As your tax-exempt organization grows, you may need to hire paid employees. If your organization decides to hire paid employees, it is crucial to have an employee handbook in place to outline various employment policies. You can reduce the risk of a claim by a problem employee if you have a written handbook of employment policies. What information goes into a handbook? Where can you obtain a handbook? What information should it contain? How do you distribute it to your employees? This article will help get you started on your employee handbook.
An employee handbook is not required by Illinois law. However, a handbook allows an organization to lay out employment policies in writing for all employees to see. Then, when a problem arises with an employee, the terms of the handbook ensure that the employee cannot claim ignorance of the organization’s policies. The big question is how to implement an employee handbook that protects your organization without driving away potentially valuable employees.
- Do you need an employee handbook?
Any organization with paid employees should have a handbook in place to govern those employees. The handbook will ensure that employees are treated fairly and consistently with other employees. It will also help your employees answer simple questions on their own rather than wasting time searching for answers or asking supervisors. If your employees are aware that you have implemented certain policies and know where to locate those policies, you will have a more orderly workplace staffed by employees who know your expectations for them.
Keep in mind that there is a distinction between employees and volunteers. Volunteers are individuals who are donating their time to your organization without compensation or other employment benefits. While there are liability and other legal issues which concern volunteers, an employee handbook is not meant to govern your volunteers and their work. If your organization only uses volunteers and does not pay them compensation, an employee handbook is likely unnecessary.
- Where can my organization obtain a handbook?
A simple Internet search will reveal many sample handbooks. These handbooks do contain many of the basics for employers, but nearly none of them will be specifically tailored to a tax-exempt organization in Illinois. For this reason, you should not download a handbook from the Internet. Instead, you should consult with other tax-exempt organizations or with a lawyer trained to advise tax-exempt organizations to see what similar organizations are using.
- What information goes in a handbook?
An employee handbook contains important information that the employer wants each employee to know. This can include items like a sexual harassment policy, grounds for employee termination, how the organization will handle disputes, and other important policies. In general, though, a good handbook will describe the obligations that each employee owes to the organization. If your handbook focuses on what obligations your organization owes to its employees, it can limit the organization’s flexibility in dealing with problems when they arise.
On the other hand, make sure the handbook does not become a binding contract or a comprehensive description of the organization’s policies. A binding contract cannot be changed without both parties signing a new agreement, so it is best to have a separate employment contract for each employee if your organization wishes to do so. The handbook will serve as a quick reference guide for your employees to consult as necessary.
- How should the handbook be distributed?
Every new employee should be given a copy of your handbook on their first day of work. This gives them a chance to review the handbook immediately and be aware of your organization’s policies.
Existing employees should also be given a copy of your handbook as soon as you implement it. Since the policies in the handbook are applicable to all employees, existing employees may not be aware of the policies until they receive a handbook. You can personally deliver a handbook to each employee or, if this is too time-consuming due to the number of employees, you can arrange to have the handbook sent to each employee with a letter or memo explaining the purpose of the handbook. You should also consider distributing the employee handbook electronically.
You may post the handbook on your organization’s internal website where all employees can access it. However, it is crucial to notify all your employees that the handbook is available online and provide instructions on how to access it. A handbook that is not widely available or that is posted without employees’ knowledge will not effectively communicate important information to your employees.
In any case, you should obtain a signed acknowledgement from each employee stating that they have received the handbook, that they are responsible for knowing its contents, that they understand that the handbook may be changed at any time without their knowledge or consent, and that they understand that nothing in the handbook changes their employment status. This signed acknowledgement should be kept in each employee’s file in case an employee claims ignorance of your organization’s policies in the future.
- How can my organization get started on an employee handbook?
If your organization does not already have a handbook in place, we would be happy to help. Different organizations require different handbooks based on their size, their activities, and other important distinctions. Once your Board of Directors has decided which policies it wants to include in an employee handbook, please contact us to discuss which other policies should be included and how to begin drafting those policies so that your employees can be fully informed.