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July 30, 2010
How Do You Decide What to Include in Your Employee Handbook?

Employee handbooks can be a very useful tool to ensure employers and employees have the same expectations. However, the handbook cannot include full details of every single conceivable topic related to employment at your company.

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In a BLR webinar titled "Employee Handbooks: The Secrets of Reducing Legal Risks and Managing Workplace Conduct," Adrianna Marks, Esq., outlined what factors to consider when determining what should be included in your handbook. When you select topics for your handbook, there are certain factors to keep in mind:

The ease of explaining or understanding the policy or topic in question. Some items may be so complex that they can't be thoroughly explained in the employee handbook. This is especially true of things like group health insurance and other benefit plans where a thorough treatment would have to include eligibility requirements and details of coverage. In addition, employers are required to provide employees with a summary plan description (SPD), which is a comprehensive document describing the features of the benefit plan. Therefore, it is usually preferable to limit information in an employee handbook to listing health insurance with other benefits but referring employees to the SPD and group health plan for details.

The frequency with which the topic or policy might change. If the information that will be covered by a policy changes on a regular basis, it might be a better strategy to provide a general description but avoid details. For instance, an employee handbook might include a policy on holidays indicating how many paid holidays employees will receive each year. However, because the actual days may vary from year to year, the company may not want to list them in the employee handbook.

The number of employees who might be affected. There are some policies that will apply only to a small group of employees, such as those related to executive perquisites or sales commission plans. As a general rule, the employee handbook should include policies that are applicable to the majority of employees. Information on items that affect only a few employees can be distributed separately.

The importance of the policy or topic. An employee handbook may be relatively short and cover only key topics. On the other hand, some companies have very comprehensive employee handbooks that are very long. It is a good idea to prioritize so that the most important policies are included and given proper coverage in the handbook.

Adrianna Marks, Esq., is an associate in the Tysons Corner, Virginia, offices of Venable LLP. ( www.venable.com) She represents and counsels employers in labor, employment, and employee benefits law. She defends employers in complex litigation matters and counsels them in drafting and negotiating collective bargaining agreements, employee handbooks, and personnel policies. Marks also conducts training programs for clients on employment law issues. She earned her law degree from George Mason University.

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