Business, Employment, Leadership, Management

Employee Handbooks for Small Businesses: Must Have Policies

employment-agreementAn employee handbook is a must for any small business, as it memorializes the employer's policies and procedures and informs employees of workplace rules and expectations. Employers should make sure that the handbook is provided to all employees and includes an acknowledgment for employees to sign indicating that they have received, read and understand the policies in the handbook and agree to abide by them. At a minimum, an employee handbook for a small business should include the following policies:

  1. Employment At-Will Policy. Unless an employee is hired under an employment contract, all employment is at-will, meaning an employee can quit or be fired at any time. The handbook should make this crystal clear with a policy defining the employment relationship and a statement that the handbook does not create a contract that alters at-will status.
  2. Handbook Disclaimer. An employer needs make sure that each handbook specifically contains a disclaimer reserving your right to modify, suspend or terminate any policies, procedures or benefits your discretion with or without notice to employees.
  3. Leave Policies. The handbook needs to address the types of leave that an employee may be entitled to, whether you are required by law to provide it or because you want to offer it as an employee benefit, as well as whether the leave is paid or unpaid. This may include family and medical leave, military leave, pregnancy leave, jury duty leave, bereavement leave, and time off for court appearances or parental/family obligations.
  4. Benefit Policies. You should also include policies regarding what types of benefits will be provided (e.g., group health benefits, dental insurance, COBRA, prescription drug coverage, vision coverage, life insurance, stock options, retirement benefits, disability coverage and benefits, workers’ compensation, tuition assistance, employee discounts, paid time off (PTO), vacations, and holidays).
  5. Privacy Policies. Advise employees that there is generally no reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace. More specifically, such policies inform employees that to the employer may engage in drug testing, workplace searches or monitoring of electronic communications. Employers should also reserve the right to monitor and search all property and equipment provided to employees.
  6. Discrimination and EEO Policies. Your handbook should include strict policies prohibiting discrimination, retaliation and harassment in the workplace and ensuring equal employment opportunities.
  7. Complaint Procedure. Provide employees with a clear and multichannel complaint procedure for reporting potential legal violations or wrongdoing within the company as this may be required by law. Assure employees that you will take all complaints seriously and that they will not be retaliated against for filing a complaint.
  8. Wage and Hour and Compensation Policies. The handbook should inform employees regarding required working hours, regular paydays, rest periods, break periods, lunch breaks and how overtime is earned and paid. You should also tell employees how to account for hours worked and penalties for violations as well as lawful deductions.
  9. Employee Conduct and Disciplinary Policies. Clearly outline the prohibited conduct that will be cause for discipline, such as violence/fighting, safety violations, excessive absences or tardiness, verbal abuse, theft, illegal drug use, inappropriate use of electronic communications, and harassment or discrimination, and the types of discipline an employee may face.
  10. Confidentiality Policies. Specify what information and intellectual property the company considers confidential, proprietary or a trade secret, and prohibit employees from disclosing such information or unlawfully competing either during or after employment. You may also require employees to sign a separate document acknowledging their confidentiality and noncompete obligations.

This article was a joint collaboration by Ella Mason, a specialist freelance writer who specializes in providing useful and engaging advice for businesses, and Beth Zoller, Legal Editor at Xpert HR.

If you have any questions, please ask below!