Employee Handbook and Orientation

AuthorMarcia Simmering

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The employee handbook is a document compiled by an organization that is used to inform employees of rules, regulations, and policies. It is a consistent, formalized way in which organizations can communicate

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with employees, and it is one of the most important forms of information that the company can provide its employees. Employees can refer to the handbook to answer basic questions throughout their tenure with the organization. Additionally, managers in the organization can use the handbook to help them make uniform and consistent decisions regarding employees. By avoiding arbitrary or uninformed decisions by managers, the company may prevent problems that stem from the unfair or even illegal treatment of employees, such as reduced worker motivation, lower performance, or even litigation.

Orientation is a training program that introduces new employees to the company, their work units, and their particular jobs; it is used to familiarize employees with the organization's rules, policies, and procedures. Often the employee handbook is used as a reference during a company's orientation sessions. The typical elements of both the employee handbook and orientation are described in detail below.


Employee handbooks are likely to include information on the following topics: employee compensation and benefits, performance appraisal procedures, smoking restrictions, drug-testing procedures, leave policies, dress codes, sexual harassment, workplace dating, disciplinary procedures, and safety rules.


An employee handbook should provide information about compensation and benefits, and in particular, fringe benefits. Employees need to know how often they will receive pay-checks and when and if pay raises will be given. Any variable pay (e.g., merit pay or incentive pay) should also be explained, since this pay is dependent upon employee performance. Employees should also be informed about who is eligible for which fringe benefits, what options they have, and when they are allowed to make changes to their benefits package. Additionally, detailed information about the benefits that are available is often included in employee handbooks.


Employee handbooks should inform the employee about the procedure for performance appraisal. In addition to providing details about the instruments and required documentation in general, several questions should be answered. First, when will the appraisals be conducted? Some organizations conduct appraisals annually, and others do so more often (e.g., every six months). Additionally, will appraisals take place on a common date for everyone in a work unit (or company-wide) or are they conducted on the anniversary of an employee's hire date? Second, who will conduct the appraisal? Third, when and how will results be communicated to the employee? That is, will there be an appraisal meeting in which the employee is told the results of the performance appraisal? Fourth, what options are available to employees who disagree with their appraisal? These questions and any other details about the procedure should be addressed in this section of the handbook.


Most organizations have a policy on smoking that indicates whether smoking is allowed in the physical facility, outside of the physical facility (and how far away from the building smokers must be), or outside of work altogether. Any restrictions on smoking should be detailed in the employee handbook. In some organizations, smoking inside or around physical facilities may be hazardous, such as when flammable substances are present. In other organizations, smoking may be prohibited within a building for the comfort of non-smokers. While restrictions on smoking in the workplace are fairly common, some employers are now prohibiting smoking even when employees are not on the job. This is in response to average increased health care costs for smokers and this restriction is legal in some states.


If a company tests its employees for illegal drug use, then the policies and procedures associated with the tests should be included in the employee handbook. The organization should inform employees of the type of test—urinalysis, hair analysis, or blood analysis—and of the specific sample collection procedures. Additionally, the handbook should indicate when tests will be used. Testing may occur before employment begins, or it may occur randomly, for a cause, or after an accident. Finally, details about possible actions associated with positive test results, and procedures to appeal test results, should be provided.


Paid leave—such as sick leave, vacation days, and personal days—requires rules for administration. The employee handbook should detail the number of sick or personal days available to each employee; the reasons for which this leave may be taken; any documentation or verification that may be required to take a sick day; and who to contact in the event of an illness.

Employees must also be informed as to how and when vacations can be scheduled, how the time can be taken (e.g., intermittently or all at once), and whether days not taken in one year are carried over into the next year, or lost, or paid back to the employee in the form of cash. Additionally, the handbook should inform employees about the number of vacation days they have, particularly if the number increases with an employee's tenure.

The handbook should also detail information about who is eligible for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and what the

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