HR policies handbooks Well-written policies are one of your best defenses against employment law claims. Find out which policies should be in your handbooks and manuals. You'll find out the difference between supervisory manuals and employee handbooks and which policies every employer should have. 1. What is the difference between a supervisory policy manual and an employee handbook? Which should we have? A supervisory policy manual generally is intended as a guide for managers and supervisors and contains information that they need to implement the organization's policies. Thus, a supervisory policy usually provides a general statement of policy followed by several comments that instruct managers how to apply that policy. In contrast, an employee handbook is designed for broad distribution to all employees. It is typically intended to provide general information about the organization's practices, benefits, hours of work, pay policies, and work rules. It usually does not include information about supervisory procedures. At a minimum, you should have an employee handbook that explains your policies to employees. Many organizations, especially as they grow, also have a supervisory policy manual to ensure that their managers understand how to implement the policies. As a practical matter, having supervisory instructions may be especially prudent in today's legal climate where any inconsistent application of policy can result in a discrimination claim. 2. What policies should we include? In choosing policies to include, you should consider the following points: -- The culture of your organization and its recurring issues or problems; -- Any memos on policy topics (such as vacation and holiday schedules) and past practices (i.e., what you have done in the past to address a particular employee relations issue); and -- The HR practices followed by other organizations in your industry (such as vacation lengths and leave allowances). Most employers develop policies on the following topics: -- at-will employment, -- equal employment opportunity, -- sexual and other forms of harassment, -- pay procedures, -- benefits (including any paid vacation, sick leave, and holidays, and other forms of leave), -- meal and rest breaks, -- personal conduct (work rules), -- attendance and punctuality, -- use of communications systems (including the proper use of telephones, computers, e- mail, and Internet access), -- disciplinary procedures, and -- termination. In addition, many employers include policies on performance appraisals, smoking, safety procedures, appropriate dress and appearance, and drug and alcohol use. Remember, your policies should be considered dynamic, not static. You may need to add to them, revise them, and even delete them as your organization grows and changes. 3. Is the Job Ever Done? Even when you're finished drafting or updating your policies, your job is not complete. The policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel to ensure that they comply with state and federal employment law before they are finalized and distributed to employees. Further, you should review the policies on a regular basis to make sure they continue to comply with applicable law and the needs of your organization. New laws, regulations, and court cases can affect both policy language and how you implement the policies. Most experts suggest a thorough review of your policies at least once a year and the use of a notification service or publication to keep you posted during the interim. Finally, when policies are introduced or revised, you should distribute and thoroughly explain them to all employees. Clearly written policies that are regularly reviewed can be both an effective employee relations tool and a good defense against employee lawsuits. In contrast, policies that are poorly drafted or applied can have exactly the opposite effect. They can lower morale and become evidence against you in court. The key question, therefore, becomes not whether to have written policies at all, but whether you are willing to invest the necessary amount of time and effort to make sure they are carefully drafted and properly applied.