An employee handbook is basically a manual that contains an organization’s general code of employee conduct and standards for the workplace.  It is usually issued by employers to new employees once they officially begin working.  The handbook can sometimes be part of the employee’s employment contract, although it is typically distributed as a separate document.

The contents of an employee handbook will vary depending on the nature of the business organization.  A well-written employee handbook will address general policies, such as employee dress codes.  It will also list more specific issues such as benefits or compensation.  The employee handbook should also contain a reporting policy regarding workplace disputes and how to deal with them.

In many cases, an employee handbook is considered to be legally binding for both employers and employees.  The handbooks are sometimes used as evidence when filing a workplace dispute claim. 

What is a “Reporting Policy”?

A reporting policy contains a business organization’s instructions on how to report instances of misconduct or violations in the workplace.  It is important for an employer to provide their workforce with clear channels for communicating any serious incidents or concerns. 

The reporting policy contained in the employee handbook should provide employees with instructions regarding:

  • Who the employee should report the dispute to 
  • How the employer will be investigating and responding to the incident
  • What types of remedies and corrective measures are available

Perhaps the most important aspect of a reporting policy is the information regarding who employees should report to.  Reports of a workplace dispute are usually made to a superior or to the company’s human resources department.  Unfortunately, many workplace disputes go unreported simply because the employee victim didn’t know who they should report to.

Also, many workplace disputes are never reported because the employee is afraid that they will get fired for reporting company violations.  Firing an employee for reporting a violation is known as “retaliatory discharge” and is illegal.  By law, employees must be allowed to report workplace disputes without being subject to retaliatory discharge.  Instead, the employee handbook should encourage employees to make reports of any workplace disputes that they witness or are involved in.

What types of Workplace Disputes are covered in an Employee Handbook?

Federal and state laws prohibit various types of employee conduct, such as harassment and discrimination.  An employee handbook should conform to all employment laws.  The handbook or manual should address all major workplace disputes, whether the conflict is between employees or between an employee and employer. 

Some major workplace disputes that should be covered in an employee handbook include:

  • Disputes over injuries or workplace safety
  • Harassment/hostile work environment claims
  • Discrimination, such as race, gender, religious discrimination, etc.
  • Incidents of violence or abuse
  • Disputes over compensation, wages, benefits, and leave
  • Hiring and firing issues
  • Disability claims
  • Workplace injuries

Also, a company may choose to include provisions regarding workplace issues that may be unique to the organization.  For example, if interacting with the public is a major aspect of the business, the handbook should include policies on how to deal manage disputes with the public. 

What if an Employee Handbook does not adequately address a Workplace Dispute?

An employer may be held liable if employees are not adequately informed of the rights as employee.  For example, if the employee handbook fails to describe reporting mechanisms, the employer may be required to rewrite the handbook to correct the reporting policy.  In fact, revising employee handbooks is commonly required by a court of law as a remedy for the workplace dispute.

A great number of workplace disputes are resolved internally through a proper exercise of the guidelines in an employee handbook.  However, if the instructions in an employee handbook cannot provide an adequate remedy for an employment dispute, the employee will have to seek external relief.  For example, they may file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) , or file a civil lawsuit. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for issues with an Employee Handbook?

If you are involved in a workplace dispute, you should consult your employee handbook to learn what your organization’s policies are.  You may wish to consult with an employment lawyer for advice, even if you will not initially be filing a lawsuit.  Your attorney can provide you with valuable advice during the resolution process and can be on hand in case litigation becomes necessary.