Should I Have an Employee Handbook?


It is always advisable for employers to have an employee handbook, which will contain important information that protects you legally. Even if a company only has a few employee, without a handbook, it might expose itself to the greater risk of a lawsuit regarding sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and other wrongful treatment of employees.

What to Include in Your Handbook

A handbook is a great reference for employees, who can return to the handbook if they have questions. A handbook also forces employers to carefully consider their philosophy and the rules of the business. An adequate handbook should contain:

  • A summary of your company’s philosophy
  • An explanation of the working hours for employees
  • A description of how you compensate for hours worked and overtime
  • An explanation of how you award raises or bonuses
  • A detailed summary of rules regarding benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, and personal days
  • A discussion of your company’s anti-discrimination and harassment policy, including but not limited to sexual harassment
  • Your company’s grievance policy, including the names of who to contact to lodge a complaint
  • A description of your company’s disciplinary policies, such as what qualifies for discipline and any steps you take in the disciplinary process
  • Your policy on monitoring workplace communications
  • Anything else relevant to your particular workplace environment and employees

An effective handbook should provide some flexibility. For example, when listing the offenses that qualify for company discipline, you want to remind employees that your list is not exhaustive. There is likely other conduct that warrants discipline depending on its severity and impact on the company that may not be listed in the employment handbook.

You might also use a progressive discipline system, where you start with a verbal warning and escalate to a written reprimand, suspension, and then termination. However, some conduct might warrant immediate termination, so you need to clarify that point in your handbook.

The Importance of a Clear Harassment Policy

Sexual and other harassment complaints seem to be growing, and employers must protect themselves by drafting a clear harassment policy. If your policy is unclear, an employee could claim you are deliberately indifferent to harassment in the workplace, and your company could become liable for that reason.

To fully comply with state law, you must draft a harassment policy and distribute it. This policy includes sexual harassment and also harassment based on any other protected characteristic, such as race and sexual orientation. California has detailed regulations, including a requirement that you translate your policy into a foreign language if at least 10% of your workers speak a foreign language. Go over these requirements with a San Jose employment lawyer to ensure you cover everything.

What to Avoid Including in Your Handbook

You want to avoid creating legal obligations in your employee handbook. For example, you do not want to create the impression that you are guaranteeing employment. Instead, if you want to maintain at-will employment relationships, you should include language explicitly stating that the handbook is not an employment contract.

You also should not include any confidential information or trade secrets in the handbook. These books can and likely will be removed from the office place, so do not include anything you do not want your closest competitor or the public to find out about.

Speak with a San Jose Employment Lawyer Today

An employee handbook is a critical way employers manage risk in the modern workplace. Rather than try to write your own handbook using samples you find online, contact an experienced employment lawyer in San Jose. At Structure Law Group, we are happy to discuss these issues with you. Please call 408-441-7500 or contact us online.