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4 Critical Things You Should Never Leave Out of Your Nonprofit Employee Handbook

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Employee handbooks are useful for nonprofits because they provide both guidance for decision-making and grounds for policy enforcement, if necessary. Some courts have even ruled that handbooks can act as contracts between employers and employees – but only if they’re thoughtfully and properly compiled.

Here are four sections you should never leave out of your nonprofit employee handbook.

1. Employee Safety

You’ll need to cover a range of employee safety issues – from the standard OSHA considerations to emergency procedures in the case of workplace violence. 

If you’re in a larger office building, incorporate the building’s emergency procedures into your own plans. Things like emergency exits and gathering places, especially, will need to reflect those of the building to avoid confusion and ensure the safety of your employees and anyone visiting your office.

You’ll also want to think about any inclement weather policies your organization will have. Will you rely on local school closures for official decision-making? Or will you give your staff the freedom to choose remote work if they would otherwise struggle to get to the office? 

2. Technology & Social Media

Organization-based email accounts and provided equipment like computers are not private. Make sure your employees know this and understand that anything on the computer, including anything they’re accessing via the Internet, is able to be seen by the organization. 

Make the distinction between posting on personal social media profiles and organizational profiles. Within your general employee handbook, you’ll want to consider how employees should interact with and talk about your nonprofit on any public social media profiles they maintain. Address how private data like donor information is handled, as well. 

3. Accommodations

Accommodations can be made for disabilities, childcare or caretaking of a loved one, flexible or remote work arrangements, etc. In a sector with a high turnover rate, knowing that your organization will support you when you need it can go a long way. 

Make sure you’re meeting requirements of laws and regulations in your area, and check in with a human resources professional or legal advisor to ensure you’ve got it all covered.

Remember that this should never feel punitive. Your employees are working with you because they want to further the mission of your organization. Support them in doing this by providing the accommodations they need.

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4. Employee Termination

No one wants to have to think about firing an employee, but sometimes, it just can’t be avoided. In these cases, the language in your nonprofit’s employee handbook can be critical.

In general, you’ll want to keep language open-ended so that it’s applicable to the widest possible range of situations. If you list possible reasons for termination, for example, be clear that they are merely examples, and employees can be terminated for other reasons, as well. 

Always include a disclaimer about employee at-will status, and make sure it’s prominently displayed. Similarly, state clearly that your organization has the right to modify policies and procedures, and that the most recent revision of your handbook is the one that supersedes all others.

Keep Your Employee Handbook Current

Always keep your nonprofit’s employee handbook current. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you have casually or informally updated a policy, but it’s not reflected in your official handbook. 

Your employee handbook will be useless if your employees aren’t familiar with what’s in it. Provide a copy when new employees are hired and any time revisions are made. Get signatures to ensure staff has read and understands everything in the handbook. 

Ultimately, remember that handbooks are there for everyone to lean on and refer back to in times of question. Present changes and accept feedback in good faith.


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