American Academy of Nurse Entrepreneurs

Employee Handbook Blog

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You’ve been tasked with writing your practice’s employee handbook. It’s something that’s been on your “to-do list” for a while, but you just haven’t found the time outside of seeing patients and running the day to day. But now your business has grown to the point where it makes sense to get your policies in writing. It could be that you want to streamline onboarding for new hires. Or maybe your practice encountered a challenging situation between coworkers, or even experienced an employment lawsuit, and you want to help protect yourself from future incidents.

Though not required by law, an employee handbook can ensure all employees are aware of rules and expectations, which can protect them and your company. Plus, it gives your employees the clarity they need to know how things work. 

Whether you hire an attorney to do it for you, or write it yourself–an employee handbook is quite an undertaking. How do you write an employee handbook and what sort of content should you include? 

To get started, it’s helpful to understand what an employee handbook is, offer tips on how to write one, and give you an idea of what you should include.

What is an employee handbook?

Employee handbooks can go by different names, such as an employee field guide or staff manual or culture bible. Whatever you call them, employee handbooks are documents outlining a business’s rules, policies, and expectations for their employees. It also lists what employees can expect from the employer. New hires are generally given a copy of the employee handbook with a form to sign, saying they’ve read through it and agree to the terms.

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Why have an employee handbook?

It’s important for all your employees to have an understanding of your business’s policies and rules. Creating an employee handbook shows employees that there are consistent policies for all employees — the same rules and guidelines apply to everyone, and all employees are treated equally.

By clearly setting out company policies, employee handbooks can help promote a positive, productive, and safe work environment — free from improper or harmful conduct. As a result, the handbook can protect the company from sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and discrimination lawsuits and can help you when defending a lawsuit.

Do you need an employee handbook? And what to include.

Do you have any employees? If you do, then yes— you need an employee handbook. 

From there, the next step is to become familiar with federal, state, and local employment laws that you must abide by. The U.S. Department of Labor spells out information for employers about federal laws that impact workplace issues on its website at www.dol.gov

Depending on the state, you are often required to have certain written policies (such as an anti-harassment and internal reporting procedure policy for California employers). The handbook is a convenient document to keep all the key policies in one place. Consult with your attorney to see what requirements apply to your business.

Policies you may need to include in your handbook by law include:

  • Family medical leave policies. The federal government’s Family Medical Leave Act requires that employers of certain size must provide employees with up to 12 weeks unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the birth or care of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or if the employee has a serious health condition. Many states have their own policies regarding unpaid family leave, as well. 
  • Equal employment and non-discrimination policies. The U.S. Department of Labor requires many businesses to post information stating that the business follows non-discrimination and equal employment opportunity laws in hiring and promotion. 
  • Worker’s compensation policies. Many states require that employees be informed of worker’s compensation policies in writing.

Other policies to include:

  • Onboarding and joining the team
        • At-will employment clause (if there isn’t an agreement clearly stated, then this type of employment is assumed in all states except Montana)
        • Equal employment opportunity statement as described above.
        • Confidentiality agreement
        • General details, such as team structure, and key contact info

  • Standard of conduct. This section should spell out the “10 Commandments” for life as a member of your team. If there’s anything that’s frowned upon, this section should cover it. Examples include:
        • Dress code
        • Anti-discrimination policy
        • Anti-harassment policy
        • Substance-free workplace policy
        • Taking disciplinary action
  • Office Environment. What’s life like at the office? This section explains how, when, and where employees are expected to get things done. You’ll want to include hot topics like:
        • Work-hours
        • Lunch and breaks
        • How to keep the workplace safe
        • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accommodations
        • Use of practice equipment
  • Communication Policies. How does your team interact with each other? What about patients, vendors, and other partners? Some of this may seem like common sense, but it can still be helpful to spell it all out and cover what types of communication should take place where (i.e. PHI and non-PHI). Set out your expectations for channels such as:
        • Email
        • Slack
        • Spruce
        • Social Media
  • Compensation & Performance Reviews. Not to take away from other important policies in your handbook, this will probably be the section of your handbook that employees frequent the most. 
        • Payroll schedule
        • Payroll deductions
        • Job classification details (i.e. full-time, part-time, PRN, etc)
        • Salary & bonuses
        • Performance reviews
  • Benefits. Open with a quick-reference section that outlines details such as who’s eligible, when benefits kick in, and your plan’s policy number. Then, start with the essentials and work your way up to the icing-on-the-cake benefits:
        • Health, disability, life and workers’ compensation
        • Paid time off (PTO)
        • Other leave policies (ie. parental leave, sick leave, jury duty, etc.

  • When someone leaves. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Hire slow, fire fast”. And it’s true, sometimes you just need to part ways. This section should explain what happens when someone moves on — whether they do so by choice or not. Explain the offboarding basics, such as:
        • When they’ll receive their final paycheck
        • How COBRA benefits work if someone is laid off or fired
  • Your company story. And last, don’t forget to share who you are and why you’re here! (Okay, this isn’t really a policy, but it’s still important). From your original vision to how your company came into being, your company’s story is the underlying foundation that inspires people to show up and do amazing things every single day. Bring new employees into the fold by sharing this history with them. Ask yourself:
        • Who are you as a practice?
        • What makes you different?
        • Why does it matter?
        • Why should others care?

After all the information is assembled into an employee handbook, make sure to vet the document before giving it to employees. If at all possible, an attorney should be involved in preparing the handbook. If you’re trying to save money, you should have the final product reviewed by an attorney at a minimum.  That review just might help your business avoid future lawsuits involving employee behavior that is — or is not — defined in the employee handbook.

Need an employee handbook, but don’t want to dedicate weeks (maybe months) of your time or thousands of dollars in legal fees? Check out our tried, tested, and attorney reviewed Employee Handbook Template here.

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