What Should Be Included in an Employee Handbook
Updated June 9, 2023
Whether an employee is new to a company or a longtime team member, they need a resource for work-related policies and information. An employee handbook is a customizable tool that can benefit any business, no matter the industry. The content of an employee handbook is often a concern for HR professionals and management, but its information affects every employee.
In this article, we explain what should be included in an employee handbook, along with tips to help you create your own.
What should be included in an employee handbook?
An employee handbook contains necessary information about company policies, legal requirements for the company and employees, state and federal labor laws and other reference materials about the workplace.
This document may also help you establish your company culture and communicate your company values to team members. Here are the most important sections to include in an employee handbook:
Welcome and new hire processes
The opening section of your handbook typically includes a welcome letter from the CEO or another company leader that sets a positive tone for the employee manual. Use this section to establish a connection by thanking the employee for joining your team. You may also include a statement of recognition for current employees who may be receiving an updated handbook or revisiting their handbook for clarification.
Next, address what a newly hired employee can expect as they begin work. If there is a trial period before employees become fully invested in the company, outline this here. You can also give specific details about identification requirements in the building, where the company is located and information on parking and travel to the office.
Another important element to include in the beginning of your employee handbook is a section that describes the company and its principles, including the following information:
Company history: Share how the business started and explain how it has grown. Knowing the company's history helps employees feel a sense of community when they’re connected to a larger story.
Company mission: Explain the mission of the company with a clear statement of what the company does and why they do it. Showing employees you have a bigger goal in mind than the daily tasks of a job also humanizes the workplace.
Company values: This is the place to share the guiding principles and ideals of the business. You may also set expectations as to how the employee can embody these values at work.
Company culture: Describe your work environment by making statements about what it's like to be part of your company. Also, share how you promote a positive team atmosphere.
Related: A Guide to New Employee Forms
Company policies and culture
A large portion of your employee handbook may include the policies that govern daily work while on the job. This is also where you include the most important procedures and behaviors for your business, such as:
Code of conduct: Devote a part of your handbook to introduce an employee code of conduct. Make clear guidelines about what is acceptable behavior during company time.
Hours: List the daily work hours for employees in the office with any exceptions for remote or flexible hours. Explain the time system employees use and how the company tracks hours for both salaried and hourly positions.
Attendance: Give expectations for attendance, including policies for tardiness and leaving early. This is where you let employees know your expectations in extenuating circumstances and inform them of the right individual to contact in either situation.
Dress code: Whether your industry requires certain safety gear or you expect formal dress in the office, be clear about your company guidelines for wardrobe. It's helpful to include overall expectations instead of a list of rules. For example, give the guideline that all attire should be clean and neat in appearance. You can further define acceptable dress styles like business casual.
Breaks and meals: Tell employees your policy for the length and frequency of breaks and mealtimes. You can also include details about company break rooms with public amenities like water coolers, refrigerators and drink machines.
Technology use: A company policy regulating the appropriate use of technology in the workplace, including computers and software, internet and personal technology like cell phones, may be helpful. This policy may clearly define how employees use technology in the office for both personal and business needs.
Drug use and smoking: In this section, you can also include company policies regarding drug use and define guidelines for workers who smoke. Direct employees where to smoke and when they can take smoking breaks during shifts.
Your employee handbook must contain certain legal statements to make sure both parties understand their rights in the workplace. Federal and local laws are essential to include, as well as clauses about the job and the handbook itself.
Review the requirements in your state to ensure your company discusses all mandatory topics. It’s vital to include the following information in your handbook to stay compliant with the law:
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Every employer must follow federal and state laws regarding leave for childbirth, caring for a family member or personal illness.
Worker's compensation: Many states require companies to post policies outlining what happens if an employee sustains an injury on the job.
Non-discrimination and equal employment policies: The U.S. Department of Labor requires employers to affirm that they abide by these guidelines for hiring and ensuring equal treatment in the workplace.
Disabilities: Companies typically also address how they accommodate people with disabilities in the workplace and in their hiring processes.
Not a contract: It's important to include a clause stating that your employee handbook is not a contract for the employee and the job can be terminated at will by either party.
Subject to change: Add a statement explaining that the policies within the book could change at any time. State that you aim to notify employees of a change in company policy.
Employee acknowledgment: Employees sign a document digitally or on paper that states they’ve received and understand the handbook. This acknowledgment also confirms that they understand they are required to follow the policies in the handbook.
Paid time off policies
An employee handbook gives employees information about how the company handles time off. Make sure to include policies for time off requests and notifying managers of sick leave. For example, if the organization requires employees to input vacation requests two weeks in advance, state that and explain how to request time off.
Explain whether you combine both sick and vacation time into a single number of days or if their time accumulates in two separate banks. You may also include a list of paid holidays the company observes.
Whether you have an in-office HR department or outsource to another company, use your employee handbook to outline the benefits your company provides. Discuss any health care, 401(k) plans and life insurance policies available to employees.
Be sure to include how much the company contributes to a plan, if applicable. Since benefits may be more subject to change than other parts of your handbook, it's best to give an overview with instructions on where to check for the most current information.
Promotions and compensation
Use this section of your employee handbook to give specific details about how employees receive payment and when. Include information about additional compensation like stock options or bonuses here. You should also explain how the company handles advancement and promotions in this part of the handbook.
Employee handbooks often contain information about the process of reviews and assessments of job performance. Explain why you believe assessments are important. Next, detail your process and provide timelines for when these reviews happen.
Provide the standards used to assess employees if possible. You can also direct employees to management or HR if they have job-specific questions about the review process.
Discipline and termination policies
It's important to clearly define the actions that require disciplinary steps so employees can adjust their behavior according to leadership’s expectations.
Your handbook might explain each step in the disciplinary process and how the last discipline step leads to termination of employment. This section can also be used to include information on how employees can file a grievance if they believe they need to seek fair treatment.
Related: How To Terminate an Employee
Health and safety at work
An effective employee handbook may state that safety is important in the workplace. Your handbook should address emergency procedures such as what to do in the case of a fire or violence in the workplace. It may be helpful to note the location of fire extinguishers, first aid and evacuation routes within your manual. If you perform regular emergency drills, you could include a schedule for these drills so employees can prepare.
Certain industries, especially those that perform hazardous work like the manufacturing and health care industries, hold themselves to specific safety rules that govern processes. Make sure your handbook includes any industry-specific rules that are required by your field of work. Tell employees where to look for additional information and resources that pertain to the field.
Use the last section of your manual to address any other policies or information your employees need. You can include contact information for agencies or links to state and federal employment laws. You might also include a list of terms pertinent to your workplace or a directory of the positions within the company.
Related: Creating an Employee Handbook
Tips for writing an employee handbook
Consider implementing these ideas to maximize your content in the process of creating your employee handbook:
Make your tone positive
Choose your words to reflect an uplifting attitude in all you are sharing. Employees who read your manual should feel empowered with knowledge of company expectations and policies that promote fairness. Use the handbook as a tool to make employees successful rather than a way to invoke a sense of company power.
Keep guidelines simple
It's more helpful to give employees guidelines for preferred behavior instead of a specific list of every possible infraction. Aim for an easy flow of information rather than rules. General guidelines that are easy to understand and replicate may increase the chances of success.
Personalize a handbook to fit your company
Use your handbook to show what makes your company unique by communicating in a way that reflects your culture. That could mean giving details about how your business promotes a team atmosphere or using your welcome letter to share a personal story from the CEO. Establishing a welcoming atmosphere from the first day could help new employees feel comfortable at a new company.
Create a template
If you operate a business across multiple states or countries, use a base manual that you customize to fit each location with regional laws and regulations. You can also use a template to customize your manual for different departments. This allows each branch to share relevant information with their team and makes it easier to update the handbook as details change.
Share it digitally
It’s important that employees always know where to find the handbook if they have questions about policies. Provide easy access to your handbook from any device using a digital format. This can also help reduce waste when an employee leaves the company and no longer needs the manual.
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