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No, there is no legal requirement that companies have employee handbooks. That being said, for a variety of reasons most companies have handbooks.

The better question to ask yourself is – is it a good idea to have an employee handbook for my business? For most employers the answer is yes. Handbooks can serve many needs from an HR perspective: they set the tone for the company’s (executive management’s) formal communications with the employee; a well-drafted handbook can communicate expectations, rules, policies and procedures (in writing); and a handbook can further the company’s culture or mission.  In some situations communicating certain policies can even afford you certain legal defenses in the event of a lawsuit. 

Often employers don’t see the handbook as the cultural reinforcement/development tool that it can be. There have been a number of relatively famous handbooks out there that work to set the tone for the company’s culture and do a fairly good job at it – Disney’s 1943 handbook with Disney-esque cartoons throughout, which is probably a collector item for people. More recently Facebook has had some inspirational messaging about the company, its mission and what it looks for in its employees which reinforces what the company is about to its employees. For example, one such inspirational message – “If we don’t invent the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will.” How is that for setting the tone of development and speed?

Of course, there are some state and federal laws that require employers to communicate to employees certain rights they have, whether you have a handbook or not. For example, Minnesota requires employers to notify employees of their rights under the state’s employee personnel file law, and if you have a handbook you must notify employees of their right to disclose wages to co-workers and how they can sue the company for infringing on this right. At the federal level the Department of Labor (DOL) requires employers to provide a specific notification of rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for covered employers, which many employers include in the handbook in the guise of an FMLA policy. Combining policies into a cohesive communication to employees often serves as an effective vehicle for delivery of these policies, but don’t forget the importance of this vehicle for developing cultural hegemony for your company.

Thompson Coe and myHRgenius Tip of the Week is not intended as a solicitation, does not constitute legal advice, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.


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Kevin M. Mosher

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