Things to Think About When Drafting Your Employee Handbook

employee handbook, hiring practices, at-will employment, Illinois business law attorneyWhen you hire employees to help you meet your business needs, the way in which you handle their hiring and training can have a significant impact on your company. The size of your team will also tend to affect your personnel management practices, as a larger pool of employees may create different challenges than maintaining one or two trusted associates. Many business owners, particularly those with a higher number of employees, develop an employee handbook to outline company policies and procedures. While such a document may help streamline the training process, I always remind my clients that it is important to be aware an employee handbook can possibly affect you as an owner as well.

At-Will Employment and Illinois Business Law

Most employers realize that Illinois is an “at-will” employment state, which means that, without a contract stating otherwise, an employment arrangement may be terminated by either party at any time for any reason, including no reason. Just as an employee can leave for lunch one day and never return, the employer may call an employee on Thursday advising him or her not to come in on Friday. There may be repercussions related to the reputation of either party, but with few exceptions, there is little legal recourse.

When an employer develops and implements an employee handbook, however, he or she must do so very carefully. While the owner’s goal may be to standardize the company’s policies, procedures, and regulations, and making them equally accessible to every employee, there is a risk of creating unintended contractual modifications to the at-will status of employment.

Employee Handbook Basics

Most employee handbooks include basic conduct policies, including those regarding punctuality, attendance, smoking, safety, and privacy. Inclusion of such topics can certainly make it easier for all employers to adhere to the same guidelines. The owner, likewise, should remain in compliance with the rules as well to the greatest extent possible, to establish an example of workplace behavior.

However, handbooks that contain promises of continued employment and inflexible discipline procedures can create legal obstacles for an employer down the road. Continued employment based solely on following the rules, whether explicitly stated or heavily implied, can limit an employer’s ability to terminate an unproductive employee, or any employee, for that matter, under at-will employment. Likewise, discipline procedures that do not include a reasonable amount of flexibility may cause problems for an owner wishing to terminate an employee over a single action, no matter how egregious.

While it may not be an owner’s intention to create exceptions to at-will employment by means of contractual-type clauses in an employee handbook, there have been examples in the Illinois court system that prove such a result is possible. That is why it is so important for an employer to carefully consider every word that goes into a handbook and be completely willing to abide by its terms.

Contact a Business Documents Lawyer

If you would like to develop an employee handbook that may help you minimize risk for your business, contact an experienced Naperville business planning attorney at the Geirach Law Firm. We will work with you to draft the documents that best suit your needs while providing stability for your company. Call today to schedule a consultation.