By UpCounsel Employment Attorney Josh Garber

Virtually every company with employees has wondered whether they should have an employee handbook. The arguments for creating one are strong: it helps ensure compliance with the law, the policies in it can shape the company’s culture, and, if properly drafted and implemented, it can reduce liability for the company in employment-related disputes.
Below is a short guide to steps every company should take when creating their employee handbook.

1) Consult an Attorney or HR Expert

Although this article is meant to be a guide on creating your own employee handbook, I believe that most companies would benefit from enlisting outside help in creating their employee handbook, particularly if the company does not have an experienced human resources staff.

In the digital age, it’s easy enough to find samples of employee handbooks online, but employment law is incredibly dynamic, with new laws and regulations being implemented often. Thus, hiring outside help is often the only way to ensure that your employee handbook and the policies you implement will be compliant with the law.

2) Formalize Your Desired Policies and Culture

How much time off do you want employees to take? How will employees schedule their breaks? Will you conduct annual performance reviews? What type of paid parental leave will you offer?

These are just a few of the questions any employer should ask themselves, and the answers will help set the tone for the company’s culture and the handbook itself. When a company begins hiring employees, it should try to determine whether it wants to offer benefits that are above-and-beyond the minimum that’s legally required in order to attract from the same talent pool as Apple, Google, and other companies well-known for their employee benefits. Some companies simply can’t afford to offer these type of benefits initially, but may want to in the future, and may want the handbook and related policies drafted with a mind towards revision later on. Other companies often decide that they merely want to offer what they are legally obligated to, and want their handbook and policies to do everything they can to protect them in the case of an employment-related dispute.

No matter which direction a company chooses, having an initial idea of the employee culture and benefits is an important initial step in drafting the handbook itself.

3) Balance Concern About Tone with Legal Compliance and Liability Risks

I often work with tech companies and startups who want super friendly employee policies, such as generous leave programs and allowing employees to drink alcohol on site, and who want their handbook to inviting, unlike a “typical” company with red tape and bureaucracy. Other clients of mine have taken the opposite approach, wanting a firm,strict set of rules for employees to follow that let them know that violations can result in their termination.

Whichever route a company chooses, it’s important to balance its concerns with tone against liability. For example, a policy allowing for alcohol in the workplace could result in lawsuits later on if an incident occurs related to employee drinking. There are also some policies, such as anti-harassment and EEO, in which the language should be nearly uniform in most handbooks.

In drafting an employee handbook, it’s important to remember that one of its uses is to protect the company in the event of a lawsuit, and to draft the handbook accordingly.

4) Ensure Your Handbook is Compliant with Local, State and Federal Laws

As workforces become more distributed, many employers now have employees located all over the country and the world. Even if a company has employees in only one location, it’s important that the handbook and related policies comply with the local laws of where the employees are located. As an example, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego all have paid sick leave ordinances that differ from the California state standard, and employers with employees in these locations should ensure their policies are compliant with these ordinances, as well as other relevant local, state, and federal regulations.

The best way to ensure that your handbook is compliant with these laws is to consult with an attorney or HR expert. In doing so, be sure to mention where your employees are located and if you plan on hiring remote employees or opening up other offices. It’s also helpful for companies to do a “best practices” check once a year to make sure their handbooks remain compliant with the laws and any updates.

Although only a brief guide, taking these 4 steps will help your company in drafting an effective employee handbook.

Get a free proposal from Josh.

About the author

Josh Garber

Josh Garber

Josh has worked on nearly 200 projects through the UpCounsel marketplace and all 100 of his clients who have reviewed his work gave him 5 Stars. Josh, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, regularly represents businesses in employment matters, business transactions and formations, contract drafting and management, and IP and corporate governance matters. Though he is dedicated to helping his clients avoid litigation, Josh has extensive trial experience and has obtained favorable outcomes in state and federal courts, mediations, arbitrations and DLSE hearings. Josh's clients include HotelTonight and Tesla.

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