An issue that I see time and time again is businesses which do not have an Employee Handbook. An Employee Handbook covers a range of rules and policies of the business, which are impossible to cover in a written Employment Agreement. If a business has an Employee Handbook, and if an employee violates a rule or policy in the Employee Handbook, then the business can take disciplinary action and reduce the risk that the business may be liable for charges of unlawful employment discrimination. Without an Employee Handbook in place, a disciplined employee can more forcefully argue that he or she has been discriminated on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, or age, since the business does not have a written policy in place. Without an Employee Handbook, a disciplined employee is more likely to feel that he or she has been treated unfairly.
Matters covered by an Employee Handbook are often conduct-related, such as off-duty conduct which damages the business’ reputation, workplace violence (banning the bringing of knives and weapons to the workplace), outside employment such as moonlighting, moonlighting for a competitor, using company email for political or non-business purposes, on-line conduct at the workplace, acceptance of gifts or money from customers, use of company property for personal business or personal reasons, attendance, use of inappropriate or profane language, alcohol, drugs, bad hygiene, sleeping on the job, and the many other issues which arise from time to time whenever there is a gathering of two or more people.
Having policies in an Employee Handbook allows the business to take disciplinary action when there has been a violation of those policies. A business will often learn of an issue with an employee by way of complaints from other employees, and a business needs to have the tools necessary to discipline an offending employee. Of course, policies in an Employee Handbook should be enforced by the business in a non-discriminatory manner.
A business will want to be certain that the Employee Handbook itself is not an employment agreement, and should specify that employment is at will unless otherwise agreed to in writing. An Employee Handbook has many legal implications, and it should first be reviewed by an attorney. Attorneys who practice in this area have templates which provide the bulk of the provisions for an Employee Handbook. An Employee Handbook is recommended for businesses of all sizes.