Read It or Weep: Companies Need to Know What’s In Their Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks are only worth the paper they are written on if companies don’t know the content and update them regularly. Unless a company has an HR department, some smaller employers will hire a labor and employment attorney to craft one, but they never read the final product. This leads to a myriad of problems when an employee raises an issue about a topic.

The size of the company dictates the number of policies that should be delineated. A company with more than 50 employees needs a different handbook than one with 15. Companies need to include clearly written policies that are designed to protect the company, such as defining at will employment, vacation and sick leave policies, etc. In general, the shorter the descriptions of the policies, the better. Keeping policies that may change, such as vacation allotments, on a single, dated page makes it easy to include updates without changing the entire handbook.

It’s also vital that handbooks are updated at the end of each year to take into account changes in local ordinances and state laws. The City of San Diego, for example, increased its a minimum wage in January, while the rest of the county follows the state minimum wage. Changes like these need to be noted as soon as the laws take effect. All updates should be published on a single page for easy dissemination to all employees, in addition to the revisions to the handbook.

Handbooks should be thoroughly reviewed every five years to ensure all policies are up to date and in language that reflects current accepted business usage. Internal HR professionals can conduct such updates and analysis, but any changes should be reviewed by outside counsel.