An updated employee handbook is like the well-built foundation of a sturdy building: it holds everything in place and survives the test of time. Everything changes, especially in the workplace. Labor and tax laws get amended. Technology evolves. Companies rebrand and social norms grow obsolete. All these should be reflected in your employee handbook — your organizational bible — and as the HR manager, it’s your responsibility to take the lead in reviewing and rewriting your handbook’s contents from time to time.
What’s in an employee handbook?
An employee handbook is “a compilation of the policies, procedures, working conditions, and behavioral expectations in the workplace.” It can include anything from your payroll schedule and leave policies to the government and industry regulations you have to follow. Recently, some companies have even started defining and promoting their company culture, i.e. laying the groundwork for the tone of interactions among their employees and teams, through it. The handbook is also a good venue “to remind employees of their benefits package,” which your company may be spending a lot of money on. That said, failing to update your handbook at least annually doesn’t just make one barely read stack of papers irrelevant. Rather, it makes your company vulnerable to the things that it wants to avoid: complaints, abuse, backsliding behaviors, a disengaged workforce, underperformance, and, worst of all, litigation.
So where do you start reviewing your company’s employee handbook? Seasoned HR and legal experts agree that some workplace topics are more prone to change than others, and hence should have more of your keen, update-seeking attention. It’s a good practice to prioritize those topics whenever you get the time to revisit and redesign your handbook. By doing so, you will not just use your time and resources wisely; you will also be able to address new and undocumented problems, particularly those that arise out of “loopholes” in policies. If you’re about to refurbish your employee handbook for the first time this year, consider looking into the sections or contents that cover the following.
Salary, wage, and taxes
Two recently implemented changes come to mind whenever the topics of salary, wages, and taxes are brought up: the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law and the minimum wage increase for employees in Metro Manila. Does the salary and tax section of your employee handbook already reflect computations in the revised tax table released last January 4, 2018? Have you updated the withholding tax percentages in your manual to the new ones prescribed by the TRAIN Law? If you’re with a company that’s based in Manila, is the minimum wage quoted in our handbook now equal to the new amount, ie PHP 512, after the implementation of the minimum wage increase last September? (See the Summary of Latest Wage Orders by the National Wages and Productivity here).
Even as we speak, there is a proposal for the monthly minimum wage of government employees to be raised to PHP 16,000.00. Earlier in January, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) was reported to be entertaining the the idea of a PHP 500 monthly subsidy to minimum wage earners. The point is government regulations on salary, wages, and taxes are always changing, so if your employee handbook includes any detail on those subjects, you must always be aware of updates. A good habit to grow in order to avoid missing out on important state policy changes is to visit DOLE’s press release archives from time to time.
Social media and online branding
Unlike before, it’s no longer easy to dismiss the growing importance of social media policies at the workplace. After all, the reputation and security of companies now largely depend on their online presence. Social media policies should “outline how an organization and its employees should conduct themselves online.” Ideally, it should contain provisions necessary to protect your brand’s image and to prompt employees to share company-produced content responsibly.
Because social media features are updated at a fast pace, company policies related to them need to be updated in real time. Whether you’re revising or just starting to write your company’s own social media policies, the following content checklist should help you hit the ground running.
Do your social media policies…
- tell your employees how best to represent the company online and promote the brand?
- indicate which company-produced content can and can’t be shared with people who are not part of the organization?
- give you the course of action to take in the event that a company’s social media handle is attacked by trolls or hackers?
- enumerate potential online threats (especially those with legal and security implications) and the ways to avoid them?
Source: Hootsuite Blog
But let’s not veer away from the first question you’ll have answer: Should your company allow the use of social media in the office and during work hours? This is something we’ve tackled in one of our previous blogs. One strong argument is social media channels help us communicate effectively, but in the final analysis, it is important to set guidelines on when and how often they should be used. Especially if, like most companies, your organization values maximum productivity.
It’s one thing to have IT policies and it’s another to have updates ones. Many companies have had rules governing the use of company computers, emails, software licenses, and local area networks for quite some time now, but the said truth is, some of them don’t even bother making due changes as technology moves forward.
It helps not to be daunted by jargons and to know exactly where you’ll start updating your existing tech-related guidelines. Fortunately, there are a lot of available online resources on how companies can create IT policies. One of them recognizes that the following areas should be addressed first in employee handbooks.
Acceptable Use of Technology
- Guidelines for the use of computers, phones, internet, email, and voicemail and the consequences for misuse
- Rules on passwords, levels of access to the network, virus protection, confidentiality, and the usage of data
- Guidelines for data recovery in the event of a disaster and data backup methods
- How to determine which type of software, hardware, and systems will be purchased and used at the company, including those that are prohibited (for example, instant messenger or mp3 music download software)
Network Set up and Documentation
- Guidelines regarding how the network is configured, how to add new employees to the network, permission levels for employees, and licensing of software
- Ways to determine how technology needs and problems will be addressed, who in the organization is responsible for employee technical support, maintenance, installation, and long-term technology planning
Source: Corporate Computer Services, Inc.
Templated IT policies may not always apply to your company, however, so it pays to know how your context differs from those of the organizations you’re borrowing tech rules from. This is the part where it’s smart to hire an IT consultant or to seek the help of one of your professionally trained tech experts.
Health and safety, anti-discrimination, dress code, and leave policies
Ensuring your company’s compliance with international guidelines for workplace well-being should start in the handbook. It’s always smart to watch out for releases of useful references made by organizations that cater to employees’ welfare.
The labor ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for instance, recently published the region’s guidelines for Occupational Safety and Health (OSH). The said reference material covers everything from the basics of crafting OSH policies to the effective ways of doing workplace safety inspections. It contains useful templates, including that of a hazard identification form as well as of workplace safety inspection and accident investigation checklists.
Other changes that you should keep an eye out for have to do with the following parts of your handbook:
- Your company’s dress code, which by now should reflect the recently implemented ban on high-heeled footwear by DOLE (if applicable);
- Anti-discrimination guidelines, which may have to change once the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Bill is enacted; and
- Your rules on paid leaves, which may need a bit of an overhaul after the Expanded Maternity Leave Bill sees the light of day.
As an HR practitioner and leader, there are a lot of aspects of your position in which you can function and thrive only as satisfactorily as the employee handbook would allow you to. Think of your company’s handbook as the main enabler of your role. Without it, you will have no rules to implement, no guidelines to refer to, no processes to follow. Leave it unupdated and you’ll not only be labeled old-fashioned and irrelevant; you’ll also compromise your own effectivity, your company’s valuable resources.