How to Write an Employee Handbook

An employee handbook, also known as a human resource manual, is one of the most valuable tools that a business can use to communicate with its employees. These handbooks detail and outline the rules and regulations of each organization in a clear, concise manner that should be easily understood by all company employees.

For many businesses, the creation of the employee handbook is vital to the success and smooth running of the human resource department, which influences the entire company. Interested in learning how to write an employee handbook that fits all of your company needs? Keep reading for important tips and tricks to formulating the perfect employee handbook.

Compile company policies and procedures

Every company should have policies regarding code-of-conduct, equal employment opportunities, safety and security, and other general employee-related procedures. These policies are to be used as guidance during the drafting of the employee handbook. The regulations that company policies outline will determine what important information needs to be included in the handbook for employee knowledge.

If your company does not have written policies or procedures, these must be properly created before the handbook can be finalized and released. Company policies are integral to the operation of a business, as they provide regulations for the protection of both the company and its employees. Policies should be written, reviewed by legal counsel, and released to every employee contracted or hired by the company.

Review existing policies to ensure that they are up to date, mistake-free, and fair. Errors in company policies, even when policies are repeated in the handbook, can lead to HR or legal complications down the line. Once it has been confirmed that company policies are compliant with local, regional, and national labor laws, they can be used to draft the handbook.

Written policies should ideally include (but are not limited to) guidelines on topics such as:

  • Leave of absence
  • Employee disciplinary actions
  • Employee code of conduct
  • Equal opportunity
  • Workplace health and safety
  • Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment
  • Employee classifications

If you are located in the United States, it is advisable that you refer to the United States Department of Labor for guidance on ensuring labor law compliance. These laws dictate mandatory company requirements including those on leave, benefits, wages, and discrimination.

Every company must also follow occupational health and safety laws, such as those surrounding worker rights, protective equipment, and health care. These requirements must also be included in the company handbook to ensure that all company employees are aware of their rights and aware of violating actions.

Draft handbook outline

Once you have gathered the necessary information from the company policies and procedures, the next step is laying out the handbook format. Formats differ depending on the information that must be included; however, a general guideline can be used and supplementing details added as needed. Outlines should include all relevant company information.

An employee handbook is intended to be preemptive and cover all potential employee or employer disputes or challenges. If a handbook does not clearly state company policy, either the company or an employee can find loopholes in the handbook that allow for unfair removal, monetary award, or disciplinary actions. When you are drafting your outline, it is important to ensure that no relevant sections are left out.

The following outline can be used as a template for standard employee handbooks:

  • Welcome Statement (Owner/CEO/HR Head)
  • Company History
  • Company Vision
  • Company Mission
  • Company Values
  • Company and Employee Expectations
  • Code of Conduct and Business Ethics
  • Policies
    • i) Equal Employment
    • ii) Workplace Harassment
    • iii) Employee Specifications
    • iv) Attendance, Punctuality, and Hours of Work
  • Benefits and Insurance
  • Leave Policies
    • i) Vacations
    • ii) Holidays
    • iii) Mandatory Meetings and Conferences
    • iv) Sick Leave
    • v) Parental Leave
    • vi) Military Leave
    • vii) Personal/Bereavement Leave
    • viii)Weather-Related Absences
    • ix) Leave Extensions
  • Employee and Employer Confidentiality Agreement
  • Employment Relationship: At-Will Employment
  • Employee Handbook Disclaimer
  • Employee Handbook Receipt and Signoff

Some companies may not need to include each of the above categories in their handbook and some may need to include additional employer or employee guidelines. Once you are certain that you have included all sections necessary in your outline, you can proceed to the next step.

Summarize and breakdown company policies

Although company policies should be made available to every employee, they often contain legal jargon that can be hard to read and understand. The goal of the employee handbook is to detail the ins-and-outs of the company in a way that is simple and easy for employees at all levels to comprehend. An employee manual that goes over the head of company employees defeats its purpose and should be revised or completely re-written until it is comprehensible.

While it is not necessary for an employee handbook to be ridiculously extensive, it should appropriately cover all necessary areas. Policy summaries should be concise, but inclusive of all essential information.

For example, an anti-discrimination policy may be shortened as such:

(Company) does not and shall not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, hiring and removal of staff, selection of contractors, and provision of services. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.

(Company) is an equal opportunity employer and will not discriminate against any potential or current employees, volunteers, or contractors. (Company) will take affirmative action measures to ensure that discrimination in employment, recruitment, advertisements for employment, compensation, termination, or promotions does not occur on the bases of race, gender, national origin, age, religion, disability, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, or gender identity/expression.

Each important written policy should be shortened and summarized for easy reading, as in the above example. These summaries must be complete in their information, even after they have been shortened for ease of reading. Once shortened, these summarized statements should be added to their corresponding sections.

Review the handbook for errors, discrepancies, or missing information

Once you have completed the handbook, it should be reviewed by multiple editors to ensure that there are no errors. The company’s legal teams, human and resource administration, and management should extensively review the employee handbook before it is published and distributed.

Handbooks should be inclusive and leave room for adjustment as a company grows and changes. Small companies generally require handbooks that are less complicated but may experience growth that dictates revision. Company policies and procedures should allow for amendments that may arise from unforeseen circumstances or company shifts.

It should be noted that even the most well-written handbooks may not cover all circumstances. Handbooks are created as company guidelines, however, situations may arise that are not detailed in an employee manual.

Publish approved manual and distribute to employees

Once the employee manual is completed and approved by the necessary company heads, it should be distributed among the company’s employees for information purposes. Employees, whether new or continuing, should be required to read and provide written acknowledgment of the receipt and comprehension of the employee manual. An employee should not be allowed to continue working, whether contractually or under permanent status, without agreeing to the terms of the employee handbook.

This rule extends to management, heads, and company owners, without exception.

Finished employee manuals can be distributed to employees digitally or physically, with some businesses posting their handbooks online (via website) for easy employee access.

Featured Image Credit: Clker-Free-Vector-Images / Pixabay

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