In Focus: Employee Handbooks

By Douglas Lipsky

In the contemporary workplace, it is crucial for employers to clearly define their policies with respect to their employees. By creating a formal employee handbook, you can clarify the employer-employee relationship and protect your business in the event of a legal claim. The best way to design handbook tailored to your business’ individual needs is by working with an experienced employment law attorney. In the meantime, this article is a primer on the essential elements of an employee handbook.

What Matters Should Be Covered in an Employee Handbook?

A well-conceived employee handbook should, at a minimum, cover the following topics:

  • Compensation — it is important to clarify how employees are paid (e.g. hourly wage, annual salary, commissions) as well as the pay cycle — on a weekly or biweekly basis (or monthly as if customary for sales people). The compensation should also establish how work hours are logged, how taxes are calculated and deducted, and the conditions for receiving paid overtime. Above all, an employee compensation policy must conform to state and federal wage and hour laws.
  • Employee Benefits — the handbook should discuss the type of benefits are offered to employees (e.g. employer sponsored health insurance, 401(k) retirement plans, bonuses, profit sharing plans, stock options), and clarify the qualifications for receiving such benefits.
  • Work Schedules —  the company’s daily work schedule -should be specified, including hours of operation, attendance, lateness, hours required each day, rest and lunch breaks. Employees should also be informed whether they are entitled to paid personal, sick and vacation days, and how that time accrues. Additionally, flexible schedules and telecommuting policies should also be summarized in an employee handbook.
  • Employee Conduct/Disciplinary Matters — Guidelines for employee conduct should specifically address issues such as employment discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. You must a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination and harassment and make it perfectly clear that such behavior is grounds for termination. The handbook should also explain what disciplinary action will be taken for workplace violations such as excessive tardiness, absenteeism, misuse of company phones, email or other company equipment.

  • Safety Concerns — an employee handbook should discuss potential safety concerns, work conditions, job-related health issues that may arise, employee disputes, workplace violence, and inclement weather.


The Takeaway

Ultimately, an employee handbook should be tailored to the size and structure of your business as well as the industry in which you operate. By working with the right employment law attorney, you can put in place an employee handbook that can creates a positive work environment for everyone and protects your business from potential liabilities.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.