6 ways employee handbooks improve company compliance

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Small businesses that fail to provide workers with a solid employee handbook risk exposure to potentially crippling compliance and litigation costs, but a good broker can turn this employer threat into an opportunity.

While U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data varies, it is estimated that only about one in four small businesses have an updated handbook. And while not legally required, producing a good manual is still a smart best practice that protects the rights of workers and organizations alike, especially when addressing rules, laws, expectations, etiquette, benefits and other important workplace guidelines.

Since agents often function as de facto HR and benefits departments for small business clients, employers look to them as trusted advisers who understand these needs and how to avoid compliance pitfalls. Importantly, this includes guidance around handbooks and employment law.

For those who might need a quick reminder, an employee handbook is a critical compliance document that outlines employer policies, procedures and benefits in clear, unambiguous language. It typically describes an organization’s culture, philosophy and values. A well-written one defines workplace expectations and gives employees the rules they need to know to be successful in the organization.

Aside from good customer service, helping with employee handbooks is an effective way for agents to keep clients and their employees up to speed on available benefits. A handbook can even serve as a sales mechanism for brokers by showcasing additional value-add options that might not be apparent otherwise.

While they might seem daunting to create and maintain, employee handbooks can be saviors when it comes to adhering to state and federal requirements (or if poorly written or not thought through, could open a company to labor issues).

Action items

Here are a number of ways that manuals help brokers and their clients steer clear of regulatory compliance issues:

1) Ensures employment law compliance. A well-designed manual minimizes risk of employment liability due to clearly communicated and regulatory-compliant policies. It contains critical protective language that helps minimize litigation challenges and threats, should they arise.

2) Reduces management strain regarding HR laws and policy enforcement. A handbook allows for consistent interpretation, application and enforcement of policies by creating pre-developed, step-by-step procedural processes that can be followed. This helps reduce reliance on informal or word-of-mouth policies that can be vague or interpretable and can often open doors to litigation.

3) Prevents employee lawsuits. A handbook reduces the risk of employee discrimination and other lawsuits by defining, communicating and uniformly applying guidelines applicable to all employees.

4) Reiterates at-will employment status. Explicitly documenting what “at-will” means in writing is crucial so there is clear understanding that the employment status between an employee and employer is not a contract. Doing so provides another important legal safeguard.

5) Provides a helpful, positive resource to employees. An employee manual demonstrates upfront transparency from management by laying out operational, cultural, conduct and other rules in writing. This can go a long way to establishing a positive image for the organizations and productive and pleasant work experience for employees.

6) Establishes a time-saving training and onboarding tool. A handbook is a great way to help get new employees up-to-speed quickly and efficiently, from covering work requirements to explaining benefit programs.

Simply stated, small businesses without an up-to-date handbook put themselves at danger for compliance violations.

Brokers, however, can step up and help mitigate this risk by supporting the development and use of a good manual. Those agents and employers seeking handbook assistance can turn to experienced compliance experts and resources to ensure they provide the many morale-boosting benefits and cost-saving protections these documents offer.

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Benefit compliance Compliance Compliance systems Workforce management Employee benefits