Employee Handbook Versus Procedures Manual: Keeping Policies Consistent

August 27, 2018

Should your Employee Handbook contain every HR policy and procedure used by your organization, or should it only contain policies that employees need to know? Should you maintain a separate Procedures Manual describing how HR and supervisors enact those policies? Contacting a SESCO consultant can help answer these questions and ensure that your Handbook and/or Manual are both compliant and consistent.

Here are the key considerations to help you decide what to include in your Handbook versus a Procedures Manual.

Goals of Your Employee Handbook

Your Employee Handbook should contain your employment policies and be written with your employees as the intended audience. It is meant to inform employees of what they may expect from the company, and what is expected of them. It does not need to include the “how” or “why” behind the policies but instead, sets forth the essential terms and conditions that govern the employment relationship.

In addition to the legal benefits, employers may use their Employee Handbook to inform employees about discretionary benefits (i.e.,those that are not mandated by law), such as breaks, vacation, sick time, tuition reimbursement, discounts or other perks. Policies on these types of benefits should set forth eligibility requirements, accrual amounts, scheduling, call-in or request procedures, etc. Policies should comply with applicable state laws as some states regulate pay issues associated with breaks, vacation time and other employer-provided benefits.

Separate Procedures Manual

A Procedures or Operations Manual, on the other hand, is intended for use by HR, managers, and/or supervisors, not your employees at large. Typically, a Procedures Manual will describe how your policies are implemented and enforced. It may include forms, checklists, and sample documents to show administrators and managers how to handle specific workplace policies and situations. For example, it may detail the procedures for sending out an offer letter, how to complete the Form I-9, or how to handle a request for jury duty leave. It also may include references to specific laws, rules or regulations should management or HR need to look those up.

One advantage to having a more detailed document is that it may serve as a reference tool for frontline supervisors, helping to make sure management is consistent in the way it handles employee matters and policy enforcement. It also can be useful in ensuring procedural continuity so that institutional knowledge is not limited to the memories of a few, select individuals in HR.

Avoid Discrepancies Between Policies And Procedures

A distinct disadvantage of having a separate Procedures Manual, however, is that it could contain or reveal discrepancies between the “management” policy and the policy communicated to employees in the Handbook. Employers do not want two or more “policies” on the same topic as that can lead to inconsistent treatment of workers — with potentially discriminatory consequences.Discrepancies and inconsistent policies not only confuse administrators and supervisors but they also can result in a “smoking gun” that can be used against you when an employee raises a claim.

Deciding whether to have a separate Procedures Manual often depends on how much guidance managers need in order to manage their workforce in a consistent, uniform and non-discriminatory manner. If it is determined that a Procedures Manual would be useful, employers must take great care to ensure that the separate management document is consistent with the policies in the Employee Handbook.