From the blog

The 12 Items You Need to Include in Your Employee Handbook

Share This:

Your employee handbook can be the pillar of your business. It is useful for defining company policies, procedures, and expectations. Once you have written the employee handbook, everything else becomes easier to manage.

Also, you should be clear, consistent, and positive. Think about what you wanted from a former workplace. Brainstorm ideas and write them down. 

What does each worker need? Include policies that you can enforce. Also, do not put a policy in your handbook if you can’t enforce it. That causes concern for favoritism and legal issues. 

Top Reasons for an Employee Handbook

Define Policies, Procedures, and Expectations 

Does your staff know what you expect? Do they know how to ask off? They should be able to look up all rules and policies. Then, they can follow up with their manager for more details. Establish structure and fair treatment of all staff too. 

Offers Direction 

Being a new team member can be tough. Do they know where to park? How to clock in? The handbook should also answer questions for new staff. It also will help ease their anxiety about starting their job. It provides help on how to handle certain situations too. 

Reference Tool 

Your manual should be a reference book for your staff. It can also help anyone who is unsure of a policy. Whenever any issue arises, they should be able to look it up. 

Gives Employees Clear Direction

Each policy should be very clear. What can you improve? If your staff is asking questions about one policy, you may need to rewrite it. Furthermore, how can you improve it?

Becomes a Sales Tool

When hiring new staff, discuss your culture. Review the benefits of working there too. Also, spell out your paid time off. Your handbook can be a great sales tool for you when hiring. Great workers like clear policies.  

Protects the Company

When you have a well-written handbook, it can help protect you from legal disputes. Additionally, run it by an attorney. You also want to make sure you include any legal language. 


Need an Affordable Time Clock App for Your Employees?

What to Include in the Employee Handbook

You should start with a positive message. Obviously, there are some things that cannot be tolerated. Yet, your handbook should spread a positive message throughout its entirety. It also shouldn’t sound threatening. 

If policies are detailed enough, they can also prevent favoritism. Do not allow your policies to negate another policy. What policies do you find difficult to administer? Consult a professional or look online for best practices. 

Here are some key items to place in your handbook:

1. Welcome statement

Include your mission and values in your welcome statement. Additionally, discuss why your staff is vital to your business. This is the first page your new workers will read. It is important to convey a positive message in this section. Include a welcome letter from the CEOExplain the history of the business. Also, discuss the goals and vision of the company. Where do you want to go from here? Do you have long-term goals? Even if you don’t outline them here, make sure your staff knows what they are. 

2. Disclaimers

Almost every state recognizes at-will employment. Montana is the exception. Contract agreements also provide exceptions. Your team may have questions about why you included an employee-at-will statement. Likewise, be prepared to answer questions. 

The handbook is not a contract. For example, you can say, “This handbook is not a contract, express or implied, nor does it guarantee employment for any specific length of time. Although we hope our employment relationship will be long term, either the Company or you can end the relationship at any time, with or without notice, with or without reason, to the extent allowed by law.”

3. Legal Policies

This is where you should include legal policies such as:

  • Equal Opportunity
  • Non-solicitation policy
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Commitment to Diversity
  • Nursing Mothers
  • State or Local Laws
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

4. Ethical Standards and Code of Conduct

What are your ethical standards? What are your core values? It is important to write a code of ethics. Also, a code of conduct helps guide the behavior of others. You want your team to represent the company like you would. What is important to you? Also, what message do you want to convey to your clients? When bidding on contracts, make sure your clients know your ethics policies. They should know you don’t tolerate certain behaviors. If you have a staff that works off-site like a landscaper, they need to represent you well. Many times, people simply don’t know because they didn’t receive the education. You may have to train them on professionalism. 

Some policies to include here are:  

  • Outside employment
  • Dress code
  • Using company bulletin boards 
  • Propriety information 

Here are some ideas to include in your ethics policy:

  • Values
  • Standards of conduct 
  • What is a conflict of interest?
  • How to handle mistakes
  • Honesty
  • Professionalism
  • Procedures for reporting unethical behavior
  • Rules for protecting confidential information
  • Gifts policy
  • Ethical training

5. Pay Policies

Include employee types (i.e., exempt, non-exempt, full-time, part-time, contract).

You should also include in this section:

  • Work week 
  • Attendance
  • Pay schedule
  • Compensation
  • Expense and Reimbursement
  • Working from Home
  • Remote Work
  • Meals and break periods
  • How to use the time clock app
  • Overtime pay

Think about every job you had and what you wanted to know. Additionally, review your former handbooks if you can. What were they missing? Likewise, what can you add or should delete?

6. Anti-discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Policies

Include a harassment and discrimination policy. Plus, give specific examples. They should know that no form is acceptable. Many firms have zero tolerance. If you have a zero-tolerance policy, there can be no exceptions. Are you able to offer that security? This is becoming more important to people. Also, make sure any leaders you hire can follow these rules too. 

What happens when they violate the policy? Provide clear reporting procedures. Protect whistleblowers from retaliation too. You want to know if your staff is doing something illegal. Plus, emphasize the importance of creating a safe workplace. People want to feel safe at work. They spend too much time there not to feel safe. 

7. IT and Social Media Policies

Your IT and social media policy should also include rules about the use of technology. Can your staff use social media platforms on-site? Can they use computers for their social media? They should also understand the privacy data of clients and customers. Do you have sites blocked or will you track what is researched? Plus, what is not tolerated?

Some key elements to include are:

  1. Acceptable use of company devices and software
  2. Social media use 
  3. Data security and confidentiality policies
  4. Standards for online behavior 
  5. Rules for reporting any IT or social media policy violations 
  6. Training on the policy and its importance

8. Workplace Safety and Health Policies

In this section, your policies should show that you value a safe and healthy workplace. Likewise, give clear expectations for your team regarding safety. Also, set rules for identifying and reporting hazards. Plus, develop a process for investigating accidents. 

Moreover, it should address emergency procedures and any relevant legal requirements.

Policies to include:

  • Drug-free workplace policy (also check your state laws)
  • Accident reporting
  • Smoke-free workplace policy
  • Vaping policy
  • Workplace violence 
  • Safety Policies
  • Emergency closing procedures (also include how workers will be notified)
  • Severe weather policies and what your staff should do while at work. 
  • How to access their file
  • Separation and Exit Policy
  • Returning Company Property
  • References
  • Exit Interviews

9. Performance and Disciplinary Policies

Your company should also write out your policies for performance. The policies should include:

  • Performance reviews
  • Poor performance or misconduct rules
  • The steps to address performance
  • Employee rights in the process

10. Benefits and Leave Policies

In this section you should include information about:

  • Paid holidays
  • Vacation  
  • Sick leave (also include who your staff should notify and acceptable methods). 
  • Military leave
  • Bereavement
  • Jury Duty/Court 
  • Time off for voting
  • Social Security and Medicare

Also, include the benefits you offer and when they become eligible. Some examples are:

  • Medical
  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Life Insurance
  • Short-term/Long term disability 
  • 401(k) plan
  • Workers’ compensation 
  • Employee assistance
  • Other fun perks

11. Training Opportunities

Training and development should also align with the job or industry in which they work or want to pursue. When you offer these, it shows your commitment to your current and future workforce.

You can also include:

  • Personal and professional growth 
  • Earning new knowledge and skills. These can also be through workshops, seminars, courses, and on-the-job training.
  • Access to resources such as books, online courses, and professional associations.

For example, offer support to pursue certifications and other credentials relevant to their job. 

For example, if you are a very small business, think about how you want to develop your great workers. Additionally, how can they know how to move up in your company? Furthermore, how can you help them succeed?

12. Employee Handbook Acknowledgement

Finally, the last page is where the employee acknowledges receipt. Also include contact information for HR and management. 

Final Thoughts on Your Employee Handbook

Compile a list of items to include in your handbook. Likewise, verify your rules follow all local, state, and federal laws. Also, have a lawyer review your handbook. You want to also make sure you are compliant with all laws. 

Compile frequently asked questions. Furthermore, address some of those questions in your next handbook as well. Also, try to update annually or semi-annually. For example, review new laws annually to add. Also, you can always add items throughout the year too. Always keep up with your versions and put that in the handbook. Why? Because if you have to go to court, you will need to make sure the versions of the policies are clear. Furthermore, have your staff sign they received each version. Documentation is important.

When starting a business, you want things to go well. However, you need to expect the worst. Your handbook can help you prevent a lot of problems. What issues have you run into in the past? Additionally, how can you prevent them in the future?

What does your business need to succeed? If your company deviates from policies, don’t publish them unless you are legally mandated. Also, if you have had problems in the past with some policies, make changes if you can. For instance, always identify areas where you can improve. You also want your teams to be successful so keep that in mind. Plus, you don’t want so many rules that it’s hard to keep up. It can be a fine line. 

Furthermore, hire leaders who uphold your policies and provide consistent discipline if needed. Otherwise, your company will find itself in legal trouble if you do not treat all workers equally.


Author: Kimberley Kay Travis

Kim Travis has over 20 years of experience in business, human resource management, and leadership roles. She has specialized knowledge in employment law, employee relations, recruiting, management consulting, small business growth, leadership development, workplace safety and health programs, and writing business content.