An employee handbook is a document that lays out your company’s policies and expectations for employees. It is essential for making rules clear to employees from their first day on the job and can help protect your business from lawsuits.

Every employee should receive a copy of your company’s employee handbook on their first day at work, and a digital copy should be made accessible on your company’s intranet. Employees should also be asked to sign an employee handbook acknowledgment to confirm they have received and reviewed the employee handbook.

Why do you need an employee handbook?

An employee handbook is not a legally required document. However, it can be very important for businesses to have.

First, the employee handbook lays out rules and expectations for all employees. It clearly defines policies that apply to everyone, creating a sense of fairness for all of your business’s employees. Laying out policies in a handbook also gives employees a written document they can return to if they have questions later.

Second, the employee handbook can help protect businesses from lawsuits. If policies and disciplinary actions are clearly communicated in the handbook, businesses have a documented basis for disciplining or terminating employees for policy violations.

What should you include in an employee handbook?

Your employee handbook can include details on a wide range of policies related to employee conduct, compensation, leave, safety, and more. Here are some topics that you should consider covering in your employee handbook.

Welcome statement

Including a welcome statement at the start of your employee handbook offers a chance to introduce your company’s mission, history, and values. It sets the tone for the handbook and helps build a connection between your business and employees.

At-will employment statement

The employee handbook should make clear that all employment is at the will of the employer and employee. The handbook should reiterate this when discussing disciplinary actions, which may include termination of employment.

Code of conduct

A code of conduct for employees covers how employees should act in their professional capacity. It should include your company’s harassment and discrimination policy and guidance on how employees should interact with one another and with customers. It can also include your office dress code, attendance policy, and ethical guidelines for employees.

Equal opportunity statement

Including an equal opportunity statement in your employee handbook can help protect your company from liability for discrimination. Make it clear that discrimination based on federally protected characteristics such as race, sex, age, and disability is prohibited throughout your company. If your company provides accommodations for people with disabilities, mention those accommodations in your employee handbook as well.

Safety and emergency information

Your employee handbook should include procedures for how employees should deal with emergency situations. This section may offer a list of emergency contacts, information about evacuation areas, or details about health and safety resources available in your office. 

Compensation description

The employee handbook should provide a summary of employee compensation details, such as pay periods, paid time off allotment, and observed holidays. It can also include instructions to employees about how to record their work hours or how to request paid time off.

Benefits description

The benefits description in an employee handbook can include an overview of group insurance policies, pension or retirement programs, employee training programs, funds for continuing education, and more. If your employee handbook is online, consider linking out to more specific documents about each of the benefits your company offers.Leave of absence policy

The employee handbook should describe your company’s leave of absence policy, and specifically your company’s policy for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Companies that are subject to the FMLA are legally required to provide information about their leave policy to qualified employees.

Equipment and electronics policy

The employee handbook can provide details on your company’s policies around the use of company telephones, computers, and other office equipment. This should clarify whether personal use of company-supplied devices is allowed and under what circumstances.

Workplace monitoring policy

The workplace monitoring policy should detail whether and how your company monitors employee emails, phone calls, internet searches, and computer records. It can also provide details about video surveillance, drug testing, or physical searches on your company’s premises.

Confidentiality, non-compete, and whistleblower agreements

Your employee handbook can include copies of any additional documents that employees must agree to, such as confidentiality, non-compete, and whistleblower agreements. However, employees must sign these agreements individually in order for them to be valid.

Tips for your employee handbook

There are several things you can do to keep your employee handbook accurate, up to date, and useful for employees.

  • Review your employee handbook annually. The employee handbook should be updated anytime there is a change to your company’s policies or local, state, or federal employment laws. When incidents occur or questions come up that aren’t in your employee handbook, consider adding them.
  • Have legal counsel review your handbook. Employment attorneys can help ensure that your employee handbook covers all of the relevant policies and that it does not conflict with your company’s employment contracts or other documents.
  • Include a table of contents. Including a table of contents makes it easier for employees to quickly find the information they need in the handbook.
  • Keep it consistent with your brand. Your employee handbook is part of employees’ experience with your company. Include photos of real employees, use your company’s logo and color palette, and keep the tone consistent with your other internal communications.
  • Pay attention to design. So long as vital information is still presented clearly, getting a bit creative with your employee handbook’s design and layout can make it more engaging for employees and more likely to be read and remembered over tedious policy documents. 
  • Publish in a variety of formats. Make sure your handbook is available as a physical copy and a digital file to download online. Consider making it available in other forms, such as large print or audio format, for employees who need these accommodations. 

Examples of good employee handbooks

If you need inspiration for putting together your employee handbook, check out these examples from well-known companies.

  • Zappos: The Zappos Culture Book is designed primarily to showcase the company’s workplace environment rather than lay out legal policies. It includes hundreds of photos of employees at work, celebrates internal holidays at the company, and provides an overview of what it takes to be a stand-out employee at Zappos.
  • Meta: This Facebook employee handbook is a great example to look at. On top of being gorgeous, covers the history and mission of the company, as well as a separate code of conduct that covers the company’s policies for employees. Both are expertly designed, and the code of conduct provides clear expectations for employees.

Conclusion

An employee handbook provides employees with the information they need about your company’s policies. While this document isn’t required, it can help orient new employees to your company and help protect your company against lawsuits.

It’s up to you to decide what to include in your employee handbook. Some businesses focus on their company culture, while others lay out detailed policies and expectations for employees. In any case, it’s important to make sure that you update your employee handbook over time as policies change.