From Policy to Practice: A Deep Dive into Employee Handbook Contents

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Mar 07, 2024
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Are you embarking on creating your small business's first employee handbook, aiming to meticulously outline your employee handbook contents? Your business' employee handbook is a crucial communication tool, offering an easily accessible overview of company policies and management's expectations.

As HR experts ourselves, we bring a wealth of expert knowledge on employee handbook contents that's invaluable for employers. So, let's get started.

A practical first step involves identifying the essential contents of the employee handbook and ensuring your policies are specifically tailored to meet the unique demands of your industry and organization.

This article aims to navigate you through the essential inclusions for your employee handbook, provide expert advice on what to exclude and direct you to resources that help ensure your handbook complies with legal standards while supporting your organization’s mission, goals and culture.

RELATED: A Close Look at the 2024 Employee Handbook Updates >>

Employee Handbook Contents: 10 Essentials

As you’re deciding what to include in an employee handbook, you’ll likely have a few ideas about what you need to address: common personnel issues, like time-off policies, and a code of conduct, or discipline policy. Use our checklist below as a guide to the essential employee handbook contents to consider for inclusion.

  • Introduction

    An introduction section makes a pleasant “page 1” of your handbook. The introduction can serve as a welcome to new employees, detailing your organization’s values, goals, and, if you have one, your company’s mission statement.
  • Notice of At-Will Employment

If your small business is like most, your workers are employed “at-will,’ meaning your employees are free to terminate their employment at any time, and no explicit or implied employment contract will be created between you (the employer) and them (the employee).

  • Anti-Harassment Policy

    It’s a great idea to include your company policy on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in your employee handbook. In some states, like New York, your company may be required to provide its state-law-conforming anti-harassment policy to employees. 

    Whether legally required or not, anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation policies should encourage employees to report actual or suspected violations via their choice of multiple reporting channels (including anonymously). 

    Learn how to eradicate workplace harassment with a strong zero-tolerance policy >>
  • Leave Policies 

    To reduce instances of miscommunication or mismatched expectations, set forth detailed company policies on attendance, time records and leave, including vacation, sick leave, parental leave, and other types of leave you offer. 

    Some employers choose to include basic summary information relating to federally regulated leave options, such as FMLA, ADA and other types of leave.

    Find out what the difference is between short-term disability and FMLA leave >>
  • Pay Policies

    Memorializing your company policies on wages, bonuses, and payroll in writing within your handbook can reduce confusion and keep you from getting the same pay-related questions repeatedly.
  • Benefits Information

    Your handbook is a convenient central location for summary information on medical insurance, benefits, perks, and enrollment details.
  • Health and Safety Guidelines

    Depending on your industry, you may have extensive health and safety guidelines worth including in your handbook. Even in office settings, IT security guidelines are a fantastic employee handbook inclusion.
  • Behavioral and Disciplinary Expectations

    There’s no better place than your employee handbook to house your company policies touching on employee conduct, performance evaluations, disciplinary processes, and termination. The inclusion of these and related policies in a company-wide handbook helps to ensure that the same expectations are set across the board and that enforcement is uniform.
  • Whistleblower Statement

    You may have the best intentions for creating a culture of transparency, integrity, and respect, but if your employees don’t feel empowered to alert management of suspected violations, these values could be compromised. One of the most important employee handbook contents you can include is an outline of the procedures in place for employees to follow when making a report or issuing a complaint. Your whistleblower policy should reinforce that complaints can be kept anonymous to the extent permitted by law and that retaliation against employees for good-faith complaints will never be permitted.
  • A Signature Page

    Many employers choose to include an acknowledgment page with a place for each employee to sign, agree to the terms of the handbook, and acknowledge their receipt of the document. Depending on the states in which you operate or employ workers, certain disclosures may require a signature.

what is at-will employment

What Not to Include in an Employee Handbook:

While an employee handbook is an incredible tool for fostering communication, cultivating a positive culture, and reducing risk, it can be overextended. As you’re creating your policy document, keep the following items in mind as examples of what not to include in an employee handbook:

  • Out Dated Information

    It’s important to periodically review your handbook to ensure that employees aren’t being held to expectations that don’t match your business’ current operation or needs. Businesses should review their employee handbooks periodically and make changes where appropriate. Many employers opt for a yearly update, but your company can generally issue new iterations of its handbook at any interval that works for you.
  • Unenforceable Provisions with Legal Weight

    If you’re not careful, your employee handbook could contain employee covenants with legal weight that go too far, like non-solicitation clauses, non-disparagement agreements, and covenants not to compete. While these items can have a rightful place in the employer-employee relationship, separating them from the handbook is a better practice. It’s always a best practice to have a legal or HR compliance professional review your handbook for potential legal landmines.
  • Language that Alters the At-Will Nature of the Employer-Employee Relationship

    It’s possible for an employee handbook to establish an “implied contract,” that you never meant to enter into: one that could put you on the hook to continually employ someone even when the time comes to sever the relationship.
  • Discriminatory Grooming Policies

    As of early 2024, the CROWN Act has been adopted in 24 U.S. states. The CROWN Act protects employees against discrimination for their hair types and textures. [MC1] Double-check your grooming policy to ensure that you don’t maintain any dress code or grooming standards that may discriminate against people of different cultures.

employee handbook dress code policies

Review Your Employee Handbook Contents with an HR Expert

Creating your new employee handbook doesn’t need to be a time and energy drain for your organization. Our HR compliance experts will take the guesswork out of which employee handbook contents are necessary based on your industry, geographic location, and employer size.

Axcet HR Solutions is a certified Professional Employer Organization (PEO) that can help you with a full suite of HR tasks, including guiding you through the personnel policymaking process from design to rollout. Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help.

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