Can Employee Handbooks Help With Compliance?

Creating an employee handbook may feel daunting, but it’s a way for small business owners to share their company culture, communicate policies, and cover key compliance laws.

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Does your employee handbook cover subjects such as HR policies, conduct codes, and company culture?

Here's what you need to know:

  • Creating employee handbooks is a good exercise in formulating your company’s policies on everything
  • Make sure to communicate HR policies, disciplinary procedures, conduct codes, and company culture
  • There are also compliance laws to be aware of, such as communicating about EEOC and FMLA

Employee handbooks are a practical way to communicate company policies, introduce workplace culture, and cover key compliance issues on the state and federal levels. As a small business owner, sometimes it feels easier to communicate information to employees individually.

Or maybe you choose to communicate in the case of a triggering event, like when an employee has a baby. But offering a thorough employee handbook is a smart way to front-load work, create a sense of fairness in the workplace, bake compliance into company culture, and avoid legal action.

Creating an employee handbook may feel daunting, but it’s a good exercise in formulating your company’s policies on, well, everything. For example: say you have a new mother returning to work after her maternity leave. Rather than scrambling to sort out the location and logistics of a lactation room, you can rest easy knowing you’ve already designated a space and included the information in your employee handbook.

Employee handbooks give small businesses a chance to let your company culture shine and establish what you stand for as an ethical and compliant business. Just remember — employee handbooks should simplify life. Write in plain language, free from jargon.

Smart SBOs use employee handbooks to:

Communicate HR policies

Spell out HR policies in your employee handbook. Explain how your company handles benefits like paid time off and vacation accrual, and special leave like bereavement and jury duty.

Provide information on how your company approaches terminations, resignations, and retirement. Give instructions for reporting unsafe working conditions, harassment, or other dangerous or inappropriate behavior. You’ll also want disciplinary action and procedures laid out clearly, so employees understand the progressive nature of company policies.

Employee handbooks give small businesses a chance to let your company culture shine and establish what you stand for as an ethical and compliant business.

Establish conduct codes

Use the employee handbook to put your expectations of an ethical and compliant workplace on paper. Here you have a chance to outline appropriate workplace behavior and make it clear that employees are entitled to a workplace free from harassment and bullying — and you won’t tolerate this kind of behavior.

Provide information on your expectations for attendance and professional communication. An employee handbook also serves as a reference tool for managers, HR folk, or owners. Rather than waste time determining appropriate consequences, disciplinarians have a fair, prescriptive, and clear-cut course of action laid out.

Comply with compliance laws

Employers are legally required to provide certain information to employees:

  • Use your employee handbook to make sure employees know you are an equal opportunity employer who complies with the EEOC.
  • You can also share your legal obligation and willingness to provide reasonable accommodation for medical or religious needs, and outline your Family and Medical Leave Act policy. By law, employers must provide 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off for new parents, to care for sick loved ones, or for a number of other qualifying reasons under FMLA. Some employers choose to offer more.
  • Write about your breast-feeding policy and provide information on your business’ lactation room.
  • You can also use your handbook to define exempt and non-exempt workers, provide health care information, and discuss workplace safety.

Share company culture

What makes your company unique? What’s your mission? Your vision, values, and vibe?

Introduce new team members to your company’s culture and invite them to be part of it. This is a good place to share information on dress code, pet policies, and parking or transportation information. SBOs can communicate some aspects of company culture explicitly but also use the tone, format, and accessibility of the handbook to showcase it.

For example, SBOs who prioritize company transparency may make their handbooks available online to be viewed by all.

Protect against lawsuits

To help legally protect your business, small businesses owners should show they have clear anti-harassment policies and disciplinary procedures. Employee handbooks are a good place to transcribe this information.

You can also share worker’s rights, at-will employment policy (depending on your state), and your social media policy. Social media policies should make clear that any offensive or discriminatory content about the company, clients, or fellow colleagues is against the employee policy and subject to disciplinary action.

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