How to Write an Employee Handbook

You can share information with your employees in a number of ways. Sometimes, an email or memo suffices, while at other times face-to-face conversations are necessary. Establishing an employee handbook is a great way to give employees access to company information and HR policies to reduce the number of meetings you hold and emails you send about company guidelines. Learn what an employee handbook is, understand what to consider including in your employee handbook and review tips for writing an effective employee handbook. 

 

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What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook is a collection of documents, HR policies, procedures and guidelines that explain how your workplace functions for employees. Most employee handbooks are living documents, meaning they’re regularly updated to reflect changes to industry regulations, labor laws or company policy. Some companies provide a physical, printed and bound book for their employees to keep, while others maintain the employee handbook in digital form for easy updating and dissemination. 

 

Purpose of an employee handbook

The purpose of an employee handbook is to educate your employees on the legal regulations that guide you as the employer and the policies you’ve chosen that guide your employees in the workplace. Most employee handbooks are a combination of federal and state employment policies along with company-specific guidelines and expectations. Many companies require that their employees sign a document showing that they have reviewed the handbook and understand the policies.

 

When to distribute your employee handbook

Most employers give their new hires the employee handbook on their first day of work during the onboarding process. Often, a review of the employee handbook is an integral part of onboarding to ensure the employee feels comfortable with the expectations of the position. In some cases, you might send your new hires the employee handbook prior to their first day, so they can review it independently and ask questions on their first day. 

Related: Restaurant Employee Handbook: 5 Special Considerations

 

What to consider including in an employee handbook

Employee handbooks are comprehensive documents that usually include a multitude of human resources documents and policies. Depending on how your company stores and disseminates paperwork, you might choose to include most HR policies in the employee handbook or make them available for review digitally. Here are some of the most common inclusions in an employee handbook: 

 

Introduction and overview

Most employee handbooks begin with an introduction to the company and handbook and an overview of what the employee can expect to find inside. Common sub-sections for the introduction include: 

  • Handbook’s purpose
  • CEO’s welcome
  • Company information

 

Conduct

Employees should know how they’re expected to conduct themselves in the office and when representing the company outside of the workplace. These policies and codes help establish clear guidelines for employee conduct:

  • Code of conduct
  • Non-solicitation policy

 

Employment relationship

The policies and procedures within the employment relationship section of the employee handbook clearly define the roles of the employer and employee. Often, it contains descriptions of the legal types of employment the company engages in — for most, at-will employment — so employees are aware. Consider including policies like: 

  • Employer and employee confidentiality agreement
  • Non-compete agreement
  • At-will employment
  • Employee acknowledgment 

 

General employment information

This section is usually robust and includes a number of sub-sections explaining the day-to-day functions of the workplace and special supports available for some employees. Common sub-sections for this section include: 

  • Equal employment opportunity policy
  • Promotions 
  • Expenses and reimbursements
  • Special accommodations
  • Employment of relatives
  • Personnel file policy
  • Harassment and discrimination
  • Fraternization

 

Attendance

Some companies operate with standard work hours for all employees, while other companies’ employees work on shifts or special work schedules. The attendance section of the employee handbook explains work hour and attendance expectations:

  • Exempt vs. non-exempt employees
  • Work hours and overtime
  • Breaks
  • Exceptions
  • Weather
  • Remote work
  • Termination due to inability to work

 

Professionalism

Some companies create a separate professionalism section while others add this information to the conduct section. In it, you’ll explain all the expectations for behavior and comport within the workplace or when representing the company outside the office: 

  • Dress code
  • Smoking policy
  • Drugs and alcohol policy
  • Violence in the workplace
  • Weapons
  • Security
  • Parking
  • Visitors in the workplace
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Giving and receiving gifts

 

Compensation and benefits

This section of the employee handbook describes the general compensation package and benefits available to all company employees. It does not provide each individual employee with their specific compensation package details, but instead explains what’s generally available to everyone: 

  • Payroll schedule
  • Time tracking
  • Benefits eligibility 
  • Health insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Vision insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • COBRA
  • Retirement benefits
  • Bonuses
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Unemployment assistance
  • Educational assistance
  • Employee assistance program
  • Paid legal aid
  • Supplemental insurance
  • Stock options
  • Employee discounts 

 

Time off

The time off section of the employee handbook details when employees can take time off work and explains the process for requesting paid or unpaid time off. Common sub-sections include: 

  • Paid holidays
  • Paid time off
  • Vacation policy
  • Sick leave policy
  • Attendance policy
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Bereavement leave
  • Jury duty
  • Military leave

 

Acceptable use

Many employees use company property like computers and telephones to conduct their work. The acceptable use section of the employee handbook clearly explains the expectations and limits of acceptable use: 

  • Telephone use
  • Cell phone use
  • Company electronics and equipment use
  • Computer and internet use
  • Social media and blogging policy

 

Employee monitoring

Some companies may perform monitoring on company electronics or in company workspaces. If you do, include a section detailing how your monitoring works and what employees should expect. Sub-sections might include: 

  • Digital surveillance
  • Physical surveillance

 

Performance expectations

The performance expectations section of the employee handbook describes how the company evaluates employee performance, promotes professional development and manages infractions related to performance or interactions with others: 

  • Professional development
  • Employee performance
  • Immediate termination
  • Discipline
  • Conflict resolution
  • Filing complaints

 

Exit policy

Eventually, every employee’s time with the company will end. The exit policy section of the employee manual explains how employees can terminate their employment, including in cases of retirement, and the other expectations and procedures related to leaving the company: 

  • Employment termination
  • Exit interviews
  • Returning company property

 

Tips for writing an effective employee handbook

Employee handbooks are lengthy, comprehensive documents that require regular review and updating. Use these tips to help you write and maintain your employee handbook, so it’s useful for you and your employees: 

 

Write it yourself

There are plenty of employee handbook templates available, some specific to industry, to help you get started on your employee handbook. However, you and your human resources team should write the content of your employee handbook together to ensure the policies are accurate for your business and the language reflects your company’s brand. 

 

Have it reviewed

Once you’ve completed your employee handbook, have it reviewed by a legal professional. Since you’ll draw many of the policies in your employee handbook specifically from federal and state regulations, it’s vital you understand the policies and have explained them appropriately. A review from a lawyer with a background in employment law can help you ensure your handbook is accurate. 

 

Make it a part of onboarding

Include a review of the employee handbook as a part of the onboarding process. While some employees will take the time to read the document in its entirety, others may not. Reviewing all of the employee handbook, or the most important sections for your company, during onboarding ensures your new hires understand expectations. 

 

Obtain signatures

Ask all employees to sign an acknowledgment of receipt when you give them their employee handbook. Keep this receipt in their personnel file. This way, should an employee claim they weren’t aware of a certain policy, you can remind them that you provided them with the policy in writing and show them their signature on the receipt. 

 

Review it regularly

Establish regular review dates for your employee handbook. At a minimum, you should review and update the employee handbook once a year. If you face regular turnover or your company is consistently growing and adapting, consider reviewing and updating your handbook more frequently. Ask your human resources team to assist with the review and restructuring. 

 

Create a digital copy

While you might provide a hard copy of the employee handbook to new hires for their reference, it’s wise to maintain an additional digital copy. This way, anytime you make changes, you won’t need to re-print hard copies for every employee. Ensure that all employees have access to the digital version of the employee handbook and know how to find it if you want to avoid re-printing the handbook for every policy change. 

 

Ensure it’s readable

The employee handbook is a lengthy document full of varied rules and procedures — this can inherently make the language dry and un-engaging. Do your best to write in the spirit of your company and use readable, everyday language rather than complex legalese in each section of the document. You want your employees to read and understand the information you’ve included. 

Employee handbooks are valuable tools for both you and your employees. Ensure your employee handbook includes every necessary procedure and HR policy related to your business, and that it’s easy to read and regularly updated.  

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