Serving Northwest Iowa for Over 35 years
Community Development

Employee Handbook

The Model Employee Handbook that Northwest Iowa Planning & Development Commission uses when working with cities and counties was created in the mid 1990’s at the request of Northwest Iowa Planning & Development Commission and two other planning commissions. The Iowa Department of Economic Development funded the writing of the model Employee Handbook. Von Bokern Associates, Inc., a Des Moines employment law-consulting firm, which specializes in employment law, wrote the handbook, titled, Employment Handbook: Understanding Personnel Law In Iowa for Cities and Counties. The handbook is offered now statewide. Handbook was last updated in 2006. Von Bokern Associates, Inc. updates the Model Employee Handbook every two years.

Employment law(s) are continuously changing as a result of changes in Federal and State Law(s) and State and U.S. Court Decisions. The Cities and counties are simultaneously employers and governments. Employment laws are increasingly complex and interrelated. When an employer’s obligation is met under one law, another may impose further requirements. Congress, State Legislature, Federal Courts & State Courts shape policies and laws.

The Model Employee Handbook can assist city or county in identifying covered employees, prohibited conduct, the law’s basic requirements, practical suggestions and policy issues.

Employee Handbooks or Policies

Well-written employment policies provide a framework for sound employee practices and help illustrate the employer’s commitment to a positive and nondiscriminatory work environment. A policy and procedures manual can be a guide for supervisor and employees’ expectations for workplace behavior and help prevent misunderstandings about an organization’s rules, regulations and benefits. In summary a well-written policy manual should do the following three things:

  • Define an employer’s legal responsibilities by putting on the record matters like an employer’s EEO and sexual harassment policies.
  • Make employees aware of their rights and responsibilities.
  • Lay the ground rules for employee conduct.

Iowa is an “Employment at Will” State, which simply means the employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any nondiscrimatory reason. It is imperative that a very explicit disclaimer in reference to this topic be included in all written policy manuals. “Employment is as will; that the policy manual is not intended to be a contract; that a policy manual supercedes previous editions and the employer reserves the right to change, add, subtract, or alter the content of the policy manual at any time with or without notice and its sole discretion”. However, a note of caution concerning employment at-will and public employees - In many situations, a public employee can have a statutory or constitutional property interest in public employment, which limits employment at-will. For example, Iowa’s Veterans Preference law gives employed veterans a protected property interest in their job by guaranteeing the veteran will not be discharged except for incompetency or misconduct shown at a pre-termination hearing. The States Civil Service Law also protects public employees.

A sample list of things generally not included in older and outdated Employee Handbooks:

Define who Employee Handbook Covers- does not cover elected officials, persons serving on committees, employees covered by collective bargaining agreement (or at least sections not covered by such an agreement) Section 20.9 of Public Employees Relation Act defines the scope of negotiations by listing the topics that must be bargained by the parties. The mandatory topics are:

  • wages, shift differentials, supplemental pay, overtime compensation
  • hours
  • vacations, holidays, leaves of absence
  • insurance
  • seniority
  • transfer procedures
  • job classifications
  • health and safety matters
  • evaluation procedures
  • procedures for staff reduction
  • procedures for staff reduction
  • in-service training
  • dues deduction
  • grievance procedures

Acknowledgement of receipt of employee handbook- (have employee sign the handbook & keep as part of record). It is very important to keep a copy of this form so the City can prove the employee did in fact receive a copy of the City’s Employee Handbook. Also, each time the employee handbook is updated, be sure to have each employee sign in receipt of employee handbook updates.

Equal Employment Opportunity- policy to hire and promote qualified individuals on the basis of their qualifications, interest, and aptitude, without unlawful regard to race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, disability, or any other characteristic protected by local, state or federal law.

Harassment in the Workplace & Preventing Sexual Harassment- Harassment, retaliation, coercion, interference, or intimidation of any employee due to that employee’s race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, disability or any other characteristic protected by local, state, or federal law, is strictly forbidden.

Define Harassment- Harassing conduct in the workplace includes, but is not limited to: epithets , slurs, or negative stereotyping; threatening, intimidating or hostile acts or words; and written or printed material that denigrates or shows hostility toward an individual or group made or posted in the workplace or in the course of employment for the City/County. Such conduct is a prohibited form of discrimination under state and federal employment laws and is also considered misconduct subject to disciplinary action.

Procedures to for Harassment- If you believe that you are being harassed or subjected to discrimination of any kind, you should use the complaint procedure outlined in the City/County’s policy against sexual harassment in the workplace.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) – (Sample Language to Include in Handbook)- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals on the basis of disability. It is the policy of City/County to comply with the ADA. The City/County will not discriminate against any qualified employee or job applicant with respect to any terms, privileges, or conditions of employment because of that person’s physical or mental disability. In compliance with the ADA, the City/County will consider reasonable accommodations that do not pose undue hardship to the City/County to enable qualified applicants or employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of the position. The City/County encourages applicants or employees to make suggestions regarding reasonable accommodations to their supervisors, department heads, or the City/County ADA Coordinator.

Don’t use Probationary Period- implies that an employee might have a higher sense of security after completing the probation. Use Orientation Period

Definition of Employee Status- often times is not clear. Exempt Employee or Nonexempt Employee, Full-time employee, . . . Quite often, for example the definition of a full-time employee and part-time employee are dictated by insurance and the number of hours an employee must work to qualify for insurance.

Medical Leave and Family Medical Leave Act- Employer coverage and employee eligibility are separate issues. All cities and counties are covered by FMLA, regardless of number of employees. However, employees of cities and counties with fewer than 50 employees are not eligible for FMLA leave. For example, a city with fewer than 50 employees would be a covered employer required to post notices but would not have any employees eligible for FMLA leave.

Policy on Military Leave– Grant Leave without loss of pay for 30 calendar days. Employers cannot require employees to use vacation time. Restoration rights - Upon completion of the duty or service the employer shall restore the person to the position held prior to the leave of absence or employ the person in a similar position. Iowa Law allows an employee to apply for reemployment within 90 days after completion of military service if the employee was in the service for 181 or more days. If in active duty service period is from 31 to 180 days, then if at all practically possible they need to apply for reemployment within 14 days of completing military service. If less than 31 days, then go back to work the beginning of the first regularly scheduled work period after the end of the calendar day of duty, plus time required to return home safely and an 8 hour rest period. If this is impossible or unreasonable, then they need to report back to work as soon as possible. If an employee receives a service-connected injury or illness then the reporting or application deadlines are extended for up to two years for persons who are hospitalized or convalescing.

Continuation of Benefits During Military Service- Employees on leave for military service and any of their dependents entitled to coverage under the City’s health insurance plan are entitled to coverage as follows;

1. An employee that leaves employment for less than 31 days is entitled to continued health insurance coverage, and will not be required to pay more than what an active employee would pay for coverage.

2. An employee that leaves employment for more than 30 days is allowed to elect to receive continued coverage under the City’s health insurance plan for up to 18 months following separation from employment or until the employee’s reemployment rights expire, whichever event occurs first. The City may require the employee to pay up to 102% of the premium

All employers are required to notify employees of their rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). The City can meet this responsibility by posting a free notice created by U.S. Department of Labor. However, employer can mail notice or email notice to employees. Can download free notice at

Jury and Witness Duty- All employees required to report for jury duty shall receive a paid leave of absence for the time spent on jury duty. Hours spent by any employee appearing as a witness in any job related legal proceeding at the direction of the City/County shall be considered to be work time.

Any full time or part-time employee subpoenaed to appear as a witness in a civil or criminal proceeding in which that employee is not directly involved as a plaintiff or defendant shall be granted a leave without pay. Employees who must appear as a witness in a civil or criminal proceeding in which they are directly involved as a plaintiff or defendant may apply for an unpaid leave of absence under Section 4.9 of this handbook.

Voting Leave (Code of Iowa Sec. 49.109)– offer up to three hours aid leave if employee does not have three consecutive nonworking hours between the opening and closing of polls in which to vote. Require written request to request to a supervisor as soon as possible.

Nepotism- It is unlawful under Iowa Code Chapter 71 for any elected or appointed city or county official to appoint a close relative as a deputy, clerk, or helper, in their office if that close relative is to be paid from public funds.

For purposes of this law, "close relatives" means your spouse, your or your spouse's children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, brothers, sisters, or great-grandchildren. Note that the prohibition applies to individual officials, not to boards, councils or other public entities. So, for instance, a council could hire the daughter of one of the council members as an administrative assistant, because the entire council is ratifying that decision. If one city official hires an employee, and then the two marry, and continue to work together, that is not a violation of the nepotism law, since the appointment occurred before the two were related.

A problem with allowing related persons to work for a city/county is that often times when one person leaves employment, then the other person leaves. Also, home-related issues or problems can cause tension in the workplace.