Employee Handbooks FAQ
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What is an Employee Handbook?
Simply put, an employee handbook is the cornerstone of your HR management and compliance strategy. Done correctly, it will make running your practice measurably easier.
A professionally written, legally compliant employee handbook is the single most cost-effective tool your office can have. This is true whether you have 2 employees or 200. When written and implemented properly, your employee handbook is a set of policies that can prevent and resolve disputes and set you and your team up for success.
Your office can only be productive if it has clear guidelines that are followed by every member of your team, and those guidelines need to be explained and disseminated to everyone in your practice. One of the primary functions of your employee handbook policies is to set expectations for your team members, bringing all of you onto the same page. The policies in a properly written employee handbook benefit you AND your employees. This makes employee disputes and legal claims much less likely and makes virtually all aspects of your business run more smoothly.
Do I Need an Employee Handbook?
Yes! A professionally written employee handbook, kept up to date and in compliance with all state and federal laws that apply to you, is the most powerful document in your practice. It’s the go-to problem-solver for you and your employees when it comes to office rules, legal compliance, and what to do in day-to-day workplace situations.
Your employee handbook helps prevent many HR headaches before they ever happen. It’s a common resource for everyone — from your office manager to a new employee on their first day — to handle day-today issues, questions, and problems. With fair rules that are applied consistently, you’ll avoid many of the common dilemmas that cause larger problems down the line.
Professionally written employee handbooks also tend to discourage frivolous lawsuits by disgruntled employees and unscrupulous attorneys. The case against an employer becomes much more difficult when there is an updated and legally compliant employee handbook in place—so much so that often it’s simply not worth it for many plaintiffs’ attorneys to take such a case with so many easier targets available.
In the event that an employee does bring a claim against your business, whether that claim is justified or not, your employee handbook serves as powerful evidence that your office makes every effort to treat employees equally and fairly. This can mean the difference between winning and losing a case. Even in the worst-case scenario, the consequences are likely to be far less severe for a business that can provide evidence of good-faith efforts to follow all applicable employment laws.
Can I Write My Handbook Myself?
Self-made or DIY handbooks are very popular with doctors and managers looking to save a few dollars. But, just like you wouldn’t recommend that a patient perform his own root canal or appendectomy at home to save money, it is just as dangerous to attempt to write your handbook on your own.
The harsh reality is that doctors are FIVE TIMES more likely to be the target of a complaint from a former or disgruntled employee than a malpractice lawsuit from a patient. And the employee does not even need to have a good case to get you in trouble. All they need is for their lawyer to find a problematic or illegal policy in your employee handbook.
Writing a handbook requires advanced knowledge of federal, state, and even your city’s employment laws, and includes factors such as how many employees you currently have and what industry you’re in. Plus, these complex laws change so frequently—at the rate of dozens of times per year—that only an HR expert or an attorney with the right focus and experience has the tools (and the time!) to fully comprehend and keep up with everything.
As a practice owner or manager, you already have an impressive skill set and an endless to-do list. You don’t have time to learn to be an attorney. You need someone with specialized knowledge to write your handbook, so it protects you instead of endangering you.
Can I Use an Employee Handbook Template?
Using a purchased or free employee handbook template sounds like a good alternative to writing one yourself. Unfortunately, many templates are “one-size-fits-all.” They’re made with the lowest common denominator in mind to cast the widest net.
Generic or low-quality employee handbook templates can obliterate your ability to defend a claim, result in hefty fines or settlements, and cost you tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. And, since hundreds of state and federal employment laws are changed or created during the course of each year, a one-size-fits-all template cannot possibly be kept up to date (This is even more true in states like California, New York, or some others, where the legal provisions employers must comply with are especially numerous and strict).
Plus, how many employees you have, your industry, and your office culture also matter when it comes to what policies and protections you need to have in place.
In order to gain all the benefits and protections available to you as an employer, you need to have an up-to-date employee handbook that’s been professionally written and customized for your business. You also need access to HR experts and employment law consultants who can keep your policies up to date and help you solve tough issues in accordance with those policies. Besides, there’s no substitute for working one-on-one with real HR experts, whose knowledge and understanding you can trust.
Why Not Just Hire a Lawyer?
We hear doctors say this all the time: “I asked my brother’s friend’s cousin, who is an attorney, to write my policies for me,” or “My real estate attorney said he could write my handbook.”
But consider this: An attorney’s focus and experience is just as crucial as a dentist’s or doctor’s. Would you let a cardiologist remove your wisdom teeth? A real estate attorney or one who specializes in copyright law may not have the relevant training or experience to write or correctly customize your policies. Their process might even look similar to yours: ask colleagues, make educated guesses, and make liberal use of Google. Not the recipe for a great employee handbook.
There IS one important difference between their research and yours: theirs will cost you upwards of $350 an hour! And, of course, the next time there’s a law change in your state, you’ll have to pay them again to update the handbook. And the next time. And the next time. If you need guidance on implementing the policies they come up with, there’s likely to be a hefty hourly consultation fee for that, as well.
While there is no replacement for direct legal representation when the situation calls for it, CEDR’s HR support services can help prevent most HR problems from escalating. Between the lawsuit deterrence a well-written employee handbook provides and the unlimited expert HR support and guidance offered by our Solution Center, we can alleviate the need to have your employment law attorney on speed dial.
Isn’t Having No Handbook Better?
Many doctors are told by their attorneys or colleagues that having no handbook is better than having one that requires constant updates. Their argument is, with no handbook, you won’t have outdated policies on record every time employment laws change.
In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Your handbook is often the ONLY evidence of your intention to comply with state and federal laws and to treat all your employees fairly and consistently. It lays out rules that apply to everyone and shows your commitment to providing employees a safe, fair environment to perform their duties.
In addition, by having no handbook, you also don’t have any of the numerous protective policies that are available to you as an employer. These are important because most employment laws are written for the benefit of the employee, not the employer. But with the right language, some responsibility can be transferred back to the employee to let you know of issues or problems in your practice.
Finally, why REACT to a problem when you can PREVENT it? An employee handbook, together with other tools (like a separate Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy) can help you prevent, address, and solve most common issues before they can escalate. After all, the easiest lawsuit to overcome is the one that never happens!
Why Should I Pick Custom-made?
Just like a “one-size-fits-all” business suit would never match the comfort, fit, and utility of one tailored for your body, a generic employee handbook is not as effective as one written specifically for your business. Instead, what you need is a custom handbook that will address all of the following:
- Your state and city. In addition to the many federal laws that you must comply with, each state has hundreds of unique employment laws, and they are often more specific, stricter, and more broadly applicable. And, depending on your city/municipality, even more specific rules may apply.
- Your number of employees. Different laws and protections at both the state and federal levels kick in when you reach a certain number of employees. A company with 5 employees needs different policies and procedures than one with 15 employees, 25 employees, or 50+. For those practices who are growing quickly, you must also prepare to reach the employee-number milestones early. Retroactive application is not recommended.
- Your industry. Healthcare is a very different industry from transportation, farming, or food service. Your employee handbook needs to take into account specifics and recent changes that apply to your field.
- Your office culture. Just like a fingerprint, there is no other practice quite like yours in the world. You need something tailored to your business’ values and goals to get the greatest benefit from your employee handbook.
Combined, it’s clear that a one-size-fits-all solution can’t address all of these areas properly for everyone. Something, somewhere, will be missed. And correctly merging your unique office culture with the policies and protections you need takes legal and HR expertise. That’s what CEDR is for—to make sure you get what you want, while still getting what you need.