Why Your Employee Handbook is Essential Reading Material

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When you start a new job, one of the first things to arrive on your desk — or, more likely these days, in a link on the company intranet — is your employee handbook. With so many tasks to complete as a new employee, you might be tempted to put reading it on the back burner. Unfortunately, that would be shooting yourself in the foot.

The employee handbook can provide you with vital information concerning your benefits and company policies. In essence, it tells you what's expected of you and what you can expect from your employer.

Never assume you've seen it all before or that you can skip reading the employee handbook. Instead, take time to review it and bookmark any points you think you might need to refer to in the future. If you have questions about anything you read, now's the time to raise them with your manager or HR representative.

As you're reading through the handbook, focus on these particular topics:

General information and employee benefits

Even if you talked with the hiring manager about benefits before you came onboard, you should look through the detailed information about them in the employee handbook, as well as any useful information about HR processes. Check out sections that address these areas in particular:

  • Welcome statement from the CEO
  • EEO policy statement (including prohibition on sexual and other forms of discrimination and harassment and the procedure for reporting such conduct)
  • Employment at-will (if applicable)
  • Company history and overview
  • Company mission statement and values
  • Health, safety, and security rules and procedures, including fire-exit maps
  • Parking and transportation information, including maps
  • Standards of conduct and disciplinary procedures
  • Performance appraisal procedures
  • Employee benefit information, including available healthcare and dental insurance coverage, pension, and deferred-income and retirement programs, paid time off benefits (including company holidays, vacation time, and sick days), leaves of absence, and eligibility requirements

Company policies and procedures

Your employer likely has other policies and procedures. Pay attention to the sections of your employee handbook that cover these topics:

  • Essential company rules, such as work hours and attendance, timekeeping and payroll practices
  • Business ethics and professional standards of conduct
  • Company dress code, which should cover everything from what to wear when meeting with clients to what's OK on casual Friday
  • Technology policies, such as e-mail policies and social media use guidelines
  • How the company handles complaints and disciplinary proceedings
  • Information about use and display of your company ID
  • Information about preserving the confidentiality of company documents, like the employee handbook

One of your first obligations in your new role may be to read the employee handbook and sign a declaration to confirm you did. That confirmation will be filed in your employee record, and claiming ignorance won't help you if you break the rules. It's far better to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the company's expectations than to risk disciplinary action simply because you never read the handbook. Besides, you never know what useful information you might learn.