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How to Write an Employee Handbook (With Free Template Downloads)

An employment handbook compiles all your company’s essential policies, procedures and information into one place for easy reference. Creating an employee handbook streamlines communication between the company and employees and eliminates any confusion about what’s expected from both sides.

Find out how to put together a manual and whether to write it from scratch or use one of our employee handbook examples as a guide.

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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 a combination of federal and state employment policies along with company-specific guidelines and expectations. It highlights expectations for your employees as well as their rights and responsibilities.

Employee handbooks are living documents, meaning they’re regularly updated to reflect changes to industry regulations, labor laws or company policies. Some organizations 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. It’s common for companies to require their employees to sign a document showing they’ve reviewed the handbook and understand the policies.

Employee handbook template for PDF & Word

Check out our employee handbook template to help you create or update your employee handbook.

Download PDF for Free
Download Word for Free

*Indeed provides these examples as a courtesy to users of this site. Please note that we are not your HR or legal adviser, and none of these documents reflect current labor or employment regulations.

Why you need an employee handbook

Drafting a detailed employee handbook takes a lot of work, but it’s an important tool for your organization. Some reasons to have a handbook include:

  • New employee support: It helps new employees quickly learn what they need to know about your company so they can integrate easily into the environment.
  • Education: An employment handbook also educates your employees on legal regulations and the policies you’ve established to create a safe, productive workplace.
  • Consistency: By putting all policies in writing, you create expectations for employees, which can improve consistency.
  • Easier enforcement: Your handbook can support any disciplinary action you take if an employee breaks one of your policies. Their signature on the handbook receipt form shows that they had access to information on the policy they disregarded.
  • Compliance: State and federal regulations may apply to your business in various ways. Creating policies related to the regulations that apply to you can improve compliance. It gives your employees the information they need to follow those regulations.

When to distribute your employee handbook

New hires typically receive the employee handbook on their first day of work during the onboarding process. Employee training often includes going over some or all of the employee handbook to make sure your newest team members are aware of essential information. In some cases, you might send your new hires the employee handbook before their first day so they can review it independently and ask questions on their first day.

What to consider including in an employee handbook

Employee handbooks cover a wide range of HR policies. Knowing what to include ensures you cover all the crucial components. Within each section, include customized details based on your company’s expectations and regulations. Here are common inclusions in an employee handbook:

Introduction and overview

Most employee handbooks begin with an introduction to the company and the handbook itself. This overview covers what the employee can expect to find inside. Common subsections for the introduction include:

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

Conduct

The handbook sets expectations for conduct at work and when representing the company outside of the workplace. It helps maintain your company’s ethics and image while creating a positive work environment.
These policies and codes help establish clear guidelines for employee conduct:

  • Code of conduct
  • Nonsolicitation policy

Employment relationship

The policies and procedures within the employment relationship section clearly define the roles of the employer and employee. Often, this section contains descriptions of the legal types of employment the company engages in — for most, at-will employment. Consider including policies such as:

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

General employment information

This section is usually robust and includes many subsections explaining the day-to-day functions of the workplace and special supports available for employees. Common subsections include:

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

Attendance

Work hours can vary based on the industry and your expectations. Define work hours for your employees and other attendance-related topics. Details to put in this section include:

Professionalism

Some companies create a separate professionalism section, while others add this information to the conduct section. In it, explain the expectations for behavior 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 doesn’t provide each individual employee with their specific compensation package details but instead explains what’s generally available to everyone. This could include:

  • 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 details when employees can take time off work and explains the process for requesting paid or unpaid time off. Common subsections 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 such as computers and telephones to conduct work. The acceptable use section of the employee handbook clearly explains the expectations and limits of acceptable use, such as:

  • 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. Subsections might include:

  • Digital surveillance
  • Physical surveillance

Performance expectations

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

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

Exit policy

The exit policy section of the manual explains how employees can terminate their employment, including in cases of retirement, and the other expectations and procedures related to leaving the company. Detail the following information in your handbook:

  • Employment termination
  • Exit interviews
  • 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:

Write it yourself

You can easily find an employee handbook template to help you get started on your handbook. However, it’s important to customize the employee handbook sample to fit your specific situation. Customizing it helps to ensure the policies are accurate for your business and the language reflects your company’s brand.

Have it reviewed

Writing the handbook yourself ensures that it fits your needs, but it doesn’t guarantee that everything is compliant. Having a legal professional review your draft ensures you cover topics related to state and federal regulations. It also helps you avoid poor wording choices that could cause legal action or create a gray area. 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

In a perfect world, all employees would read your perfectly crafted employers handbook from cover to cover and remember it all. Realistically, your team members might need a little nudge to dig into the details in the manual. Highlighting key parts during the onboarding process gives new staff members the chance to hear the information.

Obtain signatures

You may need to address misconduct with an employee. If this happens, they might claim they weren’t aware of the policy. By having all employees sign an acknowledgment of receipt, you can prove they had access to the policy. 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 they received the policy in writing, and you can show them their signature on the receipt.

Review it regularly

Establish regular review dates for your employee handbook. At least one review per year is a good idea to make sure everything is still accurate. You might review it more often or outside of your usual review schedule if you experience major changes. This might include a large employee turnover or massive growth overall. 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, it’s also helpful to offer a digital copy. This way, you won’t need to reprint hard copies for every employee when you make changes. Ensure all team members have access to the digital version and know how to find it.

Ensure it’s readable

The employee handbook isn’t the most exciting thing to read. However, you can make it more appealing by writing it in your company’s spirit. Use readable, everyday language rather than complex legalese while still maintaining an accurate message. This makes the material easier for your staff to understand.

Include disclaimers

Adding disclaimers to your handbook can protect you. One important disclaimer states that the handbook isn’t an enforceable employment contract. Another disclaimer to include is that the contents are subject to change at any time.

FAQs about employment handbooks

Do small businesses need an employment handbook?

Even small businesses with just a few employees benefit from having a written handbook. Well-defined policies help avoid confusion or conflict. The employee handbook provides clear guidelines on various situations, which can save time when issues arise. As your organization grows, you already have a base handbook to help manage the larger number of employees.

How long should an employee handbook be?

The length of a handbook can vary depending on how many policies and how much detail you include. Some companies can sum it up in around 10 pages, while others take 40 to 50 pages or more. Shorter handbooks are easier to search if an employee has a concern. Keep your policies detailed enough to be helpful yet clear and concise to avoid being long-winded.

Is an employee handbook required by law?

You’re not legally required to create and maintain an employer’s handbook. Some states require companies to create written policies related to certain topics, such as leave types. Regardless, it’s helpful to have a manual. Without one, policies can be unclear and might be applied inconsistently. You create structure and consistency by creating a handbook even when it’s not required by law.

Employee handbook template for PDF & Word

Check out our employee handbook template to help you create or update your employee handbook.

Download PDF for Free
Download Word for Free

*Indeed provides these examples as a courtesy to users of this site. Please note that we are not your HR or legal adviser, and none of these documents reflect current labor or employment regulations.

 

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. The decision to draft, implement or maintain an employee handbook is solely up to a company, and Indeed makes no representation or warranty as to whether doing so is necessary, proper, or legally advisable. The contents of any employee handbook used by a company should be reviewed by such company’s legal counsel for compliance with federal, state and local laws, as Indeed makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the content contained in this article.

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