Employee Handbooks

Although neither Georgia nor South Carolina law requires it, most of my clients have an employee handbook or policy manual that they distribute to new hires. Such handbooks can be an important part of the employment relationship. They provide an opportunity for the employer to welcome the new employee and set out important policies in a coherent, organized fashion. A well-written handbook explains what the employer expects of its employees and provides a summary of the benefits that the employee can expect in return.

Good employee handbooks discuss benefits such as vacation, sick time and other forms of paid time off. They give employees notice of available benefits, including insurance and retirement benefits. They set expectations by outlining the employer’s policies on discipline and attendance. Employers who screen their employees for illegal drug use should explain their testing policies. Employers with more than 50 employees should have a policy regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act. Every handbook should set out the employer’s commitment to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment.

There are a few pitfalls common to poorly-written employee handbooks. Some handbooks are filled with typographical errors and poor formatting. Some contain policies that are vague, contradictory or, in some cases, illegal.

Some handbooks make promises that the employer does not really want to keep.  A common example is the handbook that inadvertently does away with the at-will employment relationship. Generally speaking, employment in Georgia and South Carolina is “at-will” – either the employee or the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without case. An employer who wishes to modify the at-will relationship should do so thoughtfully and use a separate contract to do so. An employee handbook should never be used in place of an employment contract.

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