An Employment Policy Manual, also referred to as an Employee Manual or Employee Handbook, is a document that clarifies and communicates the issues that relate to the employer/employee relationship. It usually does not address job specific issues.
It presents many of the rules and regulations of the workplace, many of the terms and conditions of employment, and is an important part of the employment contract.
Many of the policies presented in the Manual will be based in legislation and common law. Your policy statements must conform to the laws of your jurisdiction. Keep in mind that you cannot contract out of your obligations under legislation. In some circumstances, you can contract out of obligations under common law.
The Employment Policy Manual must be written in a way that ensures that it is not vulnerable to misinterpretation. It must be written in a way that is understandable by all employees who are impacted by the contents of the Manual. Manuals written in confusing ‘legalese’ will usually be difficult for many employees to understand. I usually suggest that the Manual should be written at a level that is understandable by anyone who is functionally literate in English.
Poorly written policies, which are confusing or open to misinterpretation, can be worse than no policies at all.
Why You Need It
A well-written Employment Policy Manual will clarify many of the expectations within the workplace. It will also minimize your risk of facing expensive litigation, such as a wrongful dismissal or a constructive dismissal lawsuit, by ensuring that your current employment practices conform to current employment-related legislation. It is like an insurance policy.
If you should find yourself facing a judge defending yourself against an employment related lawsuit, the only reasonable defense that will work for you will be based on the documentation that you can provide that clearly shows due diligence on your part. The Employment Policy Manual, along with a clear ‘paper trail’ of disciplinary notes, etc., will be an important part of that due diligence defense.
From the point of view of your employees, both current and prospective, the Employment Policy Manual will clarify much of what is, or will be, expected of them during their employment. It will also clarify and communicate what they can expect of you, their employer. The best employees will be looking for employment with organizations that present their employment practices in a clear and confident manner.
Ideally, the workplace expectations should be clearly communicated before the employment relationship is established. A copy of the Manual should be given to the prospective employee as part of the employment contract.