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Customizing Your Human Resources Handbook: Tailoring Policies to Your Organization

Your organization’s handbook can be a valuable communication resource for your employees and supervisors.  A good handbook will provide guidance and information related to the company’s history, mission, values, policies, procedures, and benefits in a written format.  It also provides protection for the employer against discrimination or unfair treatment claims.  In this article, we will discuss how to customize your human resources handbook by tailoring the policies to your organization.

Develop Policies that Reflect the Culture

Policies and procedures are going to be essential for any business to run smoothly and efficiently, but the policies you choose should reinforce your culture.  The definition of organizational culture is the set of values, beliefs, attitudes, systems,  and rules that outline and influence employees, customers, vendors, and stakeholders' experience of the organization and its brand.  When you embed your culture and values into policies, you are defining the core beliefs, principles, and behaviors that guide your company. 

Too often, we can become too policy-driven and overlook how these rules affect the overall culture.  Leaders should step back and look at the bigger picture to understand how their policies impact the experience and performance of their employees, including new hires.  Instead of thinking of policies as a set of rules to follow, it is important to view policies more in terms of their purpose and benefits for both employees and the organization.  Policies can help set clear expectations, create consistency throughout the organization, reduce risk, and improve employee performance. 

It is also important to note: a human resources handbook is not a manual to put your employees in their place or read them the riot act.  If that’s the case, you may want to reconsider the culture you have created.  No one wants to begin a job under the stress of being fired, nor should the handbook tell your employees that they should feel privileged to work here.  Having respect for your employees goes a long way in creating the culture you want to create.

Ensure Compliance with Legal Requirements

Employment law varies from state to state, and some counties and cities have additional laws.  Federal and local laws are essential to include.  Every time you update your handbook, you should research your applicable state laws to ensure that the information is accurate.

A further note: although an employee handbook is not an employment agreement, it could be construed as a contract by legal professionals.  Courts will often look to the company’s handbook to see if the organization has made any guarantees to the employee, or if the employee has promised anything to the organization by accepting or signing the handbook.  It is always wise to protect your organization from liability by hiring an attorney to help create your handbook.

Clarify Employee Expectations and Rights

A human resources handbook should always set clear expectations for employees and company management.  This helps reduce the risk of confusion, as well as disciplinary actions later on.  Thus, it is important not to use legal jargon but to write in a manner that all can grasp the meaning without vague or misleading terms.

The handbook should also be written so that management can refer to it when difficult questions arise about whether or not something can or cannot be done.  This eliminates the guesswork involved for supervisors and allows them to supply the correct answer to an employee’s question in an expedient fashion.

Communicate Handbook Changes Effectively

Your employee handbook is not meant to be static tools; it should be reviewed often to ensure that the information included is up-to-date and that the policies and procedures are being followed and aligned with company practices.  Employment laws change and are revised.  It is important for your HR team to be aware of any changes that may affect the organization and its employees.  If changes are needed to be made, legal counsel should review them before making the modifications.

Once the changes have been made, the employees should be notified of the specific changes by various communication methods, such as email, intranet, posting hardcopies in common areas, as well as reviewing during employee meetings.  The importance of these changes should be reinforced and employees should sign off on the new policies.

Need Advice with Your Human Resources Handbook?

With over three decades of practicing labor law, I have drafted and revised countless human resources handbooks.  It is important to write the manual in a clear and concise manner that effectively summarizes each policy and procedure so that you are protected against future lawsuits.  An overlooked topic could prove to be a costly mistake.

Please contact my office for all of your employee handbook questions as well as other human resources issues.

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