Tips For Writing An Employee Handbook


Writing up an employee manual is usually way down the bottom of the to-do list for an SME owner — usually just above writing up their policies and procedures manual!

But in the long run you can save yourself a lot of time by getting your HR procedures down in print once, instead of having to explain them numberless times. There are other decisions, such as whether to offer severance pay or not, where you won’t want to be making off-the-cuff decisions each time someone terminates employment. That's the wrong time to make serious decisions like this and can lead to inconsistent, and possibly illegal, treatment of people. Employment procedures should be developed before you have to follow them so you don't have to make up policy in a situation of urgency.

Finally, there are some employment issues about which the law absolutely requires you to provide information to your employees in writing, such as the rules on sexual harassment and equal opportunity.

All in all, time spent putting together a set of guidelines on core employment issues is time well spent to keep you in compliance with the law and protect you from the consequences of litigation by unhappy employees. Keep these tips in mind when developing your employment manual.

Don't reinvent the wheel: there are plenty of employee handbook templates around that will provide an outline of what should be included. Some include written versions of policies that can be modified to suit your particular business and situation. If you decide to buy an off-the-shelf manual, check that the supplier guarantees it has been developed by HR professionals, complies with employment law and is up to date. If you have standard forms already for things like leave requests, then include a copy of each form with the relevant policy.

Ensure employees know about it and use it: creating an employee handbook for yourself is a waste of time. If you are to get any payback on the time and effort you invested in creating it, you need to promote it. Let all employees know that it exists, where to find a copy, what is in it and how to use it.

Cover yourself: include a disclaimer stating clearly that the manual is in no way a legal contract. Hold sessions with employees to explain how it works and request them to take time to read it by a certain date. Then ask each one for written confirmation saying they have read it.

Keep it manageable: an employee handbook is not a safety manual, or a job description, or a procedures guide. There’s a place in a well-run business for each of those but they are separate to an employee manual. Restrict your employee manual to information about employment conditions, work rules and disciplinary procedures.
Use it to train employees: the manual will prove a useful reference for employees, particularly new employees, to look up information for themselves rather than always having to interrupt you to enquire about how things work. It will help new employees understand expectations — ‘how we do things around here’ — and fit in faster.

Keep it current: out of date employment information is dangerous information. Failure to keep your information current on topics such as penalties for harassment and leave entitlement can be the basis for big payouts if a dispute with an employee ends up in litigation. Apart from adding new legislative information as it becomes available, review the whole document every couple of years to weed out anything that has become irrelevant.

Until next week,
Mike Reddy