Employee Handbook: Defining Parameters around Your Culture
This story was told to me a long time ago via one of my psychology courses. A study was conducted on elementary school students at an outdoor playground. The children were dispersed into a playground with their teacher with no fence around them. The children’s behavior tended to take one of two courses. The children either congregated very near the teacher, leery to venture too far away or ventured far out into the dangerous edges of the playground, near or into the street.
The exercise was repeated with the same children and teacher a while later, but this time there was fencing around the playground. This time, the children tended to spread out all over the playground with increased enthusiasm, energy and creative play. As a result, the researchers concluded that with boundaries put in place, children felt safer to explore and stretch their creativity.
An Employee Handbook does the exact same thing for an organization – it defines to the best of its ability the parameters of how people will work together safely and fairly within the organization. By establishing clear boundaries related to work expectations, employees are set free, not restricted, due to having clear directives of what is acceptable and unacceptable work behavior.
Employee Handbook Outline
The types of topics covered in an employee handbook vary depending on the industry, environment (facility vs. remote work setting), culture and even state upon which the organization established itself. With some topics, the organization can define the parameters around the topic, i.e. amount of vacation time, etc., but with other topics, such as family leave, there are federal laws and state laws that must be adhered to.
So let me start by sharing with you at least the foundational topics that are covered in a handbook with an (L) beside which topics need to adhere to federal and state laws. You may choose to categorize them in a different fashion, but at least this list will give you a starting point.
- Employment At-will policy statement
Equal Opportunity and Commitment to Diversity
- Equal Opportunity (L)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Reasonable Accommodation (L)
- Commitment to Diversity, Harassment and Claim Procedure
Conflicts of Interest and Confidentiality
- Conflicts of Interest
- Confidential Information
- Employment Classification (L)
- Work Week and Hours of Work
- Deductions from Pay/Safe Harbor
- Access to Personnel Files (L)
- Employment of Relatives and Domestic Partners
- Separation from Employment
- Workplace Violence Prevention (L)
- Commitment to Safety, Emergency Closings
- Attendance, Job Performance
- Outside Employment
- Dress and Grooming
- Social Media Acceptable Use
- Bulletin Boards
- Email, and Other Resources
- Disciplinary Procedure
Time Off and Leaves of Absence
- Maternity, Paternity, Adoption leave (L)
- Family and Medical Leave (L)
- Military Leave (L)
- Bereavement Leave
- Jury Duty/Court Appearance (L)
- Time Off for Voting (L)
- Mental Health
- Dental, and Vision Insurance
- Workers’ Compensation
- Worker / Employee Assistance Program
Employee Handbook Acknowledgment and Receipt
- Employee handbook acknowledgement and receipt document
Harassment Policy Acknowledgement and Receipt
- Harassment policy acknowledgement and receipt document
Rolling-out an Employee Handbook
Prior to rolling-out a new handbook to all employees, all supporting forms or documents should be completed. These documents include 1) Harassment Policy, 2) Performance Review form, and 3) Corrective Action form. Plus, employee personnel and confidential files need to be set up if your organization has not already done so. And last, in order to conduct performance reviews and corrective actions, all positions must have Job Descriptions.
Once you have gotten approval from your leadership team regarding the new handbook and above-mentioned forms and documents, it’s time to roll out the information to all employees. You will want to first present the handbook and supporting documents to your management team to ensure their understanding of responsibilities related to the handbook and performance processes. Then an all-employee presentation can be delivered with a request to sign acknowledgement of the handbook and harassment policy. These presentations can be conducted in person or virtually. Signatures can be hardcopy or DocuSign.
Going forward, all new hires can be delivered the handbook and policy documents to review and sign as part of their onboarding package. As with the playground story, I think you’ll find your employees are relieved to have clearly defined expectations so they can create freely within the parameters of a great place to work.