Policies & Procedure vs. Employee Handbook

By Carleen Mitchell

Administrative Manager, Alaska Public Entity Insurance

One of the most valuable tools an employer can have to prevent employment liability claims are comprehensive policies and procedures to guide the organization in all manner of employment practices. One of the best practices an employer can have is a method for ensuring that the organization’s policies are communicated to all staff. Simply stating that the policies exist and that it is the responsibility of the employee to be familiar and comply with the policies may not be enough. A well-written employee handbook will communicate key organizational policies in a format that employees are more likely to read and understand.

To better illustrate the benefits of an employee handbook, let’s look at the difference between it and a policy and procedure manual.

Policies and procedures manuals contain detailed language regarding the company’s policies, procedures for implementing those policies and forms and/or steps for completing each process. The policies manual is intended to be a tool for managers and supervisors when more information or deeper understanding of a rule or process is needed. A policy and procedure manual will typically contain far greater detail than the typical employee will need.

In contrast, an employee handbook is developed with the employee as the intended audience. The language and layout of an employee handbook is straightforward and serves as a tool for introducing and familiarizing employees with basic organizational policies, benefits and general expectations for employment. Providing an employee handbook to each new employee upon hire (or to all employees upon adoption by the organization) serves not only as a valuable resource to inform and protect employees, but also to protect the organization as it can help ensure organizational policies are clearly and consistently communicated.

Some of the topics that should be included in an employee handbook are:

  • Anti-discrimination/harassment policies, including EEOC and ADA statements.
  • Compensation information, including required and voluntary deductions, over-time pay rules, and time keeping records.
  • Work schedules, including attendance, punctuality and reporting absences.
  • Standards of conduct, including dress codes and code of ethics.
  • Safety and security, including policies for creating a safe workplace, OSHA compliance, and reporting accidents and injuries.
  • Computers and technology, including software use and securing electronic information.
  • Media relations, including a single point of contact for all media inquiries.
  • Employee benefits and eligibility requirements.
  • Leave policies, including FMLA/AFLA and jury duty.
  • General employment information such as job classifications, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, termination and resignation procedures and union information (if applicable).

This list is not exhaustive and employers should review their own policies carefully for specific topics that should be included in their handbook. Additionally, all employee handbooks should be thoroughly reviewed by legal counsel prior to adoption by the organization and distribution to employees.

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