Often times employers want to simplify documents and combine what would typically be in an employee handbook with a procedure manual. Does it matter? What is the difference? What should be in each? In short, these two documents are each important in and of themselves and it’s best to keep them separate given they serve different purposes.
The employee handbook communicates what the organization expects from employees and what they can expect from the organization such as information on the company’s rules and policies, how performance is assessed, and the benefits provided to employees. Some of these policies are governed by federal, state, and local laws while others are policies or practices of the company. The employee handbook will become a reference tool and can be referred to throughout the employee’s tenure.
The employee handbook is typically written in simple, non-legal language so that employees can easily understand the policies and expectations. The handbook should also reflect the culture of the organization. In many cases, the employee handbook might be an employee’s first introduction to the company, its policies, and the culture.
Suggested Employee Handbook Policies:
- Sexual harassment policies
- Discrimination policies
- At-will statement
- Contract disclaimer
- Conflict of interest
- Definition of full and part-time employment
- Hours and shifts
- Hours of work, tardiness issues
- Lunch periods and break times
- Vacation scheduling
- Sick leave policies
- FMLA and other (state) leave policies (jury duty, military duty)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Compensation policies
- Retirement and pension statements
- Work rules
- Drug policies and testing
- Dress, grooming codes
- E-mail, telephone, and Internet use
- Privacy issues
- Travel policies, advances
- Proper use of company equipment and materials
- Performance evaluations
- Inside posting for jobs
- Disciplinary procedures
- Workers’ compensation
- Emergency, fire procedures
In contrast to the employee handbook, a procedure manual provides detailed descriptions and instructions for performing certain tasks or supporting policies provided in the employee handbook. A procedure manual is more of a “How To” document or playbook to guide the steps to completing a job. There may be some overlapping information with the employee handbook, but it’s real purpose is to outline Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and be a step-by-step guide. For example, there may be a section on Requesting a Leave of Absence in both, but the employee handbook would outline the guidelines for the policy and include any legal parameters, while the procedure manual would go into more detail about how an employee requests the leave, what forms they need to fill out, who they send them to, who approves the leave, and what other documentation they may need. Some of the policies might be HR-related, however, there may also be some SOPs which are more job-specific or the company may multiple procedure manuals based on the content.
When writing SOPs for the procedure manual, there is typically a consistent template that is followed for each policy. Doing so ensures that employees can easily become accustom to the policies and procedures and understand how to follow each. The SOP template should include:
- Policy number or name/title which will easily identify and distinguish the procedures from one another.
- Effective Date (or revised date) of the procedure which will ensure that the most up to date version if being followed.
- Purpose of the procedure outlines why the procedure is necessary.
- Step-by-step instructions will be the bulk of the procedures. Try to be concise and bullet point what needs to be and include additional details as needed.
- Approval signature line for the Supervisor or department that is responsible for the policy’s oversight.
- Other information might also include definitions or attachments, such as forms that might need to be completed.
Despite the overlap in content, both documents are important in and of themselves and having both an employee handbook and a procedure manual (or SOPs) will ensure better efficiency of operations, set expectations, and ensure legal compliance with employment laws.