require the employee to state the at-will employment relationship cannot be altered in any way are illegal because the employee is waving his or her section 7 rights under the national Labor Relations act. The employee has a right to advocate change to the at-will status.

The handbook should have an acknowledgment stating that the employee understands and agrees to abide by the employee handbook’s rules and policies and that the employment is at-will. The employee should be asked to review the handbook and sign and date the acknowledgment that the employee has reviewed the handbook. This can be placed in an employee’s personnel file. This makes it difficult for the employee to profess that they didn’t know of the organization’s policies and procedures. At the same time, managers must be educated in the company’s policies and procedures and honor the commitments in the employee handbook.

Employee handbooks should include a notice that the employer reserves the right to revise or rescind or make changes to the handbook at any time. Handbooks should also point out that there may be occasions where the employer may choose to deviate from the general guidelines, and the employer retains full discretion to take action that it considers necessary and appropriate under the circumstances. Some of the policies and procedures that should be conveyed in an employee handbook include:

  1.  A section welcoming the new employee and history of the organization, employment at-will policy, ethics, confidentiality, and conflict of interest policy.
  2.  A section on commitment to diversity including the company’s equal employment opportunity policy, policy prohibiting sexual harassment and other anti-harassment policies and complaint process, disability accommodation, pregnancy accommodation, religious accommodation, retaliation prohibited and whistleblower policy.
  3. A section on general employment practices that would include:  Employee classifications, employee eligibility and work authorization (I-9 forms), access to personnel files, and background checks.
  4.  A section on workplace conduct which would include:  Standards of conduct, dress code policy, performance and development, concerns and complaints, corrective/disciplinary action, notice of resignation, access to personnel records, and outside employment.
  5.  A section on wage and hours including:  Work schedules, absenteeism and tardiness, overtime, meal and rest breaks, lactation breaks, wage disclosure protection and personnel records.
  6.  A section on technology and information security which can include: Personal electronic devices, cell phone use, social media, and computer/internet use.
  7.  A section on time off and leaves of absence including:  Status for time off and leaves of absence, holidays, paid time off, family and medical leave, including military family leaves, parental leave, adoption leave, sick and safety leave, long-term disability/extended family and medical leave, school activities leave, jury/witness duty leave, military leave, voting leave, bereavement leave, and other time off and leaves of absence.
  8.  A section on benefits including information on the benefits that the company provides.
  9.  A section on safety including:  Safety concerns and reports of injury, drug and alcohol free workplace, smoke free work policy, vehicle use, cell phone use while driving policy, workplace violence, and fire arms and weapons policy.
  10.  Acknowledgment and Receipt of Handbook signature page and any other addendum.

The fact that Federal and State laws are constantly changing and the cost of employment litigation rising are compelling reasons that a written employee handbook of company policies is a business necessity for firms of any size. The employee handbook also serves as a tool for managers to reference when answering employee questions in order to improve the consistency and quality of the workplace.

If you need assistance with a Minnesota Employee Handbook, contact Holden Law Firm at:

John C. Holden
Holden Law Firm
5200 Willson Road, Suite 150
Edina, MN  55424