By Kathleen Weiss, SPHR, Director of Human Resources at SWK Technologies
We are a growing company and have an employee handbook that is several years old. It’s not been updated and has policies that are no longer followed. We would really like to update the handbook but are hesitant to do it ourselves due to the legal repercussions and risks.
Jonathan from Dahlonega, GA
Keeping your employee handbook up to date is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk for your company. An effective and well-written employee handbook is the foundation of your employees’ success. Additionally, it provides the safest protection for the employer.
The handbook provides standards, expectations, declares employer rights, highlights employee rights, and offers a written employee acknowledgement for all standard practices relating to the employees. One of the most important roles a handbook can play is to preserve the at-will nature of employment.
Employee handbooks also improve communications between employers and employees. A carefully drafted employee handbook can act as an effective motivational tool and it can provide employees with a company history, set forth the company’s objectives and core values, and explain what role each individual employee plays in achieving company-wide goals.
Depending on how old your handbook is, it might be best to start from scratch. Putting together a handbook requires a thorough analysis of written policies, known but unwritten policies, and knowledge of all policies that are required by city, state, and federal laws. Your handbook should also be in alignment with and reflect your company’s policies and culture.
Although this process can be daunting, you will still need to start somewhere. My suggestion would be to only start with your own internal policies and not to worry too much about the legally mandatory policies yet. The legally mandatory policies will need to be particularly precise and conform to the related laws. Because of this, these policies need to be created by a qualified and experienced person.
Make your task easier by following these steps:
- Start only with an outline of the policy subjects you have clear views on, such as smoking, benefits, social media, technology, etc.
- Look through your old handbook and determine what you need to keep, versus what should be discarded or changed.
- Conduct internal discussions to get feedback from management about what should be included in the handbook.
- For each of the handbook subjects you still need to determine, simply create bullet points of your requirements and don’t waste too much time trying to write them completely yourself. Remember that the person you hire will re-write your handbook but having an outline is always a good starting point.
I do not suggest that your employee handbook be created internally. Even experienced corporate attorneys are not familiar with employment law and handbooks, so even they would not be your best choice for creating a new handbook. Externally, you do have a few good choices, some more expensive than others: you can hire an employment attorney to create your handbook, or you can hire a Human Resources consultant who is experienced in creating employee handbooks.
If you decide to hire an employment attorney, your cost may be upwards of $10,000, depending on how many states your company operates in. If you hire an HR consultant, you may be able to get a flat fee handbook and he or she may be able to include an “attorney review” in the fee. This option offers you comfort because you know that the content has been “blessed” by an attorney that the HR Consultant works with. Plus, this option gives you the opportunity to ask as many questions as you like without the fear of an hourly charge. You can also have an HR consultant create the handbook and then have your own employment attorney review it.
One thing to remember is that creating an employee handbook is extremely time consuming and it takes multiple meetings, calls, questions, and lots of communication. You can expect that a good employee handbook will take a few months to complete, so patience is vital. Once your employee handbook is finalized, sit with your contractor to make sure that you know each and every policy in it so that you can clearly explain the policies to your own employees. Your employees will have questions for you, so it’s important that you know the handbook from front to back—including all the legally mandated policies.
Make sure to incorporate your handbook into each new employee orientation meeting and obtain a signed acknowledgment form. In the end, your handbook will become a continually changing and evolving tool that guides your company and provides a strong foundation for your employees. A well-created employee handbook assists employers to reduce risks, streamlines the answering of frequently asked questions, and sets the tone for your company culture and rules.
Kathleen Weiss, SPHR
Director of Human Resources
Disclaimer: “HR Advisor” is a monthly human resources advice column written by Kathleen Weiss, SPHR, Human Resources Manager for SWK Technologies, Inc. SWK’s HR Advisor services provide cost-effective human resources solutions to small businesses. If you want more information on how to change your current vacation and sick policy to a PTO policy, or you have an outdated employee handbook that needs to be revised, please contact Kathleen Weiss, SPHR, at (973) 758-6122, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit swktech.staging.wpengine.com.
Our services include:
• Employee handbooks (English and Spanish)
• HR audits
• HR hotline
• Performance management and goal setting to increase productivity
• Job descriptions
• Employee relations
Legal Disclaimer: Information provided is not intended to be and should not be considered legal advice. As always, please consult your attorney regarding your company’s legal matters.
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