An employee handbook is a valuable tool for any organization, regardless of size or industry. There is no law requiring an employer to create an employee handbook. It’s just the right thing to do for your team, and it’s a best business practice. Think of it as an opportunity, not as a legal document you must have.

Done well, an employee handbook lays out your code of conduct, establishes who you are, and explains how you serve. Most importantly, it provides an avenue to introduce your company culture as you begin relationships with new hires. If your handbook is simply an outline of what is not acceptable, then you are missing a huge opportunity to set the stage in a positive way.

The possibilities for your employee handbook are wide open. You have the freedom to include anything you want. Mike Lord, employment attorney with Williams Mullen, and Michele Hemric, assistant vice president of human resources and organizational effectiveness at Builders Mutual, offer best practices as you create or simply revisit your employee handbook.

What are the benefits of creating an employee handbook?

An Official Welcome

As you begin to craft your employee handbook, remember that your employees are the audience. Keep in mind that this will be one of the first things they receive from your company and return to again and again.

A handbook provides a chance to begin with a welcoming statement. Share the story of where you came from and how the company came to be. Explain what differentiates you from the competition. The goal is to help your team to be as excited about the company as you are.  We believe an informative, customized, and welcoming introduction is the most important aspect of your handbook.

Clear Business Decisions

In order to set expectations, know what your options are and how you want to run your business. For example, are you going to pay your employees weekly, biweekly, or monthly? Thinking through the content for your handbook will force you to make business decisions and stick to them (these decisions should be made before you have employees).

Efficiency and Uniformity

When you’re running a business, there are always routine questions asked by your team. An employee handbook offers a place to hold questions and answers about payroll, vacation days, policies, and more. This also prevents the controversy that results from different employees asking different supervisors and receiving different answers. You’ll be efficient and clear in a place everyone can refer to for a consistent response.

Similarly, your handbook can serve as one spot for updated policies and legal notices. While many companies have notices posted on bulletin boards, it’s beneficial to show a regulator that the information has also been communicated through a handbook. By setting expectations of the employment relationship, you may receive some legal protection.

What should my employee handbook include?

Your handbook should be unique to your company. If you feel intimidated by the process of completing a big document, start small. Welcome your team and highlight the basics of your business, for example, that you expect everyone to follow the golden rule.

Build more sections into your handbook as you grow or have time. Here are some areas we suggest:

  • Payment: When/how often will employees be paid? How will they receive payment?
  • Mechanics of the business: What are the working hours? What days of the week do employees work? How many sick days do employees receive? Do vacation days carry over?
  • What to do if employees can’t show up to work: Who should they contact? Should they email or call? What if it’s because of an injury? How does Workers’ Compensation work?
  • Statements about company culture: State that there will be no harassment or discrimination. Often this is the first thing in the handbook.
  • Process of discipline: Outline steps such as warnings, suspensions, and termination.
  • Resources: Provide company phone numbers or industry resources.

Are there resources or templates for creating a handbook?

We often hear that business owners are looking for a starting place for their employee handbooks. Employment lawyers, Workers’ Compensation and Employment Practices Liability insurance carriers, and industry groups and associations are all potential resources.

We also recommend searching online to look at various styles and formats. Find something that feels good to you and that represents your company.

Remember, these are just starting points. While you can utilize an outline, the real work (and reward) is in tailoring the outline to your company. The background on your culture can’t be provided by someone else’s template. Don’t forget to leverage any materials, website content, mission statements, and values you have already established.

When should I update my employee handbook?

Your employee handbook is a living document that will change as your business grows. The first version will require the most work as you begin to compile content. Once it is complete, you will need to share the handbook with your team, observe the content in action and make adjustments. For example, someone will be absent. Was this absence held against the employee, or was this a protected absence? Sometimes you’ll find that what is written in the handbook is too harsh or perhaps not harsh enough. You may discover there is a gap and need to make revisions.

Your handbook should match your actual practices – otherwise, it doesn’t have a purpose. Over the course of a year, write notes in a printed copy of the handbook. These edits will be valuable as you plan revisions.

Should my handbook be reviewed regularly or revisited with employees?

You’ve put a lot time and effort into creating your employee handbook, so make sure you use it! Go over the handbook during new hire orientation and each year, or as major updates are made, meet with your team and review. If there are significant changes, be sure your leaders understand and reinforce those changes. Consider publishing the handbook online if you have the resources, then the document can be revisited as needed.

At Builders Mutual, we include a reference sheet with the employee handbook that highlights the points that employees are most interested in, such as paid time off and payroll and where to find those topics in the handbook.

Your employee handbook is a valuable tool in your company’s toolkit.  Take advantage of the opportunity to create and maintain a solid document and consider reviewing your handbook if you currently have one in place. With a tailored handbook complete and launched to your team, you will see the benefits of clear internal communication.