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Employee handbooks are a must for every small business
August 18, 2022

Originally published in The Frederick News Post

Generic Business 1

The reasons for employee handbooks are many, but primarily, they are an employer’s first line of defense in the event that a claim is filed against you by a current or former employee. If you don’t have written policies, you have no defense.

A well-written handbook sets forth for your employees what they can expect from your organization and your legal obligations to the employee. What typically is included in employee handbooks are the following:

Anti-discrimination policies: As a business owner, you must comply with equal employment laws including prohibiting discrimination and harassment as well as American Disabilities Act. Employee handbooks should include a section about these laws and how your employees are expected to comply.

Compensation: Explain to your employees that your company will make required deductions for federal and state taxes. In addition, you need to state your overtime policy, pay schedules, performance reviews, and time-keeping records.

Work schedule: Describe your work hours, attendance, punctuality and reporting absences, and telecommuting policy if you allow for that occurrence.

Standard of conduct: Describe your expectations of how you want your employees to conduct themselves including dress code and ethics.

General employment: You should include an overview of your business, general employment policies covering job classifications, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, and termination and resignation procedures.

Safety and security: Describe your policy for having a safe and secure workplace including compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws that require employees to report all accidents, injuries, and potential safety hazards. Also, include your policies regarding bad weather or local hazardous conditions. Add your commitment to creating a secure working environment and your employee’s responsibility to abide by all physical and informational security policies.

Computers and technology: You want to outline appropriate computer and software use and steps employees should take to secure electronic information.

Social media: The world has changed and employees can now get on social media and comment about you or your organization in less than desirable ways. Approximately half of the adult population has a social media account of some form and with today’s technology, they can post pictures or other content about your organization. Make sure your employees know what they can and cannot say on social media about your organization. Courts are now awarding claims to employees who have been harassed or bullied by peers on social media.

Employee benefits: Make sure to detail any benefits and eligibility requirements, including all benefits mandated by law. You should also outline your plans for optional benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and wellness plans.

Leave policy: Your leave policies should be carefully documented, especially those you are required to provide by law. An example would be when your firm grows to 50 or more employees you are required to offer Family Medical Leave of up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. In addition, you want to state your policies relating to jury duty, military leave, vacation, holiday, bereavement and sick leave.

Nondisclosure agreements: Although NDAs are not legally required, having employees sign NDAs and conflict of interest statements helps to protect your trade secrets and company proprietary information.

Work uniforms or proprietary property: If you have given employees uniforms or other work-related items for them to conduct business (examples – laptop computer, keys, etc.) and they leave your employ you will want to have a policy as to when and how they should return these items and what the consequences are if they the items are not returned.

Handbooks are an absolute necessity for a business, and although there are variables from the above-listed components depending on the type of business, the intent is the same. That intent is to spell out for the benefit of the employees and your company what can be provided and what the expectations are in working for your company.

Jan L. Makela is a nationally recognized business consultant and presenter. He is s SCORE Frederick certified mentor.

SCORE is a nationwide volunteer network of 330 chapters dedicated to the formation, growth, and success of small businesses. SCORE Frederick provides free and confidential business advice and mentoring to start-up businesses and to established small businesses. SCORE Frederick also offers workshops for the business community, both established businesses, and start-ups.

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