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What to put in your employee manual

employee handbook


I am making an employee manual for my restaurant. What should be included?

– Sherline Jean, Miami


In this column, I often mention that policies should be clearly spelled out in the employee manual. I have not, however, addressed what else should be included, so thanks for this question.

In short, the manual should include everything you can think of. The employee manual does a few things for your operation: It spells out your brand and concept, it sets clear expectations, it provides valuable references and answers to questions, and—perhaps most importantly—protects the operation and management as well as the employee.

There are a number of templates and examples you can follow. They vary slightly, but most good manuals include similar sections. For example, the manual template at restaurantowner.com includes:

  • Non-discrimination
  • Age requirements
  • Orientation period
  • Training
  • Evaluations
  • Schedules
  • Overtime
  • Standards of conduct
  • Drug and alcohol policy
  • Employee use of social media websites
  • Cellular phone policy
  • Kickback policy
  • Harassment
  • Absences
  • Tardiness
  • Resignations
  • Payment procedures
  • Tip reporting
  • Benefits
  • Vacations
  • Holidays
  • Workers compensation
  • Employee meals
  • Employee safety
  • Management-employee relations
  • Sanitation
  • Dress code
  • Accidents and emergency situations
  • Alcoholic serving policy
  • Propriety and confidential information
  • Solicitation
  • Handbook receipt

There are many others, and your attorney or restaurant association may offer a preferred template as well.

An employee manual can be a valuable tool for your operation, but like any tool, it is only effective when used correctly. I have seen many mistakes stemming from even well-written manuals being used incorrectly, but addressing the following points should alleviate many of these missteps:

  • Keep them updated. As policies change, issues come up or employees ask questions, keep in mind the manual should be a living document.
  • Make sure they are read. If no one reads the manual, it is useless. Require new employees to read the manual and conduct intermittent trainings on sections of the manual for all employees. A good technique is to use a quiz or reading guide to make sure the manual is not just skimmed, but read and understood. Include a tear-off reviewed by your attorney that ensures employees have read and understand the manual. Make sure this is on file before any new hire begins work.
  • Write in plain language. Keep in mind the diversity of abilities and education of your employees. Write your manual in clear language that anyone can understand. Offer to read the manual (or offer a podcast) to employees who may prefer to listen due to ability or literacy, and offer the manual in multiple languages.

Be sure to show your attorney your draft manual to make sure your policies and language are compliant with the law. More on employee manuals here

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