How to Write An Employee Handbook: What Should (Not) Be in Your Employee Handbook

by Kristen Duffeler

Most employers know that an employee handbook is an essential document for any business that has employees. This document typically communicates essential policies, outlines employee benefits, and ideally also communicates something about the company’s mission, culture, and values.  That can add up to a lot! For many, first questions include or “how do I write an employee handbook?” or “what should be in my employee handbook?”. In this series on employee handbooks, we’ll get into these questions. But let’s begin with a different starting point. What shouldn’t be in your employee handbook is just as important as what should be.

First and foremost, your handbook should be tailored to your individual company.  Particularly for small or young businesses, template handbooks from the internet or other sources will contain a lot of unnecessary or inapplicable information.  For example, these handbooks typically cover FMLA compliance, which does not apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees.  Too much information leads to an unwieldy handbook that many employees may not even read or absorb.  Worse than inapplicable information is inaccurate information – if you are not adhering to the policies in your handbook, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit, or unable to effectively enforce your other policies.

There are also policies that employers often want to include in their handbooks that are simply not allowed under the law.  One of the most common ones that we see is a prohibition on employees discussing their pay.  Such provisions are a violation of the National Labor Relations Act which guarantees the right of employees to engage in “concerted activity” to improve working conditions. Policies prohibiting negative public comments about the company or management (for example, on social media) run afoul of this same law.

Likewise, employers often try to provide for deductions from employee wages under certain circumstances, such as damage to company property.  Blanket authorizations for such deductions will not be upheld in Virginia or in many other states, and any deduction made pursuant to such an authorization would be illegal.  As a last example, in Virginia, and a number of other states, policies that place certain restrictions on employee hairstyles may constitute unlawful discrimination.

Finally, there are some policies that, while not unlawful, are simply unenforceable unless properly executed.  For example, in California, arbitration agreements in general handbooks will not typically be upheld.  These policies must usually be communicated separately and signed by the employee.

Bottom line – handbooks are an essential document but must be tailored to the needs of your business, while ensuring compliance with applicable law at both the state and federal level.

Your employee handbook can enhance your business. Interested in learning more about what you should include in your handbook, and what you should NOT, to achieve your goals? The team at Way Law is here for you. Let’s get started!