2020 was rough – there’s no denying that. So, the only thing to do after accepting that fact is to move forward! This includes moving forward with your business and employees as well. We know this is easier said than done. But one place to start is by creating an employee handbook for 2021.
Whether it’s starting from scratch or updating your existing handbook, it’s a great way to start off the new year with your employees. Even if your employees have been with you for a decade or more, are brand new, or working from home, a new handbook is a great place to start. With all of the changes COVID-19 brought with it, it’s important to review your handbook and ensure it accounts for any changes.
In this article, we’ll cover how to update your existing handbook, and creating an employee handbook for 2021. So let’s start off with what you should start updating.
What Should be Updated If I Already Have An Employee Handbook?
If you already have a solid employee handbook created and don’t need a fresh start, you can update an existing handbook for 2021. While many of us felt relief about the announcement of the vaccine, this doesn’t mean all of our troubles are suddenly over. On the contrary, we may be well into spring before approximately 70% of Americans will be vaccinated. This is also an optimistic timeframe, there could be delays.
All of this to say, the current state we’ve become accustomed to living in will be around for a while longer. So, it’s worth updating your handbook and getting employees on the same page. Getting your handbook updated with policies for any future pandemic (knock on wood) problems. Either way, you and your employees will be the best prepared they can be.
So let’s start with the most obvious and necessary update to employee handbooks, health and safety requirements.
Health and Safety Requirements
First and foremost, you’ll need to fully review your health and safety requirements. While you may have temporarily adjusted some policies and procedures for COVID-19, it’s important to keep it current within your handbook. Make it as readily available to employees as possible, so everyone’s on the same page.
Be sure to include:
- Your state’s COVID pandemic response guidelines (this article from AARP compiles all of this data)
- Any local (city and county) pandemic guidelines
- OSHA’s standards
- How all of these will work within your workplace (i.e. which areas are closed, spacing out desks, remote workforce when possible, etc.)
Updating these things within your existing employee handbook will keep everyone within your company current and on the same page. Now, let’s cover leave policies for the unfortunate incident that employees still get sick.
With everything going on, your leave policies may need some attention and updating. With quarantine and self-isolation regulations still necessary, you’ll need to be flexible with your leave policy. If an employee is worried about taking time for quarantine after possible exposure, they may risk coming in. This is the last thing you need to impact your business after all the work everyone’s put in.
So make sure employees know safety is your number one priority. Adjust any policies so they know your leave policy is open and understanding of COVID changes.
While you could always spruce up your employee handbook for 2021, the above-mentioned things are the most important updates to attend to. Now that we’ve covered updates, let’s dive into creating an employee handbook and how 2021 impacts them.
Creating an Employee Handbook For 2021
If you’re creating an employee handbook from scratch, there are some steps you can take to streamline this process and ensure you don’t forget any crucial aspects. We’ll take these tips and gear them towards the best practices for a handbook in 2021. For starters, let’s see what you should include within your employee handbook in general.
What Should I Put In My Employee Handbook?
A properly developed employee handbook should include a few crucial elements. Check these items off as you’re creating your employee handbook.
- Table of contents: This will create a layout for your handbook and will help employees navigate through the handbook more easily.
- The purpose of the handbook: Give employees an idea of what’s in the handbook and why you’re giving it to them. While nobody likes paperwork, try to get employees at least a little excited about their handbook. Make it personable and aligned with your company culture.
- Welcome any new employees: This is a good point to welcome any new employees and give them a briefing about your company.
- Your company’s mission statement: You want to ensure employees understand your mission statement right away. Introduce them to your companies values, culture, and vision as well. Make sure they know everything they need to, to properly represent your company.
- Equal Opportunity Employment statement (Here is a sample statement available from SHRM)
- Federal and state laws that may impact your employees (depending on your industry)
- Policies and procedures: Include all of your company’s policies and procedures.
- An acknowledgment or signature page: Even if you make the handbook a “required” reading, that doesn’t mean all of them will read it. To protect yourself, add an acknowledgment or signature page at the end of the handbook that employees must sign and return. This way, employees must state that they really read the handbook
When creating your handbook, remember this is not just to say you gave the employee the required information. You need to create the content in a way that will keep employees engaged and help them retain the information.
Tips for what to include
If you’re wanting employees to have something just so they “have it,” consider an electronic version instead of including it in your handbook. An employee handbook is not where you want to accumulate random paperwork and updates. If an electronic version isn’t an option, try updating employees with packets instead of cramming everything into your handbook.
Your employee handbook can have as much information as you’d like, just remember to keep it organized and easy-to-follow. Now that we’ve covered what to include when creating an employee handbook, let’s discuss what should be added for 2021 specifically.
Things To Add To Your Employee Handbook For 2021
While the above-mentioned items are important for handbooks in general, there are things you can add and adjust to prepare for the upcoming year. Not just this, but following the wake of 2020, there are specific topics that need to be addressed and updated.
Now is a perfect time for these adjustments, as you can share them with your employees from the start. So let’s start with the most obvious change everyone noticed – the shift to remote work.
While businesses started having employees work remotely to cut down the number of bodies inside their building, some have started to see the overall benefits of remote workers. If you’re going to continue down the path of remote workers, make sure to cover your policies and rules thoroughly in your handbook. While you can’t fully cover expectations and deadlines in a handbook, you can give employees a comprehensive idea of what’s expected of them.
Employee and Family Leave
As we previously mentioned, this is a big topic for everyone with all of the changes COVID brought with it. Make sure this part of your handbook receives adequate attention so everyone understands your leave policies. The FFCRA and the CARES Act were both passed in 2020 to protect families against the Coronavirus outbreak. Make sure to include information about these acts as well.
LGBTQ+ Anti-Discrimination Language
In June 2020, new legislation was passed in the senate protecting individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community from workplace discrimination. This update makes it illegal to fire an employee simply for being gay or transgender.
While this happened last year, you still need to ensure this is updated within your handbook and all employees have received this updated copy. The biggest goal of your handbook is not only to give your employees this information but also lets employees know they’re safe and protected in the workplace.
If your handbook doesn’t already address employee safety, this is a crucial component for 2021. While we’re all hoping things improve, there is a chance we could have another COVID wave into 2021. So, it’s important to have a preparation plan in place just in case. Hopefully, this will help your business be better prepared if another wave hits.
Final Step: Have HR Review Your Employee Handbook
After you’ve fully created your employee handbook, pass it off to your HR department for approval. They can make sure that you’re not violating any employment laws. For example, some states are passing laws forbidding employers from requesting pay history from a candidate. So it’s important to have an HR expert review your language and ensure you’re not crossing any lines. If you don’t have an in-house HR department, you can outsource this task through a third party.
This is the final step in creating your employee handbook for 2021. After you get the green light from an HR expert, you can pass the new handbook down to your employees.