By the book: the whys and hows of employee handbooks.
Public financial managers are finding that personnel matters are consuming more and more of their time. These managers can save time and frustration by familiarizing themselves with their employee handbooks. Where such handbooks do not exist, finance officers can take the lead in encouraging their development. This article identifies the types of information that should be included in an employee handbook, so as to help those jurisdictions that are in the process of either developing a new handbook or improving an existing one.
STATEMENTS AND DISCLAIMERS
Employee handbooks are important not only for what they say, but also for what they don't say. Because a poorly written employee handbook can create liability for an employer, the following statements and disclaimers should be included in any handbook:
1. The employee handbook does not create a contract, express or implied. In the absence of such language, several court decisions have found the wording in an employer's handbook to be a binding employment contract.
2. The organization reserves the right to revise or rescind any policy at any time. As the organization grows, new government regulations are enacted, and department policies are revised, the organization needs the flexibility to update its policies.
3. The organization reserves the right to interpret the information presented. No matter how concisely policies are written, it is inevitable that employees will misinterpret them from time to time. The organization should therefore clearly indicate that it has the right to make the final decision as to the interpretation and intent of all information presented in the employee handbook.
4. If the organization has union employees, there should be a statement indicating that where information presented in the employee handbook conflicts with an expressed or explicit provision of the collective bargaining agreement, the collective bargaining agreement is controlling.
FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL REGULATIONS
All employee handbooks should address applicable federal, state, and local laws pertaining to employment-related matters. Federal and state laws that should be addressed include the following:
Equal Employment Opportunity laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The employee handbook should send a strong message that the organization does not discriminate against applicants and employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or any other protected class.
Sexual harassment. Because of several recent Supreme Court rulings on sexual harassment, it is more important than ever that employers have a comprehensive policy addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. The policy should define and provide examples of the two types of sexual harassment and specify the procedures for filing a complaint. It should state in no uncertain terms that all complaints will be thoroughly investigated and that those found to be in violation will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action. The policy should also assure employees that they will not be retaliated against for filing a complaint.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). All public agencies-regardless of size--are covered by the FMLA. The employee handbook is a great tool for distributing and communicating this policy to all employees.
EMPLOYEE CLASSIFICATIONS AND BENEFITS
The employee handbook should define what constitutes full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal employment. Most employers distinguish between these employment classifications for the purpose of determining which employees are eligible for benefits.
Employee benefits are of high interest to most employees. The employee handbook should therefore include a brief description of all the benefits offered by the organization. Only general information should be provided, such as which employment classifications are eligible for a particular benefit and the waiting period, if any, before becoming eligible to participate. Employees should be advised to contact the plan administrator or to refer to the plan documents for more specific information about each benefit.
OPERATIONAL AND ATTENDANCE POLICIES
The employee handbook should address the organization's operational policies, including hours of operation, meal and break periods, and emergency closings. The handbook should also delineate policies on tardiness and absences, military leave, jury leave, medical and FMLA leaves of absence, and bereavement leave. These policies should address the procedure for notifying the organization of absences, identify which employment classifications are eligible for time off, and specify whether the time off is paid or unpaid.
The compensation section of an employee handbook should include information on the following topics: pay period and payday, payroll deductions, overtime pay, and compensatory time.
If employees are expected to follow the policies and procedures set forth in the employee handbook, they should be notified of the consequences for violating those policies. The following policies relating to employee conduct should be addressed in an employee handbook:
* Civil service regulations pertaining to discipline (if applicable in your state)
* Corrective and progressive discipline
* Code of ethics
THE FINAL PRODUCT
Once the initial draft of the employee handbook has been written, it should be proofread for accuracy and for compliance with federal, state, and local laws. Check all policies for consistency and make sure that no contradictory information is presented. Sentences should be clear and concise. Long sentences should be broken down into bulleted lists whenever possible.
Because a thorough employee handbook can be 50 pages or more in length, it is important that it be user-friendly. The font size should be large enough so that employees won't have to strain their eyes as they're reading. A table of contents, bulleted lists, charts, and tables are also recommended for ease of use.
Once the handbook is finalized and ready for distribution, employees should be required to sign an acknowledgment form stating they have received a copy of the employee handbook. The signed acknowledgment form should be placed in each employee's personnel file.
An employee handbook is a valuable communications tool for all organizations, regardless of size. As such, it is important to invest the necessary amount of time and effort to write a handbook that is accurate, complies with all government regulations, and is easy for employees to read.
OTHER TOPICS TO BE CONSIDERED FOR INCLUSION IN AN EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK
Civil service system (if applicable in your state)
Change in status (e.g., changes in name, address, telephone number)
Driver license requirements
Personnel files and record-keeping Personal appearance and dress code Substance free workplace
Substance testing policy
Smoking in the workplace
Personal telephone and cell phone use Computer systems and Internet policy
Personal use of supplies, tools, and equipment
Expense and mileage reimbursement
Solicitation by employees and non-employees
Hazard communication program
Dispute resolution procedures
RONNI M. TRAVERS is senior vice president in the Municipal Consulting Division of AMTEK Human Resource Consultants.