Establish Expectations

Retailers Best Practices

Important topics to address in your company's employee handbook.

By Brett Owens

Employee handbooks help define a company’s culture and set expectations for employee conduct. For restaurants, hotels and the hospitality industry as a whole, these manuals play a crucial role in defining the legal rights and obligations of both the employer and employee.

Employers in the hospitality industry can create value for their employees by establishing the expectations of the business and what is important to the business. Restaurant owners can establish in writing the importance of customer service and each employee’s role in creating a unique experience for each customer. Hotel managers can provide explicit instructions in policies regarding everything from time management to fraternizing with guests.

Every hospitality industry employer and owner should consider local, state and federal laws, along with policies and procedures specific to the organization and its industry when developing an employee handbook. While there are many types of policies to consider, there are several key areas that every employee handbook should cover:

1. At-will Statement

If the state is an “employment-at-will” state, meaning an employer may terminate employment at any time, for any reason, and without notice, make certain that there is an “at will” statement in the employee handbook. The statement should explain that employment is not contractual nor is it for a definitive term. Just as the – head chef, front desk manager, bell hop or director of room service is free to resign at any time – the employer reserves the right to terminate the employee at any time, as well.

2. Code of Conduct

All companies should have a widely applicable code of conduct. This is especially critical in the leisure and hospitality industry as there is a great deal of interaction with the general public. Other businesses may be more self-contained, but hospitality requires greater diligence regarding conducting oneself. It’s important to set expectations for all employees on everything from dress code to attendance to social media use.

Retailers Best Practices2Address any legal obligations related to conduct, especially when it comes to regulated aspects of your business, while taking steps to ensure that any such restrictions comply with the latest mandates issued by regulatory agencies, such as the National Labor Relations Board. Resorts and hotels should be aware of the regulations that the industry boards encourage.

3. Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation

Policies against discrimination and harassment help maintain a safe and productive work environment. Whether the harassment comes from colleagues or guests, there must be clear and explicit language that this is not tolerated. Policies that explain this in distinct and unambiguous language provide additional defenses for an employer if they are the target of a harassment or discrimination lawsuit. All applicable protected classifications should be included in the policy.

Define a process for reporting harassment and discrimination to the employer and to government entities, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Policies that protect employees who report a violation from retaliation should also be included.

4. Drugs and Alcohol

The employee handbook should state that employees are not permitted to have illegal drugs or prohibited amounts of alcohol “in their systems” while working. The proximity to alcohol in the hospitality industry makes this one of the more essential elements of an employee handbook.

This section should also state the employers’ right to order a drug test at any time, and explain the consequences of testing positive. Similarly, alcohol consumption should be prohibited while on the job, but if there are opportunities where this is acceptable, be as thorough and comprehensive in the manual to suggest the rarities when this policy may have flexibility.

As the nation continually evolves in efforts to develop medical marijuana laws, remember that federal law does not require employers to allow or accommodate employee use of medical marijuana, even if the employee has a legal prescription. However, this could change over the coming year.

5. Safety and Non-Violence

A policy to address workplace safety and security that is compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should be in place. Kitchen hazards must be reduced. Hotels and resorts often must deal with crowded areas where guests congregate, so handbooks should encourage when to minimize unruly behavior or crowd rage. Sports activity areas that have inherent dangers, such as driving ranges, and even tennis courts should be addressed – how to approach these expanses; how to maintain them safely so the possibility of accidents is lessened.

Safety policies should cover company procedures for extreme weather events like hurricanes, blizzards and other situations that could potentially be hazardous for employees. An employee handbook should explicitly state that any employee who commits an act of violence against another person while at work will be terminated. Violent behavior outside of work and procedures for reporting violent acts or threats should also be a strong focus.

6. Confidentiality and Conflicts of Interest

Put policies in place to protect your restaurant or facility’s intellectual property, trade secrets and other confidential information. These policies apply to every company and the leisure and hospitality industry is no exception. The employee handbook should provide specific examples of conflicts of interest, confidential information and trade secrets. Address disciplinary action for employees who violate the company’s confidentiality rules, which may include termination or legal action.

7. Time-off and Employee Leave

Most people think about policies for sick time, vacation and holidays, but employees may need to use leave for many other reasons. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are not likely to be subject to federal laws that govern how employers handle leave for family and medical reasons, bereavement, military leave, jury duty, court cases and voting. Still, even a small bed-and-breakfast can have a handful of employees and should consider policies for these types of leave.

8. Pay and Timekeeping Practices

Employers in the hospitality industry should clearly state their pay and timekeeping practices. The employee handbook should also provide employees with written notice of a transparent process to report wage and hour issues to their employer.

Additionally, owners, managers, HR and general employers are best serviced if there are written policies to ensure compliance with the tip credit requirements of the FLSA. For example, employers should make clear waiters, waitresses, bellhops, bussers and service bartenders who customarily and regularly receive tips shall not include employees who do not customarily and regularly receive tips such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors in tip pooling or tip sharing arrangements.

Employee handbooks should be updated annually to remain compliant with legal changes. Consider enlisting experienced employment counsel to assist your business as it grows.

Brett Owens is an associate attorney in the Tampa office of Fisher Phillips. The national labor and employment law firm is committed to providing practical business solutions for employers’ workplace legal problems. Visit for more information or you may reach Owens at (813) 769-7500 or


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