Developing Your Playbook

Employee handbooks are a must-have for every company. They set the tone of the organization, communicate expectations, policies and procedures, explain benefits and affirm compliance with state and federal law.

Above all, a good handbook protects your company, especially in the case of a lawsuit, according to attorney Josh Levy of Husch Blackwell.

“Your handbook creates good evidence,” Levy said.

Levy and attorney Robert Sanders outlined the essentials of a solid employee handbook during a session at ABC of Wisconsin’s 2018 Human Resources Conference.

Levy said an employee handbook should be viewed as a potential court exhibit and should demonstrate a company’s commitment to comply with the law. It should also accurately reflect a company’s actual human resource practices.

“It’s dangerous to have anything more in your policy that you’re not doing,” Levy said. “Take it out if you’re not doing it.”

Different state and federal employment laws apply to different-sized businesses based on the number of employees, Sanders added, which can influence how a company’s handbook is written. While Wisconsin is an at-will employer state, companies are still required to follow state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

“The employees are at-will as long as your actions are not discriminatory,” Levy said.

In an at-will relationship, employees can quit without reason or be let go by the employer without cause, Levy said. He said it was important to spell out an at-will clause in employee handbooks and to reaffirm the at-will relationship throughout.

One of the key items to remember with any employee handbook is to include an acknowledgement form, which serves as evidence that an employee has received and read a copy of the handbook. The handbook should state employers have the right to modify policies and date each new edition. Employees should sign a new acknowledgement form with each new edition.

It’s also important to know which laws apply to your company based on your company’s size. Multi-state employers should also be aware of relevant laws that may affect them in all states where they do business.


Levy and Sanders suggest including the following policies in any employee handbook:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment Policies
  • Wage and Hour Policies
  • Leave of Absence and Time Off Policies
  • Injury and Accident Reporting Policy
  • Disability Accommodation Policy
  • Employment Classifications and Benefits
  • Confidentiality Policy
  • Information Technology/Communications Policy
  • Standards of Conduct Policy
  • Progressive Discipline Policy

Be sure to follow the policies and procedures listed in the handbook, and have good reasons for granting exceptions. If an exception is granted, document why.

An employee handbook should be easy to read and understand. Avoid being ambiguous and ensure that the policies and terms that are used are consistent. Also consider having translations done for other languages.

By James Debilzen – ABC of Wisconsin Marketing & Communications Specialist

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