As an employer, you are obligated to clearly indicate to your employees the policies and procedures under which your company operates. The employee manual should be written to answer questions, as well as to indicate all acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors. While this seems fairly obvious, there are a number of areas that need to be addressed within this document, but which are often overlooked. The object should be to address every possible scenario and clearly state all variables.

Begin by welcoming the new employee to the company and explaining the nature of your employment terms. Most companies now consider that their employees are employed on an at-will basis, that is, either the employer or the employee can terminate the relationship at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. This is standard terminology and should be stated in this manner. This phrasing covers any contingency and protects you, the employer, in the event that an employee disputes being terminated from your employ. As long as the reason that the person was let go is not illegal, this at-will relationship is all that is necessary to justify such action.

Include a statement as to the purpose of the manual, indicating that it is a written notice of what is expected from employees. Additionally, make it clear that the manual in itself is not contract for employment.

In the next section, address company policy. Include sections describing the companys adherence to Equal Employment Opportunity act, and state your policy against sexual and other harassment. Define these types of harassment, and the consequences of engaging in such behavior. Clearly define the penalties for violations in a straightforward statement.

This section should also include your policy on substance abuse, workplace violence, conflict of interest, and smoking. These are all hot button issues, and each topic needs to be as detailed as possible. Define substance abuse (use of alcohol, and illegal drugs, or abuse of prescription drugs). Make it clear that the sale, possession, transfer, or purchase of illegal drugs on company property or while performing company business is strictly prohibited, and that such actions will be reported to the appropriate law enforcement officials.(Note: This sentence is the standard for defining this contingency and should be used verbatim.)

Define workplace violence and state that employees and non-employees are prohibited from bringing guns or other weapons onto the property. Employees need to know that violations of this policy will subject employees to discipline and/or termination. Other examples of prohibited behavior may include striking or attacking another employee, and verbally or physically threatening an employee with bodily harm.

Set your company’s smoking policy. Indicate where employees are allowed to smoke and when (during breaks or at lunch). Clearly indicate how you expect cigarette/cigar debris to be handled, and spell out the consequences for not adhering to procedure.

This section is also the place to address policies regarding the employment of relatives and fraternization. First, define fraternization (a personal relationship with another employee) and indicate that this relationship must not interfere with the employees job performances. Make sure to be clear as to how inter-personal relationships will be handled in the workplace (whether individuals who are in a relationship are allowed to work in the same department, etc.) A tip, never allow a person involved in a relationship to supervise the person with whom he or she is involved. This can be covered as a chain of command designation. Also stress that, if problems arise as a result of these personal relationships, one of the employees is subject to transfer. Define what is inferred by relationship, be it marriage, significant other, domestic partner, etc.

This section is also the proper section in which to address your company’s travel policy. Indicate levels of authority, who is allowed to travel and who is not, reservation policies and travel agency of choice. Also, spell out all the contingencies of travel types of cars, class of airfare, hotel categories, meal allowance amounts, ticket cancellation policy, etc. Leave nothing to the employee’s discretion in terms of expenditures.

The next section should be titled Employment and Pay and will address all areas regarding to employment categories, work schedules, paydays, time cards, and performance reviews. Spell out hours of work (flex time or fixed), and when lunches and breaks can be taken. Indicate policy regarding accrued vacation and sick time if a person is laid off due to lack of work. List job grades if applicable.

Conduct and Discipline will describe all disciplinary action that will be taken when company policies, procedures, or work rules are violated. State that disciplinary actions may include verbal warnings, written warnings, suspension, or immediate termination of employment. Disciplinary action should be appropriate for the violation and take into consideration the employee’s history with the company. List employee conduct that is grounds for immediate dismissal. Generally, these would involve such offenses as: disclosing confidential information; fighting, gambling on company property; stealing or falsification of records; failure to comply with company policies regarding harassment, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, and other stated policy; damaging company property, wasting materials; and insubordination.

Discuss lesser offenses and your policy regarding written warnings. These can include: repeated absences or chronic lateness; failure to follow company rules; leaving the work area during working hours without permission; and unauthorized or improper use of company property, including company telephones, computers, copiers, fax machines and other office equipment.

Spell out your company policy regarding computer use. Describe employee’s allowable use of company computers (can they surf the web, send personal emails, download music, listen to streaming music, etc.) Anticipate future developments and make sure to address employees loading their own software, using their own hardware and other contingencies. In order to ensure that any situation is addressed, think back on problems that you have had with employee’s abusing the privilege. Consider employees using their computers for personal gain or for illegal purposes. Address use of chat rooms and message boards as well as pornographic sites.

This section should also include dress codes if applicable. Consider appropriate shoes for any work areas and make clear as to what “casual” dress is allowed. If uniforms are provided or required, clarify who is responsible for cleaning and replacing uniforms.

The Benefits section should address all company benefits including medical, dental, disability, vacation, sick leave, holidays, bereavement leave, military contingencies, family leave, seminars and other considerations. Spell out the exact number of days vacation per year or at each increase level.

The final chapter should address separation from service. If you require two-weeks notice, state this. Indicate how and when the last paycheck will be issued and your policy on accrued sick time. If you require an exit interview, state this.

Finally, include a verification page that the employee must sign stating that he or she read and understands the policies set forth in the document. This will protect you in the future and indicate that the employee in question knew the rule that he or she violated.

Write up your rough draft, and then have someone proofread your copy and edit, if necessary. Make sure to use a spell-checker. You might want to consider using a freelance writer to create the actual document from your outline. Remember, this document is a reflection of your company and should be professional in tone and polished in appearance.

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