Is having an employee handbook important?

February 14, 2020

Definitely a great question and I would say they are the backbone of any strong HR infrastructure in business today and do help you stay compliant. Many, many years ago, I would hear business owners tell me, my lawyer says I shouldn’t put anything down on paper. If I don’t address it, it doesn’t really exist. The challenge with that logic today, is that there is an ever-increasing amount of labor laws that you need to communicate to your employees.  Although not legally required, handbooks allow you to succinctly communicate all the labor laws in one document. Otherwise, you need to write out a lot of memos and have the employees sign them all. Why not get just one signature at the end of the employee handbook via an acknowledgment page?  

Handbooks allow you to communicate all your rights as an employer…at will employment, introductory periods, client confidentiality, etc. They also communicate all the rights of employees…when do they get overtime pay, meal & rest break rules, pregnancy leave, etc. You also add the frequently asked employee questions like…when am I eligible for benefits? what are my benefits? do I get vacation or holiday pay? etc. Then you can also add the not so frequently asked questions like…if I call in sick, who do I call that into and when? If I get injured away from work how long can I be absent? Can I use my cell phone at work? etc. 

The great part about an employee handbook is you can think through potential employee questions and issues that may arise prior to them arising. Addressing them beforehand, when you are in a calm lucid state of mind can make all the difference. I would see employers get caught in a situation where they didn’t have a policy and then when the employee asked them about it, they would come up with one on the spot. Now precedence has been set and guess what? You now have a new policy that may not fit everyone in the company. If you made a concession for one person you better be willing to do it for everyone.  

Employee handbooks do come in handy when you do have an employee labor law dispute.  This document is one of the first things a government agency or the employee’s lawyer will ask for. Why? Because they want to know if you communicated all the laws and rights the employees are eligible for. The burden of proof is on the employer and if you don’t have documentation to back you up, you will be fighting an uphill battle. Written policies can help deal with lawsuits and can be used as evidence to help protect you the employer.  

Employee handbooks have a positive element to them too. You invest in the external marketing of your business but how about the internal marketing piece? The internal marketing is what do my employees see and think about my business. An employee handbook gets the employee/employer relationship off on the right foot and gives the employer a very professional look. Plus, it’s a great guidebook for employees and employers and keeps things consistent and shows fairness in the workplace.  

Final thoughts, documentation is so important for business owners today. When situations arise, you want to be able to stand tall and say…I did everything I could to comply with the labor laws and here is my great HR infrastructure tool (the employee handbook) to back up my stance. So, the answer is yes, having an employee handbook is important. But most important of all, you must keep it continuously updated. It’s a living and breathing document.  

Written by Glen Drouin, founder and owner of Harbor HR, LLC.  Glen has 13 years experience working with his Father’s business and 20 years experience as an HR and business consultant. You can reach Glen at 916-293-2116 or e-mail at glen@harborhr.com . 

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