facebook linkedin-square google-plus menu-arrow angle-left angle-right envelope angle-double-right level-up envelope phone map-marker

Employee Handbooks and Staff Policies

Legal Counsel for Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector

Information and resources on nonprofit law & regulation

Back To Top

Employee Handbooks and Staff Policies

This article was authored by Tracey Bolotnick, an Attorney at Hurwit & Associates with extensive experience advising exempt organizations on employment matters. She can be contacted at (617) 630-6900 or tbolotnick@hurwitassociates.com for further information.

In general, it is advisable for employers of more than a few workers to put in place Employee Manuals (also called Employee Handbooks) in order to provide clear expectations regarding benefits, policies, workplace rules and other human resources matters. The exact contents of the Manual will vary depending on each employer's unique circumstances (e.g., employers with workers in multiple states may need to have different policies to comply with diverse state laws), but most employers will want to include some version of the following general provisions in their Manuals:

  1. Statement of at-will nature of employment.

    Employers should clearly communicate with their employees, other than those working under an employment contract, the at-will nature of their employment. This is usually done in an offer letter or in the Manual.

  2. Statement that the Manual is not a contract, and may be changed by the employer at any time.

    An express statement to this effect is important, as a Manual can be mischaracterized as a contract, putting employers at a disadvantage when needing to let an employee go.

  3. Employee acknowledgement of receipt and signature.

    Employees should be asked to sign a statement indicating that they have received a copy of the Manual, and that they have read and understood its contents. Employers should maintain copies of these signature pages with their employment files.

  4. Nondiscrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies.

    Employee Manuals should indicate that the employer complies with all laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination in hiring, advancement, firing and other terms and conditions of employment, and does not tolerate sexual harassment. The parameters of the non-discrimination policy may be informed by state law (some states protect more categories than others - e.g., some prohibit discrimination based on gender identity while others do not), though employers are always free to exceed the required minimum. The Sexual Harassment Policy should set forth appropriate steps employers will take in dealing with complaints. Such policies may be helpful in minimizing potential claims and/or liability.

  5. Employee Grievance and Discipline Procedures.

    This section may also include a list of rules and regulations and the consequences of violation, including and up to termination. It may also describe progressive discipline requirements, and steps to be followed in the event of employee complaints.

  6. Workers Compensation Policy.

    Some states require employers to provide a written description of their workers compensation policy to employees. The Manual is an appropriate place to do so.

  7. Pay Policies.

    The Manual should note whether certain positions are classified as exempt or non-exempt from minimum wage and overtime policies, and should address frequency, timing and manner of regular paychecks and final pay.

  8. Benefits.

    The Manual should include a section describing the employment benefits offered by the employer, such as vacation time, retirement plans, group health insurance, long or short term disability insurance, etc., and set forth criteria for eligibility and participation.

  9. Leave Allowances.

    The Manual should describe the circumstances under which employees will be permitted time off, either paid or unpaid, for sick days, family leave, military leave, bereavement leave, jury duty leave, personal days, etc. This provision should reflect state and federal requirements as well as employer policy.

  10. Expense Reimbursement.

    This section may describe the circumstances under which business related expenditures will be reimbursed, the type of documentation required to support reimbursement, and business travel guidelines in general.

The foregoing is just a sampling of typical provisions one might expect to find in an Employee Manual. Each organization's Manual should be custom tailored to its particular needs, and might include a host of other items such as a social media policy, a conflict of interest policy, non-disclosure requirements, a safety and security policy or a dress code. Employers should seek legal assistance in drafting or reviewing Employee Manuals.