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Creating an Employee Handbook: What HR Policies to Include

In Human Resources — by Dave Anderson


Having a comprehensive employee handbook is a must for any company. Outlining every organizational policy provides your team members with answers to common questions and lets them know how they’re expected to act while at work.

From the company’s perspective, an employee handbook prevents problems from occurring, ensures everyone is treated in a consistent manner, and provides legal protection to the organization.

So what does a complete employee handbook look like? In this article, we’ll go through every section and policy that should be included, why each one is important, and how to get the most out of this valuable HR asset.

Employee handbook purpose

Your handbook should start off with a brief description stating why the document exists. It should tell employees they’re expected to be familiar with every policy and procedure that are covered. You should also mention it’s possible there are policies that aren’t included and staff members are welcome to direct any questions to their manager or HR.

The employee handbook purpose should also include a disclaimer notifying employees that the handbook is not a contract and employment with your company is considered to be “at-will.” It can be a sticky exercise writing this section so be sure to collaborate with a knowledgeable lawyer and/or HR professional.

Company description, history, and culture

Tell your employees about your company’s philosophy and long-term goals. They already have a good idea what the business sells but describe the value it provides and why customers choose your solution over a competitor. Also, outline the history of your company so there is a background on how it came to be and the milestones that occurred along the way.

This section should describe your company culture as well. The values and mission statement your company lives by let your employees know what’s important outside of their immediate role responsibilities. If your company doesn’t yet have a defined culture, our worksheet can help.

Conduct policy

The policy describing how your employees are expected to behave is perhaps the most important part of your handbook. It prevents problems by explaining what is and isn’t okay and keeps the workplace safe and comfortable for everyone. It also gives your company a clear set of procedures in the event action needs to be taken. Here are some specific policies that should be included:

  • Sexual harassment policy – Explain that unwelcome advances and inappropriate language and actions will not be tolerated.
  • Anti-discrimination policy – Describe your workplace as an inclusive environment that is welcoming to people of all backgrounds.
  • Drug, alcohol, and smoking policy – Outline the consequences of being under the influence while at work and your company’s policy for alcohol and tobacco in the workplace.
  • Company property policy – Tell your employees how they’re expected to treat and use company property. This section is especially important if you issue computers, phones, vehicles, or other valuable property individuals use on a daily basis.
  • Social media policy – It’s now common to tell staff how they’re expected to behave online, especially if their social media profiles make it known they’re an employee of your company.

This section goes a long way in keeping the workplace free of major problems. You can use our professional conduct policy template as a starting point.

Attendance policy

Let your employees know when they’re expected to be in the workplace and what to do in the event they can’t make it to work. This section should outline work hours, when breaks can be taken and for how long, and how to clock in and out. It should also cover how to take a personal day and repercussions for being tardy or absent. We offer an attendance policy template you can use to create this section.

Dress code policy

Explain the appropriate workplace attire in detail. That means you should go beyond generic terms like “professional attire” or “business casual” and describe exactly what’s okay to wear for specific situations.

This section is even more important if your company has a dress code policy for safety or legal compliance reasons. If that’s the case, detail every clothing item required and why each is important. You can use our dress code template to create the right policy.

Compensation and benefits policy

Your employees will always want to know when they get paid and what benefits they receive. This section should provide them with payroll frequency and payment methods and detail the primary benefits offered, like medical, dental, and retirement savings.

If your company offers any secondary benefits, like education or wellness reimbursements, explain those here as well. Our compensation and benefits policy template and training, development, and education policy templates can help.

Expense policy

It’s common for employees to spend their own money in the course of doing their job, especially if their position requires travel or work outside of a regular workplace.

Your handbook should include an expense policy that describes the costs employees can be reimbursed for and the procedures for doing so. Check out our helpful template if you need to create an expense policy.

Leave policy

A detailed leave policy lets your employees know how often they’re allowed to be away from work and how to request time off. Here are some specific policies it should include:

  • Vacation time – Give the exact number of vacation days/hours employees are provided each year.
  • Sick time – Additionally, give the exact number of sick days/hours employees are provided each year.
  • Company-recognized holidays – List the company-wide holidays throughout the year so employees can plan accordingly.
  • Maternity, paternity, and compassionate leave – Detail the time off provided for major life events, including the birth of a child.

Allowing your employees to take time off keeps them happy and productive. You can use our employee leave template to create a policy for your handbook.

Employee accommodations

Describe the purpose and rules for every room included in your office, like break rooms, meeting rooms, and common areas.

Also, tell your employees what personal work setups they’ll be provided and how they’re expected to care for their individual area.

Exit policy

Employees eventually move on, whether it be for voluntary or involuntary reasons. Outline how an employee is expected to give their resignation and the amount of notice required. Also, cover the reasons that can result in termination and the warnings that will be provided before it occurs. Check out our exit policy template if you need this section in your handbook.

Employee referral program

If your company incentivizes employees to refer personal contacts for open jobs, it’s a good idea to have a specific referral policy. It should cover how people can be referred, the reward provided in return and the duration of employment required for the new hire before the referrer receives their incentive. We offer an employee referral template you can use to launch a program in your company.

Local and state laws

The policies included in this article should be included in a standard employee handbook for any company operating in the United States. That being said nearly every city, county, and state have their own specific laws companies must adhere to. You should be familiar with any non-federal laws that cover your company and include any required information in your employee handbook.

Tips for an effective employee handbook

Before we conclude this article, let’s cover a few tips for having an employee handbook that covers all the bases and is completely accessible to your staff:

  • Should be written by HR – HR owns the employee handbook in most companies. They are familiar with the company policies and know how to describe them using the right language.
  • Then reviewed by a legal professional  – After HR finishes writing each policy, the document should be reviewed by a lawyer who is an expert in employment law.
  • Include it in new hire onboarding – New hires should be walked through every policy in the handbook during their onboarding.
  • Get acknowledgment signatures from new hires – After the new hire reviews the handbook, ask them to sign a document confirming they understand each policy.
  • Update frequently – Company policies will evolve over time so be sure to always update your handbook as needed.
  • Have a digital version readily available – It makes the handbook easily accessible and ensures employees are consulting the latest version.

Image by Ben White

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