The Ultimate Employee Handbook Guide

Your company’s employee handbook should be:

  • Easy to access
  • Up to date
  • Clear
  • A tone-setter for your company
  • An extension of a robust employee onboarding plan

But, if you don’t have one to start with, it can be a daunting task to create one. We’ve collected some important pieces that every company should include in its handbook, from training requirements to company values and standards of conduct.

Here are the 10 pieces of an employee handbook that will not only help welcome new employees, but be a guide for all employees throughout their employment.

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1. Table of Contents

Make life easy for your employees, and include a table of contents.

Tip: Your handbook should be digitally accessible, and if it is, include this tip for quick searching:

CTRL + F (or ⌘ + F for Apple)

This search hack will save you and your employees lots of time. Simply use the shortcut, and type the subject you’re looking for. For example, looking for PTO guidance? CTRL + F, PTO.

2. Welcome & Tell Your Story

The first rule in marketing (and that’s essentially what your employee handbook is), is to make it about your audience, not you. It’s tempting to go into a spiel about how great your company is, but remember who the hero in this story is: your employee.

Welcome them to the company, remind them of what a great team they’re on and tell a story about what makes your company unique. This is a great place to include:

  • Company origins
  • What sets you apart
  • A vision of where your company is going and how it plans to get there
  • How employees are a critical piece to the company success, and the importance you put on treating them right
  • Contact information for important places, such as HR, benefits and IT

3. Onboarding, Orientation and Training

Most employees who are thumbing or scrolling through your employee handbook will be new hires, so including pertinent information about how and when they’ll be trained, as well as what that includes, is helpful for the new employee. Points to touch on:

4. Legalese

Anyone familiar with HR knows there’s a lot of legal talk to cover, and the employee handbook is no place to skimp on it. Although many companies don’t have an internal counsel on staff, it’s important to dot the I’s and cross the T’s of important language, such as policies relating to:

  • Equal Opportunity Employment
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Diversity
  • Harassment
  • Handling complaints
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Confidential information
  • Employment at will
  • Employment classification
  • Workplace violence prevention

This is not meant to be a full list of legal issues, but it sheds light on how much there is to consider from an HR legal standpoint. Need legal advice? Our clients can consult with attorneys through our partnership with myHRcounsel™.

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5. Employee Culture, Values & Expectations

As an HR professional, you know how critical it is to cultivate a positive and engaging employee culture, and you know why. Your employee handbook is a perfect place to spell out the workplace norms, values and expectations that make up your culture, like:

  • How employees should represent the company outside of the workplace
  • Dress code
  • Social media (privacy, access on the job, etc.)
  • Drug testing and drug policies
  • Attendance and hours worked

6. Technology/Communication Policies

As more and more companies issue tech products to the workforce, the need for clear expectations about what that tech can be used for gets more important. Whether it’s a salesforce with cell phones, laptops that go home with flex workers or how personal calls, photos or social media should be approached, it needs to be addressed. Things to consider:

  • Where tech can go
  • Who can use it
  • Who pays for cell service or replacement technology
  • What is considered appropriate use? Social media? Personal photos? Who owns this content?
  • When an employee departs the team, how is technology returned and how is data treated?

7. Compensation Dynamics

Payroll structure - when, how and reimbursement policies - will be a popular section of your handbook. Make sure it includes:

  • Payroll schedule
  • Paycheck or pay stub basics (use this pay stub primer for new employees)
  • Bonus or overtime structure
  • Travel and expense policies

8. Benefits

Plain and simple - list your benefits, which are literally the benefits of working for you. Health, vision, dental, retirement, tuition reimbursement, etc. Ready for a benefits upgrade?Here are the most desired employee benefits for 2019.

Benefits Millennials Want Download

9. Exit Procedures

When it’s time to part ways, an employee handbook is a great thing to have as a reference point. Outline your policies and expectations for departing employees, regardless of the reason. This can include:

  • Notice of departure
  • Exit interview procedures
  • Health benefits upon departure, such as COBRA
  • Retirement savings: how to roll them over or start accessing them
  • Final paycheck

10. Combustive Issues

And finally, don’t skirt the tricky issues just because they’re uncomfortable or not well-defined - this is exactly where you should define them. Here are some issues that have the heads of HR professionals spinning:

  • Employee Dating Policy
  • Marijuana: In 2019, 10 U.S. states have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and yet the federal government still considers it illegal. It’s a legal gray area, but it’s also problematic for employers who have drug tested in the past, partially because marijuana testing isn’t like alcohol testing - testing positive doesn’t mean an employee is impaired. This SHRM article has some tips for employers.
  • Gifts or Favors Policy
  • Employee Complaints

An employee handbook is a reference point, cultural touchstone and simple way to present your company to your employees. Take the time to make it easy to read and a one-stop source for everything about your company.

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