Planning and Communication Are Crucial to a Successful Employee Handbook Rollout

by Employers Council Staff


Anyone who has created or updated an employee handbook knows it’s a big project. At Employers Council, we consult with employers about handbooks and review hundreds each year. We understand the investment of time and brainpower it takes.  

Once the document is complete, it may feel like a relief to wrap it up and distribute it. Consider taking a deep breath and creating a process to roll it out that will help everyone understand the handbook’s purpose and goals, how to use it, and what’s new, whether it’s the whole document or updates to an existing one. Below are some steps to take. 

Fine-Tune the Document  

Check to ensure spelling and grammar are error-free. Review formatting, including fonts, typeface, page numbers, headers, and footers. Be sure that any links included are active. Use plenty of white space on pages and easy-to-read headings and subheadings to help readers see where sections begin and end. Check for page breaks to make sure they fall correctly and that formatting of headings and subheadings is consistent. Watch for overlooked comments or other tracked changes that need to be accepted or rejected.  

It’s easy to overlook the table of contents or to update it too quickly. It is typically the last thing to revise so that it accurately reflects section titles and page numbers. Even the slightest tweak, like shortening or lengthening a sentence, can affect the table of contents.  

Employees may judge the credibility and importance of the handbook in part on its appearance and how easily they can find information. The goal is to make it clean, clear, easy to navigate, and professional looking. 

Educate Leadership, Managers, and Supervisors 

In many cases, employees will rely on their direct managers for questions or interpretation of handbook provisions. This is the time to ensure that everyone has a consistent understanding of the handbook’s contents and how it applies to their teams. Consider allowing managers to take some time reviewing it before it’s distributed to employees so they have time to come up with questions.  

It’s important that managers recognize the purpose of the handbook. It is a communication tool that provides guidelines and policies that govern the employer-employee relationship. A well-written handbook is a reference tool that does not include steps, processes, procedures, or day-to-day operations. A procedures or operations manual communicates the “how-to” steps or processes. Examples are filing an expense report, requirements for driving a company vehicle, how to use the payroll system to request time off, protocol for answering the phone, or how to order office supplies.  

Managers should know what has changed and have some background as to why — for example, a change in a law or the organization’s decision to add, delete, or adjust something. They should understand how these changes may impact their daily operations. Often, managers don’t need to know all the details of policy administration, but they should have a working awareness.  

Roll It Out to Employees  

Employees must be advised of what has changed or of the key points if it’s a new handbook. Staff meetings are a great time to do this. A smaller group may allow for questions and discussion. Some employers create FAQs. Others enlist the support of first-line supervisors to train and communicate with staff.  

Track and Retain Acknowledgments   

In most cases, employees are required to sign an acknowledgment of receipt (AOR) form to show that they received the handbook and that they understand they are responsible for its contents. Federal and state laws render an electronic signature binding, valid, and usually, having the same legal effect as a hand-written signature. Almost every state has a digital signature law calling for certain requirements to be met.  

If the employee signs a paper copy, it should be placed in their personnel file. Electronic signatures should be stored in individual employee records whenever possible. Employers with unions should consult with an employment law attorney about AORs. 

Ensure Access to All  

For employees who do not have computers, there should be computers available at centralized locations where they can read the handbook without feeling observed. If an employee is unsure about how to access the handbook, HR and managers should provide training. Paper copies must be available for workers who do not have access to computers or who do not feel comfortable with electronic access. 

Be aware that employers must make accommodations as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for employees with disabilities to access and read the handbook.  

Employers Council members have access to a vast array of resources to help them with employee handbooks, including sample handbooks and an extensive library of policies with legal and administrative guidelines. We also offer an on-demand class called Crafting Employee Handbooks (available to members and nonmembers). Consulting members are eligible for one handbook review per membership year by an HR consultant with an optional legal review. Enterprise members may receive both a legal and HR review as part of their membership. Click here to learn how to join Employers Council and start reaping the rewards of membership.

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Employers Council Staff