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Employee Handbook Basics

Employee Handbook Basics

An employee handbook lays out what you expect as an employer, your company’s commitment to employment, as well as safety laws and regulations. It can also protect you if you’re taken to court by a disgruntled employee or former employee.

Below are the essentials for an employee handbook.

Conduct standards

  • Work hours: when the business has to be staffed.
  • Attendance: what the company requires.
  • Telecommuting: whether this is allowed and under what circumstances.
  • Flextime: what the parameters are.
  • Dress code: what company standards are.
  • Smoking: whether it is allowed anywhere.
  • Alcohol/substance abuse: penalties and any relevant employee assistance program.
  • Use of safety gear: what needs to be used.

You have to address legal issues as well as company policy. For example, if smoking is prohibited in workplaces in your jurisdiction, then the employee handbook should indicate that.


  • Eligibility for employment.
  • Pre-employment background checks.
  • Union information.
  • Visa policies.

You should also:

  • Include a disclaimer acknowledging that the handbook doesn’t constitute a contract for employment or provide any guarantees for future employment.
  • Tell employees that you have a mutual right to terminate the employment arrangement, with or without notice, with or without reason, to the extent allowed by law.

Pay and benefits

  • Explain how your company determines salaries and benefits.
  • Note legal requirements about deducting payroll and other taxes.
  • State your commitment to complying with federal and state laws for minimum wage, overtime, pay schedules and time records.
  • Describe your mandatory and optional benefits.
  • Refer employees to summary plan descriptions for complete information on each optional benefit.

Performance management

Describe the process you use to manage and develop talent. Discuss:

  • The process for posting job vacancies.
  • How employees can apply for other jobs.
  • Transfer and relocation policies.

Include information about:

  • How probationary periods work.
  • Resignation procedures.
  • Your process for disciplining and terminating employees.

Mention that the reasons you provide for terminating employment are not exhaustive and that you have the right to terminate employees for reasons not described in your handbook.

Work environment

State your commitment to:

  • Equal employment opportunities.
  • Prohibiting discrimination and harassment.
  • Making accommodations for employees with disabilities.

Confidentiality, nondisclosure and conflicts of interest

Coverage of these policies is essential:

  • Explain your confidentiality policies for the company, customers and other information.
  • Tell employees you have the right to read all employee communications.
  • Outline your policy for using company equipment to email, surf the internet and participate in social networking sites.

Finish up your employee handbook with some disclaimers and a signature page. The disclaimer page reminds employees that the current handbook replaces any previous version and that all policies are subject to change. You can also use HR software to send handbook updates digitally, and require and e-sign acknowledgement, which you can track in your HRIS. Many software features also allow you to send email reminders to employees to make sure they acknowledge the updated handbook.

Your employee handbook reflects federal and state laws, the norms for your industry, and your particular policies. We can help you craft one that meets all these goals. Contact us today.


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